HOOVER, Ala. — Dan Mullen took over a talented yet underachieving roster and took the Florida Gators from just four wins in 2017 to 10 and a Peach Bowl win. It was an incredible accomplishment. Mullen wanted to “restore the Gator standard” and in his first season appears to have done that.
Mullen thinks the next step; going from good to great will be even harder.
“I don’t think people expected a whole lot out of the team last year,” Mullen said frankly. “They had a couple of ok seasons or a lot of (ups and downs). To go from being down to having a pretty good year is big but to go from 10 wins to 11 wins shows consistency in winning and getting ready to compete for championships at a consistent level.”
Mullen has experience in this realm. He took over Mississippi State following a 4-8 season. Mullen went 5-7 in his first year but jumped to 9-4 in his second season. Mullen would bring State into double digit wins in his sixth season and even took the Bulldogs to the Orange Bowl. They went from SEC West cellar dweller to competent and then from competent to good and even — for a stretch — great. At Florida he has more resources, more talent in state to recruit and a better roster. The expectations are also greater at Florida.
Mullen not only knows that, he relishes it. He lives for the expectations. It gets him up in the morning and he knows that he needs to not only win but he’s going to need to win championships.
The team he has this year might be the best opportunity he will have to do that for the next two or three seasons. Mullen has a returning starter at quarterback. He has a senior running back with his sights set on rushing for 1,000 yards. The receiver and tight end rooms are the deepest Florida has had in years and the defense will be, well a Florida defense. They’re deep, they’re experienced and they’re hungry.
“We have high expectations,” senior defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga said. “For me personally first we have to win the SEC East and then it’s SEC Championship or bust. My expectations are very high this year. Extremely high.”
The team has been in the capable hands of strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage. NCAA rules prohibit and restrict the amount of time that coaches can be with student-athletes but the team has been putting in the work. There’s a sense of urgency with this team. Mullen has made it a point to them that their shelf life is only one season. They’re guaranteed 12 games, nothing more. If they don’t put in the work now, if they haven’t put in the work since the spring game that’s all they’ll get. 12 games. if they want to play in 13 or 14 or 15 games they need to strain in the offseason, which has just 11 days left before the Gators report to camp.
“It’s critical that they understand how hard they have to work,” Mullen said. “If we work as hard as we did last season and last training camp we can expect to win 10 games at the most. Especially when you look at the young guys that got to enjoy 10 wins last year, got to enjoy the hype and the things that go with that. They were waving towels on the sideline enjoying it. Now they’re expected to go out there and do something about it — to go from 10 to 11.”