Mullen, Gators eyeing bigger prize than SEC East title

Dan Mullen came to Gainesville and not only knew the expectations of the Gator Nation but he embraced them with open arms.

It was, after all, Mullen and Urban Meyer that combined to win two National Championships and build the expectations that Steve Spurrier laid a foundation for in the nineties. The last two coaches couldn’t understand when fans weren’t happy with a 10-9 win in Knoxville, hell, Mullen would hear it from fans when his offense didn’t score 40 or more back when he was the offensive coordinator.

So when Mullen, who had just clinched his first SEC Championship berth as a head coach in his 12th season in the league, didn’t look thrilled.

“We’ve got to finish it there when we get into the clean-up time at the end of the game when we start subbing guys in,” Mullen said. “They’ve got to come in and slam the door, not give up the two garbage-time touchdowns that they scored there at the end. But overall pretty pleased with how we played for the day. Some mistakes, things we’ve got to get cleaned up.”

Mullen is a perfectionist but the job he has done in three years to take a team that went 4-7 the year before he arrived and make them SEC East Champions in his third season takes that mentality. It’s a mindset that might upset some. Mullen won’t heap praise on his Heisman front-running quarterback because the missed reads and incompletions stick out in his mind. He wants to score on every possession, complete every pass, pick up positive yards on every play. Is that realistic? No. But that mindset prevents complacency, something we’ve seen from good teams, and Gator teams in the past. It can kill a season, something Mullen wasn’t going to let happen.

Florida came into Knoxville with one goal in mind — to win the SEC East. The Gators accomplished that goal and Mullen can minimize it but we shouldn’t.

This year has been unlike any other in the history of college football. The season was in jeopardy of even starting when the Big Ten and Pac 12 backed out just weeks before the original kickoff date. The SEC held strong, waited things out, and made a plan. That plan was a grueling gulag of conference foes. 10 conference games, only one week off, not to mention the global pandemic raging throughout the country.

“Winning the SEC East championship in this year, the hardest year in the history of this league where you’re going to play 10 conference games, regular-season conference games, to win our division is pretty special and shows a lot of what the team is at and what the coaches and the whole program is at,” Mullen said after the game.

That was probably the closest Mullen came to celebrating while on a Zoom call with reporters. There is still work to be done. Jim McElwain took the Gators to the SEC Championship game in each of his first two seasons only to have Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide expose Florida as a program that simply wasn’t ready to compete.

The Gators will have that same opportunity in two weeks’ time. Mullen knows the expectations in Gainesville aren’t to hang “SEC East Champion” banners up in The Swamp. The expectations, again, ones that he helped create, are to win the SEC and compete for National Championships.

All of that sits in front of the Gators.

“I came to Florida to have the opportunity to win championships,” Mullen said. “That is the reason that I came here. Now we’re SEC East champs. Now we have the opportunity to go be SEC champs. That’s what you work for all the time. That’s what we worked for since the day I got here a little over three years ago.”


Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC