Act I (Nov. 13, 2021 – Nine days before the Mullen firing)
Dan Mullen is the head football coach at the University of Florida. (Editor’s note: Read on. It gets better)
Mullen’s been a busy man these days. I wonder if he would like to read some of the text messages that I’ve been getting from friends this football season. I’m guessing probably not.
I’ve held my silence long enough about the dumpster fire that has become Gator football. It’s time to come clean.
I’ll be the first to admit that working weekends doesn’t afford me the opportunity to watch as much Florida football as I used to, or would like to. That will never take away from the passion I have for my alma mater. However, working Saturdays, this season in particular, has saved me from the embarrassment of watching what this program has become.
As I write this, the Florida Gators, perennial contenders, three-time national champions, are struggling… to stop… Samford. No disrespect to the players at Samford but this is a school that once upon a time we would drop 70 on while not allowing them to score. Instead, Samford has come close to scoring that themselves. They scored 42 points in the first half, the most Florida had allowed in a single half in the history of the program!!!
Somehow, somewhere along the line, things went south for Florida Football and they went south fast. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly when, where and how but that is most assuredly the case. Florida plays vacuous, uninspired football.
Upon his hiring in 2017, it appeared that Dan Mullen was the right guy for the job. Mullen served on the sidelines as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when Urban Meyer brought multiple championships to Gainesville. In retrospect, the program should have known better than to hire anything that had to do with Meyer.
In his first two seasons, Mullen rattled off double-digit wins on his way to Peach and Orange Bowl victories. But Peach and Orange Bowl victories are not what Florida is about. Suddenly and perhaps inexplicably, the program has regressed. Mullen’s Gators finished 8-4 his next season as coach. His fourth year might get him fired. It depends on who you believe. Mullen has already let go of long-time assistants.
I’m here to remind Gator fans that we have missed bowl games before. In Jim McElwain’s third (and final year) as head coach, the team went 4-7. He was summarily shown the door. In Will Muschamp’s third year, the Gators went 4-8. In his four seasons in Gainesville, Muschamp had only one where he led his team to an over .500 record in conference. Say what you will about Ron Zook, who was also run out of town after three seasons, his final one a 4-4 conference record, but at least his players never quit on him. That appears to be what’s going on in Gainesville as we speak.
My how things have gone downhill since the Spurrier days, when losing was both unacceptable and infrequent. Our biggest rival, Georgia, flirting with a national championship only rubs salt in the wound. I don’t hate on Georgia these days. More power to ‘em. At least they know how to run a program. Somewhere along the line, Florida forgot how to do just that.
I’m not going to speculate on what broke down and when. You can read many an article blasting Mullen for his inability to recruit but we saw firsthand how this defense could not tackle, how this program, under Mullen’s watch, either ignored or forgot traditions that had been with the school for decades, how he grossly mishandled two talented quarterbacks and how he ultimately alienated an entire fan base. And don’t get me started on the option.
The worst thing a head football coach can be accused of is having his players quit on him. Isn’t the whole point of coaching to inspire? If your coach isn’t doing that, then what’s the point?
Quality coaches don’t grow on trees and perhaps it is unrealistic to expect to win a national championship every year. But it’s certainly realistic to expect to contend for one. Ohio State does. Alabama does. In fact, I’d dare to say that if you’re a major college football program and your goal ISN’T to win a national championship every year, then you’re doing something wrong.
Mullen and company were handed the keys to one of the fanciest sports cars on the market, blue exterior, shiny orange interior. He let it run out of gas. There’s no denying it takes a special soul to run a program of that magnitude. It’s considerably easier to run it into the ground, which is apparently what he’s done with flying colors.
I don’t know what the answers are for this Florida program. That’s outside my pay grade. I can tell you that you have a have a whole bunch of rabid fans waiting to root for something good again. All it takes is a push in the right direction.
Not sure how that will come but it needs to.
Act II (Nov. 20, 2021 – One day before the Mullen firing)
I sat on the post above. Didn’t re-read it. Didn’t edit it. I was waiting to see how bad things got, how close to rock bottom things came, knowing in the back of my mind Dan Mullen might turn things around. If not, his walking papers were in the mail.
Then came the loss to Missouri.
I know an SEC official who shall remain nameless. He told me that he’s officiated Missouri games this season and by no means was he impressed with their squad. Well, guess who just beat Florida.
The current state of affairs has Gator faithful as discombobulated as their program. One need to look no further than this single text string within which a friend of mine suggests in one breath that says Dan Mullen is gone and in the next that he stays. See for yourself.
I’m currently being ridiculed by friends because of the state of my football program, with no choice but to sit and take it. The Bama fan who brings me café con leche imprints loving “Roll Tide” messages with a Sharpie on the Styrofoam. My blogging brother pokes fun of me on Twitter. It’s a shite state of affairs, I can assure you.
The Florida State Seminoles, who started the season 0-4 for the first time since 1974, stroll into Gainesville for their annual battle and are two-point underdogs. Earlier this season, a third consecutive win against our rivals to the northwest seemed likely. At this point, with a slew of interim coaches on the sidelines supporting Dan Mullen’s last breath, rock bottom might not yet have hit.
Act III (Nov. 22, 2021 – Dan Mullen fired)
A number of names have emerged as potential coaching replacements for Mullen. The problem is that there are equally as impressive job openings at both LSU and USC. Louisiana’s Billy Napier is the leading candidate. Other names range from the possible yet retreaded Lane Kiffin and Bob Stoops to the sublimely ridiculous Tim Tebow and Deion Sanders.
Whoever takes over this program will become the seventh head coach since 2010, if you include the three interim coaches DJ Durkin (who took over for Muschamp, but was not hired), Randy Shannon (who took over for Jim McElwain, but was not hired) and Greg Knox (who will be taking over for Dan Mullen, but will not be hired).
Clearly, we Gators are an impatient lot. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately category, the last three head coaches were not given a full recruiting class before they were unceremoniously run out of town, never to be allowed in Gainesville again without a chorus of boos and banished into relative obscurity thanks to the baggage we placed upon them, or that they placed upon themselves depending upon who you ask. Will Muschamp is now an “analyst” for Georgia, Jim McElwain now coaches at Central Michigan. Once the dust settles, Mullen will land a gig but according to every article I’ve read and analyst I’ve heard, he’ll need to couch his “ego” first.
That word came up a lot in the Mullen proceedings, which is ironic considering it might be Florida that has the biggest ego of them all. There’s nothing wrong with expecting to compete for a national title year after year. Tons of programs do that. But to think you’re owed one, that coaches will all of the sudden want to take on the challenge just because you’re Florida might be a touch pompous. Coaches need look no further than the way we’ve run our last few out of town to make them think twice about coming there or worse yet, failing there. The only head coach we speak fondly about is Steve Spurrier. Even Urban Meyer, who landed two albeit somewhat tainted national titles, has been banished and spoken of with ill will.
Coaching at the highest level requires patience, from both the coaches and the program. Let’s see who they land… and how long they give him.
Act IV (Nov. 28, 2021 – Billy Napier hired and all is right with Gator Nation, for now)
The good news came Sunday afternoon, while the NFL played its games, fewer and fewer Florida players these days among them.
Billy Napier had been named the new head coach at the University of Florida. Both LSU and USC gigs remained open. The Florida Gators got their man.
Napier coached the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns and made a name for himself as the next up-and-coming, young head coach. Billy Napier is 42 years old.
He brings an impressive resume, a Saban-Swinney pedigree, but winning four straight divisional titles in the Sun Belt West is a wee bit different than coaching in the SEC East where you regularly encounter Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and ultimately Alabama if you’re good enough.
For now, the story in Gainesville finally has a happy ending. They beat Florida State to become bowl eligible and their new coach has probably already reached out to recruits, something his predecessor was openly and routinely criticized for not doing. Dan Mullen, the coach we once wanted, will end up somewhere else and perhaps even learn from his mistakes at Florida.
Billy Napier will bring the youthful exuberance to Gainesville that another young Billy once did for the basketball program so many years ago.
One can only hope he has the same results. Go Gators!