If someone would have told Dan Mullen when he first took over a 4-7 Florida Gators team last November that he would get a 9-3 finish with a chance to play Michigan in a New Year’s Six bowl in his first season, he probably would have taken it no questions asked.
Most anyone around the program likely would have, too.
It’s been an extraordinary turnaround, even better than athletic director Scott Stricklin could have imagined when he made the hire.
“I’m incredibly pleased,” Stricklin said. “I couldn’t be happier. It would be hard to have anticipated this first year going as well for our guys … It’s fun to see the fans happy and get a chance to celebrate.”
While it’s only been a little over a year since Mullen took the job, the ugly collapse of the Jim McElwain era seems so far in the rearview.
Now, the Gators have a shot to cap off a 10-win season and secure a spot in the Top 10 of the final rankings by defeating the Wolverines in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. That’s a pretty good deal, and again, Mullen probably would have accepted it, but that doesn’t mean he is anywhere near satisfied.
“I would be happy with the season, I guess,” he said. “My expectations of the program are really, really high. So, obviously, it’d be a nice cap and I would say it was a successful season in a lot of ways, even though we did not win a championship. And that’s our goal is to compete for and win the SEC East, and then SEC championships, conference championships, and then compete for the national championship. But certainly, a win in this game and a finish in the Top 10, you’d have to call it a pretty successful season.”
With the goals this staff has for the program, anything short of a championship couldn’t have exceeded expectations.
Others continue to harp on the fact that it is still Year 1 and the team is in the rebuilding process, but Mullen doesn’t use that as an excuse.
He is the head coach at the University of Florida, and championships are the standard. That standard just got blurred for a while.
“I think for us every year is independent, and even though it is the first year, I still had really high expectations for the team and the program,” Mullen said. “As a competitor, we want to win. I think it would be have been a good year for this team, but to be honest with you, December 29 is the last time this team plays, and a new team is born the next day. That’s a whole other challenge for us, whether it’s Year 1 or Year 10 within the program. Every year holds its own unique challenge.”
While Mullen will continue to, and should, be critical of where Florida is with the 2018 season nearing its close, there is still much more positive to take away than negative, especially if the Gators can pull off a win over a Michigan team that was just a win away from making the College Football Playoff.