Once again, the Florida football program has to push the reset button and begin another fresh start, and Dan Mullen has the task of rebuilding the brand across the board – talent, coaching, facilities, and trying to heal the damaged psyche of the Gator Nation.
Mullen certainly has hit the ground running, seemingly traveling the entire state and most of the country 24/7 looking for talent, while canvassing the state and even the Florida campus at speaking engagements to resurrect support and rekindle excitement in a program that has grown stale given the offensive doldrums of two coaching disasters. He has been tireless in projecting excitement and enthusiasm to the fan base and media from day one.
Mullen was able to salvage a better-than-expected 2018 recruiting class by getting key players such as WR Jacob Copeland, QB Emory Jones, and DL Malik Langham to commit or recommit to the Gators. Signing a class of 19 players with a composite national rank of 11 was a significant accomplishment, providing the impetus to start building momentum for the 2019 recruiting class, and also excitement in the fan base.
Mullen has been dealt a crappy hand by the Swamp Donkey, Jim McElwain. He has the interest of many stud offensive recruits, but many are in a wait-and-see mode and simply aren’t ready to pull the trigger as they normally would for Florida until they see improvement on the field this fall. That’s a lot of pressure to begin with, exacerbated by the new Early Signing Day in mid-December, meaning there’s even more pressure to put an entertaining product on the field – quickly.
There is more talent on hand on the offensive side of the ball than recent results have indicated. There is plenty of skill position talent, but if the QB position and O-Line don’t at least perform adequately, it could be another ugly product. The QB depth chart does not inspire optimism. Feleipe Franks may be mentally damaged goods along with not being a fit for Mullen’s Spread offense; Kyle Trask seemingly has the mental capacity to understand the offense but has zero college snaps; Jones has the athletic ability and familiarity with the style of offense but zero experience other than one spring practice. It’s Mullen’s job, along with the new staff, to instill confidence in the players and put them in position to succeed. Most of the attention will certainly be on his development of the QB position. His track record in developing various styles of players into productive, SEC-level QBs is undeniable, but he has a unique and challenging task to find someone in the current QB room to take the lead and perform. There is plenty of talent at the skill positions to help take some pressure off, but unless someone comes forward to provide some balance with a functional passing game and occasional effective running, this could be another disappointing season ahead, renewing the disenchantment of Gator Nation.
Fortunately there is plenty of SEC-level talent on defense to (again) shoulder a majority of the load with even a modicum of help and consistency from the offense. There is experience along the D-Line and playmaking ability in the secondary. If the defensive staff can get decent play out of a nondescript LB corps, this should be another solid Gator defense.
Regarding his new coaching staff, he has assembled a nice mix of experienced and younger coaches, most of which seem to be connecting with the current players and recruits. However, there are some guys such as John Hevesy that, while a good position coach, have zero juice on the recruiting trail, forcing Mullen and others to try and pick up the slack. Mullen has chosen familiarity in some cases, but if he can’t help recruit enough elite talent at those positions, he is already hamstringing his own efforts. Hopefully he recognizes this and will make the necessary staffing decisions, if required.
To his credit Mullen has soldiered through all of these negatives and question marks, employing his “relentless effort” manta to his handling of the responsibility of being the Head Coach at Florida and also embracing the pressure and expectations that come with it, instead of shrinking from them.
I’ll be back in August with my season preview. I’m hopeful Gator Nation still has some patience after the last two coaching staffs have sucked much of the life and fun out of Florida Football. Make no mistake – Dan Mullen has more rebuilding than reloading to do the next few seasons to restore the Gator brand and begin to approach the expectations not just of the fan base, but his own.