Is Mullen’s task harder than Spurrier’s?

by Gary Shelton on November 29, 2017 · 0 comments

in College Sports in Florida, general, University of Florida

Can Mullin salvage Feleipe Franks?/STEVEN MUNCIE

Can Mullen salvage Feleipe Franks?/STEVEN MUNCIE

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

You are Dan Mullen, Boss Gator. And where do you start?

You are Mullen, the guy who finally didn't say no. Chip Kelly is off trying to spell UCLA. Scott Frost will soon be trying to make Nebraska relevant again. But you are here, and as unimpressed as some may be with you, you are now.

There is much to do. You must find and mold a quarterback out of a

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lousy dollop of clay. You must recruit (right now, the as are ranked 13th). You must try to get the taste of Jim McElwain out of everyone's mouths. Most importantly, you have to make Florida matter, and frankly, it's been a long time.

In other words, you have to pull a Spurrier.

Just that.

Do you remember? In the days of Galen Hall (the last season split with interim coach Gary Darnell), the Gators were losing five games a year. Every year. They were going to minor bowls, or none at all. They looked lost, underachieving.

You know. Like they look now.

Steve Spurrier was the perfect hire for the Gators. He was brash, he was confident, and he could coach. He won, and he made opponents look silly in the process. He believed, and eventually, everyone believed along.

I remember being on an airplane once and sitting next to a Gator fan. Eventually, the guy turned to me and asked "Do you like Spurrier." And I answered that if I had a kid who played quarterback, he'd certainly go to Spurrier's camp, because I admired how much football he knew. But he was so rough on quarterbacks that I said, quite honestly, that there were times I liked Spurrier and times I did not.

The guy settled back into his seat. And I followed with a question. "Do you like Spurrier," I asked.

He smiled. "I love him."

Why?

"Because he's smug and conceited and full of himself," the guy said. "Just like the rest of us."

In some ways, Florida has tried to rehire Spurrier again over the years without success. The Ron Zook error came after Spurrier. Zook lost five games a year for three straight, too. But Urban Meyer came along, and although he seemed to hate Gator fans as much as they hated him, he won two national titles.

Since, the Gators have spun their wheels. Will Muschamp lost five or more in three of his four seasons, and Jim McElwain's teams lost four or more in an embarrassing time in the SEC East. Which brings us to Mullen -- a decent coach, not a savior.

Ask  yourself: Are the Gators in worse shape now than they were in 1990, when Spurrier took over? Maybe. Kirby Smart has it going at Georgia. Nick Saban owns the conference at Alabama. Florida isn't on probation, as they were under Spurrier, but the SEC was a cloud-of-dust league back then.

Back then, no one knew who was going to play quarterback, either. No one knew that Spurrier was going to make things click. When Spurrier came to Florida, there were three teams in the top 25 -- Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn. Now, there are five.

Then, there is this: Mullen's job is harder than Spurrier's because Spurrier came first. He set the standards. He showed it was possible. When Spurrier showed up, there were no realistic expectations; the team had never won the SEC title, let alone a national championship.

Personally, I think the mediocrity that sorrounds Mullen is more pronounced.  Which means Mullen needs to buy a shovel and get to work.

Florida is a hard coaching job. The fans start with the expectations of greatness, and they don't like it when they have to settle. If you want realism, go somewhere else. This is a job that can wreck the health of a normal coach.

And right, the Gators are third.

You remember when that happened before, don't you. FSU and Miami both grabbed footholds and build programs. Well, we're back there, too. Mark Richt at Miami has all the mometum. Jimbo Fisher at FSU (provided he stays there) have things going despite their own problems. The Gators won't want to hear this, but they have some catching up to do.

Can they? Sure. Flordia still has more alums than anyone in the state. They ought to recruit well. They have enough money. They have enough tradition. The statues outside the stadium still look good.

But ask yourself this. How much time does Mullen get? The last four (non-interim) coaches have totaled 16 seasons, and Meyer got six of those. I wonder if the Gator alums will buy into the chore that winning can be.

It is a delicate time for state. Florida and FSU were terrible this year. Miami was finding its way to success again. The small schools – UCF, USF and FAU – were successful, but who knows how long that can be sustained?

Look, there has never been a head coach in the history of ever who lost his opening press conference. It's easy to say the right things. It's easy to get a laugh from a joke, or a cheer from a Hallmark Card. Fans want to believe.

If you are Mullen, you start by letting them.

If you're Mullen, you start with a telephone. You start by calling your commitments. You start by hitting the road. You start by outworking everyone else, because you have farther to travel. You start by having your picture taken with Tim Tebow, your old buddy. You start by being smart, by being classy, by being one of the boys.

Soon, you start by winning.

Because, really, nothing else will do.

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