The sooner Dan Mullen realizes he’s not in Starkville anymore, the better his life might get in Gainesville, though that seems unlikely. By now you’ve all heard his postgame press conferences, his quirky responses to questions and his dislike for talking about the No. 1 thing in SEC Football — recruiting. But as he continues to bluster away at putting together a disappointing season, you have to wonder whether he truly understands how bad his comments sound.
On a day when he discussed having to limit the distractions on social media from his players, Mullen found himself again in the discussion of miserable quotes. On Saturday night, following the 34-7 loss to Georgia, Mullen was asked whether he thought the talent gap was widening between rosters in Gainesville and Athens. Any type of response would’ve be better than the one he belted out.
“We were better last year, and they were better this year,” Mullen said Saturday when asked about the talent gap between Georgia and Florida. “What do you think? Last year, we were able to win. This year, we weren’t. That’s where it is.”
Florida currently ranks No. 9 in the SEC recruiting rankings and No. 22 overall. So, distracting from the present to brag about a win last year won’t get you very far with a fan base, much less an athletic department. There’s no need to think Dan Mullen is being fired after this season, that won’t be happening. But a reality check is in store for this coaching staff, especially when Mullen has to make decisions about who to replace. But again, it’s not that simple.
As one SEC assistant coach who has worked with Mullen in the past told me Monday afternoon, “His problem continues to be that he doesn’t know how to get out of his own way.”
The media gave him another opportunity to discuss recruiting during his press conference on Monday. But just when you thought Mullen would take the opportunity to talk about his program and get a few recruits to pay attention to what he has to say, he folded.
“We’re in the season now. We’ll do recruiting after the season – when it gets to recruiting time, we can talk about recruiting,” Mullen responded. “Next Question.”
See, that’s it, right there. Dan glanced over to the side to someone in the media department, giving that look that screams, “HELP ME OUT,” begging with his eyes to get away from the questions. Coaches should always welcome the opportunity to sell their program to recruits, who will most certainly see his response today.
In this league, you better put on a brave face and act like the problems inside the program are fixable, whatever those might be. In the eyes of Dan Mullen, he can come off as brash to the question. It almost feels like he thinks it’s “cool” to act this way, which isn’t comforting to a fan base. It’s also not comforting to the big-time boosters who are spending money on his program and who expect results. So, when asked today about the perception versus the reality of being an SEC head coach, Mullen offered this response.
“That’s part of the job, it’s 6 inches between a pat on the back and a kick in the rear end,” Mullen said. “In the SEC, you’re either getting one or the other. There’s no in between, there’s no ‘I guess everything’s OK.’ That’s why I say perception and reality. Perception is everything’s perfect, or everything’s horrendous. Reality, you’re probably a little bit more in the middle somewhere, and you’re just trying to figure out how to improve.”
It seems as though perception is definitely turning into reality in Gainesville. The Gators are always close to taking the next step, but haven’t seemed to be able to put that final foot in front of the other. They look to be stumbling into the off-season, not strolling. This has become the problem for this Florida football program and one that needs to be fixed soon.
If we are ever going to take the Gators seriously as a legit threat to win a championship, then the results off the field must be heightened. No longer can they get by with just eight wins. This is Florida, not Mississippi State. So, there must be a sense of urgency by this coaching staff and its leader. The fans can’t do it for you. If you want life in your program, do something about it. But cutting off questions, making up bad excuses, looking for a way out of a press conference and not selling your program won’t cut it.
Due to a show-cause penalty, Mullen hasn’t stepped foot outside of Gainesville to recruit. Maybe his perception of things regarding the program aren’t as bright as he thinks they are.
Once he’s able to hit the road, maybe reality will set in.