I felt a great disturbance in the force. As if millions of Gator fans were actually calm and mature for several days and then it was gone. For a brief moment in time, the Gator Nation was happy with who their coach was and satisfied with the direction of the program. The gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes paused for nearly a week. And then the wave of discontent began to flow back into the swamp and the sawgrass swayed in a current of anxiety again.
In a single week, fans began to grow concerned about who and how the new staff was recruiting. For months, they feared that changing coaches would mean that key members of what was shaping up to be a stellar class would lose interest in the Gators. Few, if any, ever imagined that maybe the new coaches would not be interested in some of those players. For most, they express their faith and confidence in new head coach Dan Mullen and assure themselves that he has a plan for bringing in a highly ranked recruiting class. But, their voices waiver slightly with the distance rumblings of panic.
And if that wasn’t scary enough, now the hated rivals to the northwest have traveled all the way to Oregon to enlist the help of a sith named Willie Taggart. Taggart is reputed to be a recruiting master. His powers of persuasion are things of legend. And now he has been lured to the dark side. A few short weeks ago, many fans envisioned Taggart in the orange and blue but he will instead use his abilities to advance the forces of evil. A small shudder of fear rippled through the force and across the Gator Nation. Did you really think this was going to be easy?
Chill the blank out folks. Recruiting is a process not a moment in time. Mullen brings a vision of his own to Gainesville and must build said vision his own way. That must be allowed and expected with any coach. Or any executive for that matter. I will admit that I found myself baffled that Mullen seems to be less than enthralled with quarterback recruit Matt Corral. But, like every other fan, I do not really know if that is the case. We do not know what discussions have transpired between Mullen, his staff and Corral and his family. It is worth noting that Corral has not decommitted at this time. I saw Corral work to hold our class together after Mac was fired. I cannot help but feel that should be rewarded. If Mullen opts to go in another direction, I will force myself to assume he knows something I do not. I’m guessing he knows a lot of somethings I do not. But, that won’t stop me from having an opinion.
Meanwhile, coaching staffs throughout Florida’s long list of rivals are being tampered with while the Gators put the final touches on building their new staff. Alabama and Georgia both have schools interviewing assistants. Muschamp has fired yet another offensive coordinator. Did I not hear Wild Will say not long ago that if he had hired Kurt Roper earlier he would still be the coach at Florida? Is Muschamp ever right? Tennessee’s coaching debacle grows more like a Saturday Night Live skit every day. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “honk if you turned down the Vols” Those horns blowing gets old quickly.
Gator fans are also convinced that Kirby Smart is building a new dynasty in Athens Georgia. He may be, but let’s not anoint the king of that dynasty just yet. Let us look a little closer at this new empire. A coach who was previously the defensive coordinator for a big-time program under an accomplished head coach takes over a program that has been competitive but not as successful as it wanted. In his second year, he takes his team to a fantastic record and a third-place finish in the rankings after the regular season. Now his team will be in the playoffs contending for a title. The ONLY difference between Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp in the above scenario is the BCS vs the Playoff. If the playoff system was in effect in 2012, Florida would have been in the playoff. The entire nation was marveling at what Muschamp had accomplished in just two short years and predicting great things. We all know what really transpired. Georgia loses a lot of starters from this team. Let’s wait and see how they bounce back next season before we start mining gold and gems for Kirby’s crown.
As for Taggart at FSU, I have heard all the explanations of his extenuating circumstances, but the fact remains that the man he has been a head coach for eight seasons and is just slightly over .500 for overall record at 47-50. Will he recruit well in Tallywhacker? Almost certainly. But, when was the last time recruiting was the problem at Florida State? When Taggart proves he can win championships at this level, I will get concerned about him with the Noles. Until then, he is just another hot shot up and coming coach with potential. Frankly, ANY of the potential hires for the Noles would have recruited well.
To our south, Miami had a nice run this season but eventually Mark Richt will always be Mark Richt. Recruits will figure that out as well. The departure of Randy Shannon will make it more difficult for Florida to recruit in the Miami/Dade area but that is not entirely a bad thing. In my opinion, Shannon made little effort to discern the character of those he recruited from the area and that hurt the Gators in several ways. I do not really fault Shannon for this. I believe he recruited with the best of intentions and truly felt he was helping young men escape bad circumstances. That is an admiral endeavor. However, football programs must be diligent to determine which of these young men actually want to escape those circumstances and which will be intent on bringing them along. I fear Shannon saw only the good and tended to ignore the bad in favor of optimism. Florida must have one or two assistants who can successfully recruit south Florida, but they must also exercise discretion.
All in all, I see Mullen’s first week as the Gators’ new head coach as a success. He has made a lot of headway in putting together a staff. He has identified and approached some elite prospects that he feels fit his system and vision. He has energized much of the fan base, embraced former players and connected with the boosters that help upgrade facilities. The thing fans need to understand here is that Dan Mullen is not building for next season. He is working on changing the culture in Gainesville and that must happen before any sustained success is possible. Be patient, because the other path leads to dark places.