Dan Mullen’s feet hadn’t even hit the ground in Gainesville before he threw his first chomp in nearly a decade — right over left, as it should be.
He spent the next nine months schmoozing over Bull Gators and fans across the state. He recruited and closed strong on an abbreviated signing class. He ran two camps, installing an entirely new offense, defense and instilled a work ethic and mindset that had been missing for some time.
It was all building up to 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.
Mullen’s looked out at Florida Field like a kid staring at the candles on his birthday cake. With his team rocking and screaming behind him, Mullen allowed himself to slip away from the gameplan and let the moment, the journey, envelop him
It started in New Hampshire at Trinity High School and a state championship in 1988. That northeastern boy stayed close to home where he lettered at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania playing tight end. He graduated in 1994 and coached receivers at Wagner College while getting his master’s degree. Then on to Columbia, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Bowling Green and Utah. He arrived at Florida a brash, cocky, loud-mouthed 33 year old that could rub people the wrong way. After four years at Florida he went to Mississippi State for his first head-coaching job and spent nine years there. That was a great experience, he learned and grew, his family got bigger and it prepared him for that moment at 7:30 on Saturday.
“Before the game you’re thinking, it’s pretty amazing. I worked really hard in my career. I’ve been really blessed with opportunities. Somebody earlier I was telling them, if you work really hard more opportunities will present themselves to you. Don’t worry about it, just work your tail off,” Mullen said after the 53-6 win over Charleston Southern. “If you get an opportunity make sure you’re ready and you take full advantage of it in any aspect of your life. It was a pretty awesome moment to sit there and say hey I’ve worked really hard, here I am getting ready to run, lead the Florida Gators a head coach, lead them out of the tunnel. It was a pretty awesome moment.”
Mullen wants gamedays in Gainesville to be part football, part concert and part festival. It started with a spirited Gator Walk and continued on to the field. The offense brought the fire works. The Gators won the toss and had seven points just eight plays later. A three-and-out, eight more plays and the score was 10-0. 28 second quarter points has Mullen breaking out some goofy dad dance moves, he was feeling it and tried passing that feeling on to his quarterback.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 2, 2018
The rest of the night went as planned. Florida beat a team that was paid $475,000 to be there in the manner they were supposed to. Not an astonishing feat, but one that needed to happen.
Mullen had a quarterback in Feleipe Franks that was continually battered by fans and media alike. He was given up on. Mullen gave him a gameplan where he could be successful. Franks tossed five touchdowns in the first half before getting the rest of the day off. He left the field confident.
“Coach Mullen does a great job of just kind of fine-tuning me, what I need to work on and just work on those things a lot more and developing me as a player, a quarterback, and even as a person,” Franks said. “They did a great job at doing that and it’s a big testament to them what they’re doing for me. It’s a good thing.”
When the clock struck triple zeroes Mullen made his way across the field to shake hands. He ran with the team down to the endzone in the northeast corner on the stadium to sign the fight song. He did a victory lap and found his family to celebrate. Then, after asking the fans for nine months to show up on Saturdays he walked around the stadium thanking them for doing just that.
Mullen wears a visor because of the admiration he has for Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach’s signature visor would often leave the field with grass stains as it skid across the turf following interceptions. Mullen didn’t throw his visor during the game, but as he walked through the south end zone to a hero’s welcome he ripped the visor off his head and, like Spurrier, tossed it.
One lucky fan is now the owner of a Dan Mullen game worn visor.
In the locker room Florida Athletic Director presented Mullen with the game ball for his first win as head coach.
“I appreciate the opportunity. It’s special,” Mullen said to the team after the game. “Being a Florida Gator is something special. I know it’s something special. I hope all of you appreciate how special it is to be a Florida Gator and all the special things we’re going to do together. We’re going to do it through hard work, sacrifice, commitment. That’s what leads to success. That’s what we’re going to do moving forward.”
And tonight’s game 🏉 goes to… pic.twitter.com/njxU4YKvho
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 2, 2018
Hard work, sacrifice and commitment. The words that Mullen spoke to his team in the locker room were the same that flooded his head when he stood in front of them some three and a half hours earlier. It’s why he’s in the position he is and remembering those tenants that made this opportunity possible will ensure he makes the most of it.