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The Return

The second he started stepping off the jet, viewers could see his excited expression and a big set of Gator chomps. Dan Mullen, the newest heading coach hire for the Florida Gators, spent his introductory press conference explaining how much he understood the expectations and standard he, Urban Meyer and the rest of that staff set when he was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

He pledged things like relentless effort from his team and in most aspects. Mullen went around to all kinds of events and up and down fraternity and sorority row to drum up excitement in the fall for the 2018 season. The spring game was also was another avenue Mullen took to get the Gator faithful fired up about his return. Mullen was there to right the ship.

2018

After the win against Charleston Southern, it seemed like Florida football was in for a better year than 2017. Then the loss to Kentucky in the Swamp happened, snapping an over 30-year winning streak for Florida. The Gators rebounded with drubbings of Colorado State and Tennessee then a gutsy win over Mississippi State in Dan Mullen’s return to Starkville since he left in late 2017. It began an important stretch for Florida as it used the momentum to “pack the Swamp” for a home game against the No. 5 LSU Tigers.

Thanks to some a ballsy trick play and a Brad Stewart pick six, Mullen and Co. earned their first Top 5 win of the regime. However, it needed a major comeback to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Of course that set up a big-time contest with rival Georgia. The Gators kept it close but couldn’t pull out a Year 1 win over Kirby Smart. That game beat them twice as Florida was embarrassed by Missouri on Homecoming the next week. Cue Mullen’s postgame rant about being a competitor. A comeback victory over South Carolina, a beatdown of Idaho and some revenge against Florida State later, Florida had a date with Michigan in the Peach Bowl. A bowl where Florida dismantled the Wolverines and earned a 10-win season after finishing with just four a year prior.

2019

Year 2 started out with a big win in Week 0 over Miami then, a few weeks later, the legend of Kyle Trask began in Lexington as Florida posted another road comeback to win over the Wildcats. Then after that Mullen pulled off yet another high, edging out the Auburn Tigers in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Homecoming. With the defense playing well and Trask manning the helm, Florida had a colossal showdown with a revamped LSU. The Gators couldn’t pull it out in the shootout but Trask and Co. still impressed. Florida looked poised to upset the Bulldogs in Jacksonville to claim an SEC East title. Unfortunately, the Gators came out seemingly unprepared and poor defense on third down dashed any hopes of reaching Atlanta in Year 2. Florida ended the year strong with another win over Florida State and an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia.

It really felt like the Gators were improving and in the right direction.

The Beginning of the End

Then 2020 came along. A year where the world stopped and college football stood on its head to make the season happen.

And Florida came out hot as it put up over 60 points on the Ole Miss Rebels in Week 1. The defense was a concern but it was the first week and Ole Miss was a great offensive team.

Then it became a concern. After a too-close-for-comfort win over the Gamecocks at home, the Gators lost in a shootout on the road to Texas A&M. A game they would’ve won with just one or two stops. COVID postponed Florida for a few weeks and came back on Halloween to drub Missouri 41-17 albeit with a halftime scuffle thrown in.

Which set up another all-important ball game with the Bulldogs. And by God Mullen got the monkey off his back and beat Kirby. It really felt this was going to be Florida’s year. The Gators kept rolling and clinched the East against Tennessee until one fateful December night in Gainesville against LSU. A mysterious fog, a thrown shoe and an inexplicable oss had Florida now out of the CFP picture just a week before facing Alabama in the SEC title game.

Florida went toe-to-toe with the Tide but couldn’t put it all together. After having a high-octane offense all year, Florida found itself at 8-3 and playing in the Cotton Bowl. And that demolition at the hands of Oklahoma was a microcosm of Florida’s season: a disappointment. And Mullen seemed apathetic to it all whether his lack of hype-building for his Heisman finalist quarterback, putting his foot in his mouth during press conferences or just seeming to not care at times. The noise in the system started.

Then 2021 came along, a year fans envisioned would be a down year but it didn’t happen how they anticipated. A strong start with a near-win over Alabama again and a blow out of Tennessee gave the impression Mullen can win with his players in Gainesville. Then Kentucky happened. It began a stretch of 2-5 where Florida just didn’t put together a full game with embarrassing losses to the LSU (again), South Carolina and Missouri. Not to mention a shootout with FCS Samford. All the while Mullen didn’t do much to help his image with his behavior in press conferences.

The noise was at a fever pitch and eventually a move had to be made for Florida to part ways with its second Prodigal Son and made him $12 million richer.

Scott Stricklin said those losses weren’t the real reason Mullen was fired but rather symptoms of bigger issues in the program. A lack of recruiting momentum and detrimental loyalty to underperforming staff are just two of those.

Back to the Drawing Board

Now, because an inability to capitalize on success and make the necessary moves to maintain it by Mullen, Florida will conduct it’s fourth coaching search since Urban Meyer left in 2010. With so many jobs open it will be interesting to see who Florida convinces to become the next guy at UF.

But as of right now, Gator fans are still reeling from the absolute free fall this program is spinning in.

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