According to a video that came out of the Florida locker room, Dan Mullen and his Gators team danced and celebrated postgame Saturday, a remarkable display of denial in the face of dysfunction. He’s not fooling anyone.
Unless a program that has won three national championships is suddenly ready to party after a record-setting bad defensive performance against a program that can only award 63 scholarships, Mullen is conning everyone.
He tried his best to topspin one of the more ridiculous games in program history, a come-from-behind, 70–52 victory over Samford—an FCS opponent with a losing record in the Southern Conference. Mullen declared it a “big win,” with a straight face. “Calling a win disappointing is disrespectful to the game,” he also said, again with a straight face.
Mullen seems to believe that if he just keeps projecting a threadbare celebratory tone, people will eventually buy it. With a 5–5 team and fired assistant coaches cast aside, that’s an increasingly tough sell.
Mullen declared that “nobody is more disappointed” than he is “when we don’t perform and live up to the Gator standard.” Well, what the hell was that in The Swamp on Saturday if not a performance that registered several miles below the putative Gator standard?
Last week the feeling went past disappointment, to stunned disbelief. People in and around the football program couldn’t believe how badly the Gators played in a game they were expected to win. That’s when the opponent was South Carolina—not a great team, but still a Southeastern Conference peer. The 40–17 loss was so damaging that it cost defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy their jobs.
This week? When the opponent is Samford? An FCS program that entered at 4–5? When Samford goes for 42 points in the first half—the most ever surrendered by Florida in the opening 30 minutes, and the Gators have been playing football since 1906? That’s a debacle.
And that leads to an increasingly inescapable conclusion: The Dan Mullen Era has crashed and cannot be revived. It’s over. He may finish the season but he cannot carry on into 2022 in Gainesville with any kind of enthusiastic backing. The way Florida played Saturday, it shouldn’t be favored in either of its final two games (at Missouri and home against Florida State). A losing record at a blueblood SEC program in Year 4 is an invitation to find other work.
What people might find “disrespectful to the game” is Mullen fielding a team that showed so little cohesion, preparedness, competence and effort. That might be disappointing to the people who pay his salary. Feel free to survey the ticket-buying public and fat cat donors who have helped Mullen earn a preposterous $7.5 million salary.
It’s just stunning how quickly we got to this point. Much the way the Jim McElwain Era abruptly accelerated toward an ugly ending, the Mullen Era is now heading in the same direction. After three good seasons and a promising start to the fourth, this has been a six-week collapse.
When things go bad at Florida, they go really bad, really fast.
The firing of Grantham on Monday was a PR move to appease the outraged fan base. While that might have worked during the week, it failed on Saturday. Florida’s defense seems to have up and quit in response.
It would seem to go beyond scheme and into effort when a Florida defense gives up 358 yards and 42 points in a half to anyone—much less Samford. Mullen spun that into praise of Samford’s offensive scheme and tempo quarterback, saying, “You’ve got to give them some credit. They’re going to be a team that scores some points.”
They’re a team that scored 13 points three weeks ago against Chattanooga. Let’s be real here.
Florida threw 31-year-old linebackers coach Christian Robinson into the breach as the defensive play-caller in pace of Grantham, with 72-year-old Paul Pasqualoni as a backstop. Mullen himself seemed to jump in on some organizational and signaling duties in the second half. The defensive operation didn’t work.
Special teams contributed its own embarrassments, surrendering a kickoff-return touchdown and a fourth-quarter onside kick that everyone should have seen coming. Mullen said he told the kick return unit to be ready for the onside kick, and yet the Samford kicker rolled a slow dribbler straight ahead that he recovered himself.
Despite his team needing more than 2 1/2 quarters to take its first lead on mighty Samford, Mullen wanted his fan base to walk away smiling. That’s after upset losses to Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina. That’s after being broken by Georgia near the end of the second quarter of the Cocktail Party on the way to a 34–7 loss. That’s after getting huffy about recruiting questions. That’s after limiting media access.
All the signs of crisis are there, and there is deafening noise in the proverbial system. Mullen sticking his fingers in his ears and humming so he can't hear it won’t lessen the volume or intensity. And eventually, it will be time to face the music. If ever a win can signal the end of a coaching tenure, this was it.
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