MIAMI — Gator fans all along Dan Mullen’s spring speaking tour have been eating up everything the new head football coach has had to say. Stops in Jacksonville, Orlando, Lakeland and Ft. Lauderdale had fans roaring in laughter at stories he would tell or quick quips to questions that Mullen would offer.
Wednesday night at Marlins Park the crowd was smaller than normal, a more intimate setting on the promenade inside the $515 million dollar baseball stadium, Mullen felt like he hadn’t had that moment yet. He even brought it up, telling the crowd that he hadn’t thought he was entertaining enough.
What gets a Gator fan more jazzed up than a Tebow story? Outside of Mullen winning the school’s fourth National Championship, not much else and Mullen has plenty of Tebow stories.
Mullen found Dorian Monroe in the audience to start his tale.
“I remember playing, we were playing in the 2008 season, right? 2008 we’re playing LSU, and to this day, we’re on the bus, getting ready to get off the bus and the Gator Walk is, I mean, out of control. Right? The bus is rocking,” Mullen recalled. “Tebow gets up on the bus, drops an ‘F’ bomb in front of the team. He will deny it until he dies. But I’m telling you what, I think we won by 40-something that night. The game was over before it ever started. By the time we finished the Gator Walk, the game was over. They had no shot.”
The Gators, of course, won that game 51-21 in Gainesville. It started with a tipped pass from Tebow to Percy Harvin that led Harvin streaking down the field for a 70-yard touchdown. The Tigers would get it as close as a 20-14 but the Gators put their foot down with 31-second half points on the way to the win.
Mullen quickly brought that story back into a message he’s pounded throughout his speaking tour.
Mullen knows he was brought here to win games but he sees the bigger picture. He, if even from a distance, saw that the Gator brand — one he had a large hand in building — had taken a hit over the last decade and he wants to bring that back. Mullen harkens back to when he was training for the Boston Marathon and would run around campus to build up his stamina and determine what his pace would be. When he arrived in Boston for the marathon he was overwhelmed with the support and the energy around the track and quickly found himself beating his mile times from training.
Bringing that back to football Mullen says the guys will play hard because they love the game, they love their school and their teammates but there’s absolutely a difference when you’re playing in front of a crowd of 60,000 and when you’re in front of 90,000-plus insane fans making Ben Hill Griffin Stadium the hardest place to play in as an opponent. He told fans that the team needs their support on Saturdays. Mullen and Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin showed off some new game day additions like food trucks and a beer garden in the North Endzone lot near where Gator Walk is held. They want to make Saturdays in Gainesville a hot ticket again.
“I love the response because that’s what I expect,” Mullen said. “I think everybody has really high expectations of me but I have really high expectations of Gator Nation as well.”
Mullen is doing it the right way. The previous staff’s “us against the world” mentality did more to alienate the fans from the team and the university they love then to bring the Gators Nation together. Mullen knows how powerful the Gator Nation can be because he felt it, even when fans would hurl insults at him as he walked off the field because his offense only scored 31 points in a game and they expected more. He’s making this tour and building excitement for the 2018 season because he truly believes in himself, his staff and the program their putting together.
“The Gator brand is something special,” he said. “The Gator brand represents greatness and represents championships. Expecting to compete for championships in football and basketball and baseball and every sport.”