During his speaking tour this spring in Orlando Dan Mullen told the several thousand Gator fans what he envisioned that a game day environment in Gainesville should be.
One part football, one part state fair and one part rock concert. Some fans cheered, others looked confused, somebody shouted “just win” and message boards echoed that sentiment. Saturday’s Orange and Blue game was the first opportunity for Mullen to show that vision.
It was a success.
From the very beginning of the day there was a buzz on campus beginning with the new initiatives. There was a beer garden —monitored for responsible consumption, of course — a big green egg cooking contest, booths to shop, free pizza around campus and even a garage sale where fans could buy game used gear from seasons past. It was truly a state fair kind of atmosphere and when the police sirens started blaring signaling the Gators had arrived it turned rock concert.
The crowd for Gator walk on Saturday surpassed every Gator Walk crowd from the 2017 season except for the LSU or Tennessee weeks. It was 12 people deep in spots and set the tone for the day.
“I’m really thankful for all our fans, you know what I mean? For our players, when I talk about the Gator standard and what to expect, when our players got finished the Gator Walk, there was a different look in there,” Mullen said. “They were coming to me and saying ‘Coach, that’s different.’ And that’s a spring game. I said, ‘that’s what we expect. We want to get it back that way. That’s what we expect.’ That’s a great spring game Gator Walk. We hit the season it’s going to be 10 times bigger and crazier and more intense.”
Mullen has achieved maybe the most difficult thing to do in just a few short months. He’s completely reinvigorated the fan base, which had the last coach quit on them in the middle of a difficult season. To win that trust back in such a short time is astounding.
Next he needed to follow that up with points. With excitement. With something that didn’t remind fans of the previous nine seasons of offensive destitute since Mullen’s departure.
He did that too and they had fun doing it. Mullen has gone on record several times saying nobody likes scoring more than him and the Gators did that with 65 points. They scored 31 last year and it was the first time in more than 20 years that a team was held scoreless. On top of the points the players were having fun again.
Jordan Scarlett led a game of duck duck goose in the end zone after one of his touchdowns. Chauncey Gardner gave Feleipe Franks a piggyback ride after another and Franks threw down a 360 dunk over the goal post when he scored.
“It’s one of the things Coach Mullen wanted to emphasize, just with the guys, everybody comes out to support us, whether it be the fans, the faculty, all those people that come out here and support us, just make it fun for them,” Franks said. “Like he said, around 53,000 that came out and supported us in our spring game, that’s super special an it tells you that he has something special going here. That’s one of the things I love about Coach Mullen. He’s always getting everybody involved, especially with the fans.”
If you wanted to strictly see a football game this wasn’t for you but you can’t make the argument that the day was wasted because they chose to throw passes to former Gator Greats Lawrence Wright and Travis McGriff. The coaching staff used the first 14 practices for themselves. They even allowed fans into three of those to watch how the program was being changed.
The spring game was for them and it was fun. Mission accomplished for Dan Mullen in his first camp as head coach of the Gators.