Robinson giving his all for Mullen, players until the very end

Gators linebackers coach/interim defensive coordinator Christian Robinson doesn’t know where he’d be without Dan Mullen.

In 2017, Mullen hired Robinson as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State, reuniting him with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who he played for at Georgia.

When Mullen and Grantham left for Florida after the season, they could’ve hired just about anybody they wanted to be their linebackers coach. The University of Florida is a dream destination, so they probably could’ve hired someone with 20 years of experience if they wanted to.

Instead, they took a chance on Robinson, who at the time had only been coaching for five years and was only five years removed from his playing days.

After making $80,000 during his first year, Mullen awarded him with several raises over the last four years, culminating in a boost to $400,000 prior to this season.

When Mullen fired Grantham after the South Carolina loss, he tabbed Robinson as the new play-caller despite having more experienced options in Wesley McGriff and Paul Pasqualoni.

While Robinson’s future is up in the air now following Mullen’s firing, he’s grateful for everything that Mullen has done for him and wants to honor his former boss with a strong defensive performance against Florida State.

“I was 26 years old when I met Coach Mullen and got to be a grad assistant for him, giving me the opportunity to coach some really good players at Mississippi State,” Robinson said. “Then the opportunity to come here is something I know I wouldn’t be in the situation I am – getting to have the opportunity to be the linebackers coach at Florida – without him. I know just to lead this team to this game this weekend, that’s something that’s really important to me – to push them and guide them towards a win and to do everything in my power to do that. I’m forever thankful for his investment in me as a person and coach.

“Dan helped me throughout my career here [with] just little things. Whether it’s on the road recruiting, whether it was meeting with him just as evaluation at the end of the year, he was always guiding me constantly with little details on helping me become a better coach and asking me, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ and things of that nature.”

When Mullen announced that Robinson would serve as the interim defensive coordinator, a portion of the fan base was outraged. The linebackers have struggled over the past couple of years, and there are two guys with prior play-calling experience on the staff. Why go with the youngest member of the coaching staff who has spent most of his playing and coaching careers with the coordinator that you just fired?

Since it was far too late to make wholesale changes, Robinson’s familiarity with the scheme probably was a factor. But his strong relationship with the players shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s been one of the Gators’ best recruiters for a reason. The players like him and listen to what he says. They want to play well for him.

With the way this season imploded, getting the players to play hard is probably more important than anything play-calling related.

“I honestly enjoy learning everything from football to life,” linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper said. “He’s a really great coach, and I feel like he’s been doing a really great job with the play-calling. It was really cool to see him get the opportunity even though it was a terrible situation.”

Robinson’s defensive coordinator debut against Samford two weeks ago couldn’t have gone much worse. They gave up a school-record 42 points in the first half and 52 total points, the most ever surrendered by an SEC team to an FCS opponent.

They bounced back in a big way against Missouri last week. For the first time since the Georgia game, the defense looked energized, confident, aggressive and prepared for everything that their opponent threw at them.

They held Missouri to just 16 points and 261 total yards in regulation. They allowed the Tigers to convert just three of 15 third downs. They sacked Connor Bazelak four times. They limited the SEC’s leading rusher, Tyler Badie, to just 19 yards in the first half.

Other than the three overtime plays and a busted coverage that allowed Niko Hea to score a 41-yard touchdown, they were terrific. The Gators’ offense was mostly responsible for that loss.

Robinson said that the keys to the turnaround were better communication and focusing on the task at hand. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the program right now, it’s easy to get distracted. They just blocked all of that out and worried about playing as hard they could for 3 ½ hours.

That’s the formula that they’ll try to follow again this week.

“If your communication is great, we’re going to perform well,” he said. “I know any time we go play, we have a standard we want to go play to, and I think we spent a lot of time last week getting prepared for Missouri to talking about ‘Let’s turn it loose. Let’s go play the way we know we can and just play one game at a time.’

“I think they did a great job of focusing on that mantra throughout the week. Obviously, there’s some things we still want to continue to work on and to clean up because we want to go win this week. I think you’re going to see a team that wants to come play on Saturday.”

Robinson likely doesn’t have much time left with the Gator logo on his chest, but he’s going to give his players everything he’s got until the very end. He hopes that they can beat Florida State and make a bowl game to extend the amount of time that they have left together.

“To have that opportunity to lead, it’s something that I know how important it is to our players and that they see somebody that is going to help them not only on the field but off the field in this time [and] give them hope that each and every week that we have left that we can compete at the highest level,” Robinson said. “Coach Mullen gave me that opportunity, and I know it’s important to people that love this university that I perform for my players.

“[Making a bowl game] would mean a lot, to have some guaranteed days with these players that you spend every day [with], players that are going to be at your house at Thanksgiving and people that you promised that you would be there for. To have the opportunity to spend more time with them and to guide them and hopefully lead to a win, that’s everything. It means everything to us. We love our players. I think the ones that have been left in charge to go finish this thing know it’s for them, and it’s always and forever going to be about them.”

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.