When Dan Mullen took over the Florida program, he made a commitment to turn around a culture so far removed from the standard it used to hold.
The expectations at Florida are so high, yet the team has performed so poorly in recent years that winning became a relief and losing became an all-too-familiar fear.
That is not something that can be reversed overnight. It is a psychological hindrance and it will take time to truly fix it.
“I talked to our team about this and I want to make sure they understand, man, I hate losing and I love winning,” Mullen said. “I think sometimes we’re looking at the guys’ eyes and they’re coming in this program and they fear losing and they’re relieved by winning. And you can’t be successful that way. You can’t play that way, you can’t act that way, you can’t even think that way. You’ve got to go out there and go so hard because you love to win.”
This issue became apparent to Mullen before he even coached the Gators in a real game. He mentioned back in fall camp that he felt the offense did not expect to score touchdowns when it got in the red zone, but instead felt that same sense of relief when it did.
The coaches have to be the first ones to attack this problem and rewire the mindset of the team, but Florida needs a set of leaders to step up as well.
That hasn’t quite happened yet, and it has shown at times on the field.
“I’d love the leadership to continue to grow where it’s not just coming from us, where the guys get more comfortable in the program,” Mullen said “I don’t think there’s a lack of leadership. I think there’s uncertainty. I think there’s guys on the team that could become really good leaders. They’re still learning how the program’s expected to be. Guys are learning when to step up, when to lead, how to lead. They’re still taking care of themselves, so the coaches are doing it.”
Until those leaders emerge, the Gators have to continue to look to their coaches as inspiration. Whether it’s Colorado State or Alabama, Mullen loves to win and wants his guys to get the same joy out of it that he does.
“I hope they all are enjoying it and have a big smile on their faces,” he said after Florida defeated CSU 48-10. “I walked in the locker room and I started dancing and having fun, because winning’s fun. They got to learn that.”