Before I get to the crux of this column, I want to say that I have a great deal of respect for Dan Mullen and what he has accomplished in such a short time. Any questions that I raise here are not an indication that I don’t believe that he is the right man for the job. On the contrary, they are meant to inspire the very thing that I feel this program has been lacking this season… Accountability.
2020 has been challenging, to say the least. I would go so far as to say that nothing that has happened this year could be classified as normal. Even our attempts to create some semblance of normalcy have been formed through very abnormal means. This is especially true of this football season. Each week, teams run the risk of having games canceled or postponed. Players and coaches are poked and prodded on a near daily basis in an effort to protect everyone from a virus that will likely infect us all before it’s all said and done.
With all that has taken place and all that we have all gone through this year, it’s almost understandable that Mullen’s demeanor would be a little off. Under perfectly normal circumstances, Florida is a pressure-cooker of a job. The competition is fierce both on the field and in recruiting. The fans demand nothing short of perfection, as competing for championships is the expectation. The reason that I bring all of this up is that there are few coaches who understand this more than Dan Mullen.
When he arrived in Gainesville three years ago, he made it his mantra that everything would be done to the Gator standard. That standard demands hard work, sacrifice, personal accountability, and a determination to be excellent in every aspect of our lives. Three years later, the program has won consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl games, had back-to-back 10+ win seasons, an Eastern Division Championship, and Mullen himself has won more games than any previous Florida head coach through his first 34 games.
All of this points to a successful program. So, why are so many of the Gator faithful unhappy? The short answer, in my opinion, is a lack of accountability. Now, Mullen has shown himself to be a good disciplinarian. His players have stayed out of trouble for the most part. But I’m referring to a different form of accountability.
It could be argued that Florida is coming off of its worst loss in program history. Certainly they’ve lost by greater margins in the past. But they’ve never lost so much in a single game. They were never in control of a game that they were favored by 23-points. Physical and mental mistakes abounded from start to finish as LSU upended the Gators, putting all of their playoff hopes (and possibly Kyle Trask’s Heisman hopes) to rest in the process.
The now infamous shoe toss by Marco Wilson was a microcosm of Florida’s night and ultimately cost the Gators their season. However, there were some concerning comments from Mullen even before kickoff. It was Mullen’s opinion that the Gators would get into the CFP by beating Alabama in the SEC Championship game, even if they lost to LSU last Saturday. This comment is concerning for a couple of reasons.
First, it implies that Dan Mullen and perhaps, the team were already looking ahead to Alabama when they should have been focused on beating LSU. Second, the statement suggests that Mullen considered a loss to LSU to be a real possibility. This would also indicate that they simply weren’t prepared to face LSU, as a focused and prepared Florida team would have easily covered the -23 point spread against a fledgling and diminished LSU roster.
If this is indicative of the attitude that Dan Mullen has had over the past week (more likely the past 3-4) then it’s no wonder that the team would follow suit. You see, when you have a personality like Mullen’s, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. When things are going right, that cocky and almost arrogant demeanor can be endearing because when you get right down to it, I believe that Mullen is a sincere guy who truly is passionate about what he does. On the other hand, when things aren’t going as they should, it comes across as flippant and abrasive.
Following the loss this past weekend, Mullen chose to rail against his offense and Ohio State, rather than providing a voice of reason and accountability. While the offense had several mishaps, they posted over 600 yards. They weren’t really the reason that the Gators lost. On the other hand, the defense was a sieve… again. When asked about Marco Wilson, Mullen’s response was that he didn’t see it. Once again, providing zero accountability. Rather than looking at what went wrong with his team and discussing how it will be corrected, Mullen chose to throw barbs at Ohio State, suggesting that Florida should have just played fewer games so they would also be undefeated.
It might be a valid point that Ohio State hasn’t played enough games to be a legitimate playoff contender. But that has nothing to do with the performance of Dan Mullen’s team last Saturday. This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen this behavior this season, either. Following Florida’s last minute loss to Texas A&M, Mullen insinuated that it was because A&M had more fans in the stadium than what they had agreed upon during COVID-19 protocols. The defense was a liability in that loss, as well. Unfortunately, when Mullen makes comments like these, he fails to take responsibility. There is no personal accountability which, as I mentioned earlier, is a part of the Gator standard.
Every college football analyst, beat writer, fan, and Dr. Pepper vendor in the country know that Florida’s defense is unreliable. They are equally apt to force three and outs as they are to allow 84-yard touchdown runs. They’ve shown a proclivity to making mediocre quarterbacks look like the next Tom Brady. All of this has forced the offense to play to perfection. When the wheels finally came off and the offense wasn’t perfect, they lost in heartbreaking fashion, at home, on Senior Night, to LSU. And nothing is said about the poor play of the defense, the inexplicably awful play selection, or the lack of situational awareness by the coaching staff.
All of this shows a lack of accountability. Until Dan Mullen begins to hold himself, his coaching staff, and his team to the Gator standard, Florida will continue to be on the outside looking in. We just wrapped up week 10 of the Gators’ football season and we still have players on defense that don’t know where they’re supposed to line up or what their assignments are. The staff waited until this game to shift the offensive line around in an effort to find a better answer than Jean Delance. These are things that, when held accountable, a staff would have cleaned up by the third game of the season at worst.
Until Dan Mullen demands excellence, he will never receive it. Until Dan Mullen comes out after a game, win or lose, and addresses the problem areas, they will remain a problem. We need the version of Dan Mullen that stood before the press and called out the toughness of his team and their competitive spirit. That Dan Mullen can push his coaches and his players to become champions. The Dan Mullen that we’ve seen this season wasted a championship caliber team because he didn’t want to hold himself, Todd Grantham, Marco Wilson, Jean Delance, or anyone else accountable.