The Florida Gators are barely a year removed from one of the ugliest seasons in recent program history. It has almost been like a storyline from a movie to watch this team transform from a 4-7 disappointment to playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game in that short time.
But how did it happen? There are essentially the same players, the same facilities, no genie in a bottle. Just Dan Mullen and his coaching staff.
Of course, coaching is a major factor in college football. And this isn’t the first wondrous difference new coaches have made for a team, but it typically takes a bit more time even for top tier programs to get back on their feet.
The best way to understand the key to this turnaround is to go straight to the source—the guys who played under both the current and previous coaching staffs.
“Coach Mullen instills in us how you’ve got to go hard, taking a rep at practice or anything,” said redshirt junior running back Jordan Scarlett. “He always stresses, whatever you do, do it your best, go as hard as you can. Once we started gaining that mentality as a team, it made us do a lot of things better on the field, in the game, and practice better. Making it a routine, being a champion all the time. He said being a champion is not a sometimes thing. I feel it’s a true statement. I feel that’s the difference between Coach Mac.”
While the mentality this season has been more intense, Feleipe Franks said it has been more fun at the same time.
Last year, the Gators were just playing not to lose.
Now, they go into each game, no matter how big the stage or how tough the opponent, expecting to come out with a win. And winning is fun.
The change in mindset has had a drastic impact on the way Franks and the entire offense approach each play.
“It’s just like night and day what kind of team we are,” said the redshirt sophomore quarterback. “And I can speak specifically for the offense. It’s night and day. We’re going out, we’re having fun. We know what we’re doing. Everybody knows their assignment. You just go out there and play football like you’ve been doing your whole life. You’re not going out there stressing.”
On defense, Todd Grantham has found the right buttons to push with his players as well.
He might come off as harsh when he’s yelling and getting on guys at practice every day, but it’s all tough love. At the end of the day, they know he is someone they can count on.
“He’s a guy that’s not only all about football, he cares about what’s going on in your life, how your everyday life is going,” said senior defensive lineman Cece Jefferson. “To actually ask you about what’s going on in your life outside of football, you know, that really makes you feel good as a player. Because it shows that he’s not only looks at you as his player, he looks at you more like a son, and he’s going to ask you about those things and he’s going to take care of you. I think that’s big. We appreciate Coach Grantham and what he’s done for the program. And it’s definitely in the right hands going forward.”
The coaches get a lot of the credit for the changes that have taken place over the last year, and deservedly so, but they can’t take all of the praise.
The truth is, the players are the ones who suit up every week and make the plays. It took just as much work and sacrifice from them to put Florida back on the winning path.
“The number one reason we’ve had success is the players with me right now,” Grantham said. “It’s their ability to buy into what we’re talking about, to understand this is the identity we want to play with, which we always talk about being fast, physical and aggressive. There’s really no magic dust to playing that way. It’s a lot of hard work and preparation.”