Monday marked the first in-person press conference the Florida media has had with Dan Mullen during a game week, since COVID forced them to Zoom. It was already prescheduled, so this wasn’t an attempt to be more open or handle things face to face. But it was the right time for the Gators head coach to take full responsibility for how bad this season has gone, coming off the 40-17 loss to South Carolina.
On Sunday night, Mullen fired offensive line coach John Hevesy and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. These were moves that were most likely to be made once the season ended, but Mullen came to the conclusion that there was no need to wait, as they try to fix the problems inside the building now.
“My responsibility as the head coach is to do what’s best, what I feel is best for the Florida Gators,” Mullen said. “And that comes above it all. It was obviously a really tough decision to make. It was something that was weighing on me. It was something that I was looking and saying, ‘Hey, there’s, I’m probably going to make changes at the end of the season,’ and I thought for the health of the program, for the health of everybody, you know you’re going to do it, let’s make that move now and get us headed in the direction we’re going into it in the future.”
It wasn’t as though this decision was easy for Mullen, as he has a long history with both coaches. But the time was right, because this team looks like they’ve lost their way, in more ways than one. It was about the long-term process as well, with Mullen now looking towards the future and how this team must meet the “Gator Standard.”
But it’s also the job of the head coach to take full responsibility for his actions as the leader of the program. After waiting long enough, Mullen finally laid it all at his feet, knowing deep down that he’s been given a lifeline by AD Scott Stricklin.
“I’m the head coach, so I bear all of it. It’s on my shoulders,” he said. “I’m the one that’s responsible for this program. I’m the one that’s responsible for this team and how we got to perform. That’s your job here as the head coach, is to take on that responsibility. And my job is to make sure we go perform, that this team plays to the Gator standard, which we’re not doing right now. It’s my responsibility to find a way to fix that.”
Things in Gainesville almost feel like what is happening at Nebraska, where Scott Frost has been given the opportunity to return for the 2022 season, but had to take a pay cut and buyout reduction to do it. He also fired five assistant coaches on offense, which is another way of saying “you’ve got one more chance.” But for Florida, Dan Mullen felt as though AD Scott Stricklin was onboard with his longterm goals for this football team.
“[From] my talks with Scott, he is pretty confident that we’re going to get this fixed,” Mullen said. “Now, I can’t speak for him on that deal, but, within his confidence, it wasn’t about this year and next year. It was a long-term picture of where we want this program to be in many years to come.
The way in which this football program is being run is not excusable, along with the end results. So Mullen has a lot of changes to make, which won’t be easy. Some folks will say this team is full of talent, but just not the right attitude to win on a consistent basis. But if you asked me if I thought the Gators could be competing for a National Championship in five years, the answer would be no. The problem is, they should be, and that’s what Dan Mullen has to fix if he’s going to be coaching in the SEC, five years from now.
No longer should this be welcomed by the Gators administration, as you’ll become irrelevant in a heart beat, just ask other programs around the country. It’s not as if this football program has scared anyone recently into thinking they could win it all, but one thing that Mullen must get rid of, is this story of “Redemption.” You won’t find any sympathy for the Gators or Mullen in other coaching circles, so it’s up to him to fix it, now.
“The status quo is not going to be acceptable to us,” Mullen said. “[I] talked to the team this morning about that. I had to explain what status quo meant for some of the guys. There’s a lot of disappointment with where we’re at in this season. So, what we’re looking for is how are we going to change that? And we have the opportunity on Saturday.”
They do have that opportunity on Saturday, to win a football game, no matter how bad the opponent is. The best thing going for the Gators is the schedule, with games against Samford, Missouri and Florida State remaining.
But Mullen better not turn a good thing into a bad thing. If he drops one of these last three games, someone will throw a few more logs on that fire and all this talk about him building back the “Gator Standard” will be thrown straight into that burning blaze.