January 8, 2009; Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida: “Tebow takes a knee and that is that! Congratulations to the University of Florida Gators, who have won the school’s third national championship!” That was the call at the end of Dan Mullen‘s final game with the Florida Gators. The culmination of a long and prosperous relationship as a friend and assistant to Urban Meyer.
The school had just reached the high water mark of the most successful period in it’s history. For his part, Mullen was being rewarded with his first head coaching opportunity. Mullen’s departure would prove to be bittersweet. All were happy for his hard work to pay off but as a friend, a coach, a colleague, and a mentor he would be missed. But did we know just how much?
During the 2008 championship campaign with Mullen running the offense, the Gators averaged 445.1 YPG and 43.6 PPG. In 2009, Tebow’s senior year, the team averaged 457.9 YPG. however something was noticeably off about the flow of this team. The increase in YPG didn’t translate into more points. On the contrary, the Gators averaged 35.9 PPG. Almost a full eight point decrease. And the problems only got worse after Tebow’s graduation.
After a short leave of absence leading up to the Sugar Bowl, Meyer returned to coach his senior phenom’s final bow. The following season saw Urban Meyer and the Gators crashing back to earth after a four year high. With a new quarterback and an offensive coordinator who was still trying to find his groove in Meyer’s spread, the offense sputtered along to the tune of 350.8 YPG and just 30.6 PPG. Little did we know, it would never be that good again.
At the conclusion of the 2010 season, Meyer resigned citing health issues and a desire to spend time with family. Just over a year later, he would join the Ohio State Buckeyes as their new head coach. A move that left a bitter taste in the mouths of Gator Nation.
Following Meyer’s resignation, the administration hired Will Muschamp. A brilliant defensive mind, Muschamp promised discipline and a blue collar approach. He delivered on both. Unfortunately, he preferred to play a very slow and outdated offense. This didnt sit well with the fans who had become accustomed to the fast and flashy plays of the fun & gun and spread offenses of Spurrier and Meyer respectively, before him.
During the Muschamp era the Gators flirted with another shot at a national championship- instead they were blown out in the Sugar Bowl by Louisville – and experienced their first losing season since Charlie Pell‘s 1979 team. At their best, at least in terms of offensive production, Muschamp’s gators averaged 30.2 points per game (ultimately, his final season). At their worst? Just 18.8 points per game.
This lack of offensive production led to the hiring of Jim McElwain. This was a classic case of overselling and under delivering. The offensive guru brought a total lack of discipline and an abrasive approach to front office relations. While he had no solution to Florida’s offensive woes, he had arrogance and apathy to spare.
Under McElwain, the program saw 28 player arrests and or citations. Along with the now infamous Will Grier PED scandal, the program saw 9 players miss all of last year for a credit card scandal with multiple felonies. This lack of discipline showed in other ways as well. Players were not getting the strength and conditioning they needed which led to mass injuries.
While winning the East in his first two seasons, McElwain failed to improve the offense. Instead, he took it backwards averaging 22.9, 23.6, and 22.1 points per game respectively. After fostering a strained relationship with the administration, making false death threat allegations, and failing to deliver on his promises of offensive improvement, he was let go mid-season last year.
They say that the night is darkest before the dawn and these last few years have certainly been dark for a once shining program. But things have a way of coming full circle, too. After ten years in purgatory, this program is on the rise. With Dan Mullen’s homecoming, we can look forward to our once bright past as the benchmark for our future.