With Orange Bowl Victory, Dan Mullen Completes 180-Degree Swing
Nov. 25, 2017.
On that day, Florida lost to in-state rival Florida State, 38-22. Interim head coach Randy Shannon had just coached his final game at Florida, and then-head coach Jim McElwain had been gone since the Georgia game. The entire staff was gone after that day and it ended with how things typically ended that season: Losing.
The coaching staff lost that day. But in a sense, the Gators won.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin picked up the phone that day and called from Gainesville to Mississippi. He called then-Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and asked if he wanted to be the next head coach of the Florida Gators.
Now, 765 days, 21 wins, and two New Year's Six Bowl Wins later, Florida is an entirely different program. The difference is more than hot and cold, it's scorching and freezing.
"The Gator Standard's about trying to be the best of the best," Mullen said. "You look at our whole athletic department, that standard's pretty high."
But no sport is higher in that department than football. No sport has more expectations. No sport is a borderline religion in Gainesville.
And unlike McElwain, and unlike Muschamp, Mullen understands that. He understands the expectation. He understands the demand.
But even more important than that?
He can handle it. And he expects his players too as well.
"This is why these guys came to Florida," Mullen said. "To play in big games, to play on the biggest stage. To be one of the best programs in the country."
It is easy to read this as coach speak. Every coach believes his program has a championship standard. That is obviously not actually true at every school, but it is at Florida.
This is a program that has national championships. This is a program with SEC titles and Heisman winners. And Mullen was obviously there for one of those Heismans and two of those championships.
And he is proving now that his standards of championship are standards he can actually reach. He knows what it takes and he is actively doing what it takes as his era at UF continues to build.
"If you want to be able to win a championship you got to win consistently," Mullen said. "You look at the playoff teams in the playoffs this year. You know they're not just teams that came out of nowhere."
And he is absolutely right. It is a process. Mullen later noted that every playoff team was in a New Year's Six Bowl last year. And all of them outside of Oklahoma won those games.
But perhaps the most important aspect of building that, is not just understanding that it is a process, but understanding how the process actually works.
"It was tough to go from four to 10 wins," Mullen said. "It was tougher to go from 10 to 11."
And it is. It absolutely is.
In more basic terms, Mullen is saying that it is tough to make a bad program good, but it is even tougher to make a good program great. That is the next step: To make Florida once again a program that people attach the adjective "great" to.
Mullen has changed the adjective from bad to good. He has changed how people view the Gators. But there is a necessary extra gear to become great. Great is an elite fraternity in college football and UF is a pledge right now.
But in time, with Mullen's lead, it feels that that could be on the horizon. It feels that that is a few steps away. When he took over, it felt like it was miles away.