Updated: Nov 23, 2019
By BUDDY MARTIN
All you loyal, faithful Gator fans who have been on the front lines since Nov. 27, 2017 when Dan Mullen first set foot on Gainesville soil and declared the Gator Nation as sovereign, you’ve been vindicated. And it’s time for you to cash in. Yeah, you!
In our wildest dreams I don’t think we could have guessed that Mullen would be this successful or this far along in just 23 months and a few days. He has the Gators knocking on the door of elite status.
If Florida beats Florida State Saturday, Nov. 30, it marks the second straight year of double digit wins and another New Year’s Six bowl berth, with a record of 20 wins and 5 losses (so far) and a chance to finish 11-2 and ranked among the nation’s best five or six teams.
Which, by the way, puts Mullen in some lofty company as a Florida coach:
Winning percentage of all Gator coaches:
—Steve Spurrier .817
—Urban Meyer .813
—Dan Mullen .792
Personally, I plan to literally “cash in.” I wagered 100 of my hard earned dollars last summer in Las Vegas -- high roller that I am -- and bet that the Gators would win 9 or more games in the regular season. Do the math: I can’t lose. And I stand to win $225, which will no doubt go on my credit card bill from the Vegas trip – providing I win. And I never gamble on football.
The purpose of this column is not to brag on my skills as either handicapper or a visionary. I did this to have some “skin in the game.” I felt since last spring that Mullen would have his team ready compete at a high level. I talk about this kind of stuff multiple times weekly either on my live streaming show or somebody else’s broadcast, so I wanted to back up my conviction.
I got tired of hearing the skeptics casting doubt on the Florida program, Mullen’s so-called lackluster recruiting, the lack of a skilled quarterback (in this case it was Feleipe Franks) and all the bragging out of Athens.
Also, many of us felt there was a hangover from the Jim McElwain Era and Mullen was such a refreshing relief because he felt it was a privilege to coach at Florida and not a burden. Just Mullen’s attitude was a mood-lifter. Besides, those of us who covered Mullen as Urban Meyer’s play-caller and watched him accomplish so much with so little at Mississippi State felt very good about the choice.
Some of you might remember the famous “Night At The Airport” when Brenden Martin and I chased down the “Chip Kelly Plane” which was returning from Hartford with a UF contingent without any news about where Kelly had vanished to (UCLA). It was that night we forged a bond as “Gator Nation Kingdom” which led to all this and eventually brought together 6,000 people, most all of whom cheered the arrival of Dan Mullen a few days later.
The circle has now been completed. We have seen the future and it is Dan Mullen.
In August this year, I was a guest on Paul Finebaum’s Show and decided to declare myself: Florida would win 10 games this regular season and probably beat Georgia, I predicted. Finebaum virtually snickered at me and Georgia fans bashed him for letting me come on his show with such falderol.
Later in October, I returned and appeared on the Finebaum set the Friday before the Florida-Georgia game. I called Finebaum out and announced my 9-wins ticket from Vegas, bragging as if I had hit the lottery. And said, “I didn’t just say it – I put my money where my mouth was.” I appreciated Paul letting me set the record straight and, after all, I am not one of those Finebaum bashers who finds pleasure in accusing him of being “anti-Gator.” In fact I am a frequent viewer, a fan of his show and a friend.
Ever since Steve Spurrier was first the coach he’s been somewhat dialed in to the Florida program. In fact, it was Finebaum who struck a discordant note with Jim McElwain right before he was about to exit Florida as coach. You do remember Jim McElwain, right?
The other day I was lauding Mullen for his recent success and feeling pretty good about my projections when somebody raised the question “Who’s the last coach to have double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons.” And I wondered…Urban Meyer? Spurrier?
“Nope,” said a friend, “Jim McElwain.”
True. I’d forgotten. And I wondered, “what ever DID happen to McElwain?” Which conjured up memories of the bizarre interview Finebaum had with him at SEC Media Days in 2017 that would lead to McElwain’s eventual dismissal. I asked Paul to reflect on that day when McElwain had dropped in on SEC Media Days fresh out of his Montana sandbox where he loved to study the skies for formations that might inspire a football play. (For real. He is a bit of an astronomy buff.)
This was not a happy time for Mac, who had arrived in Birmingham only to discover Florida had scheduled LSU as a homecoming opponent, claiming he hadn’t known about it.
McElwain seem generally unhappy and also often groused about the poor facilities at Florida and the lack of progress in catching up. There were also whispers and nasty rumors about a photo of McElwain on top of a shark, which was most assuredly photo-shopped or totally fake, but it was suggested to the media by Florida people NOT to ask him about it.
At the 2017 SEC Media Days, after completing his round of interviews in the big room with reporters, TV, Radio Row and Internet, McElwain’s last stop was at the desk of Finebaum, where he was going to be asked about his day. Right off the bat, noticing lack of energy and apparent disconnect, Finebaum knew it was going to require a quick pivot and change of strategy.
“It was one of the most bizarre, surreal interviews in my career,” Finebaum recalled. “I knew he was sensitive about the day and the questions so I veered off script. But I never dreamed we would end up in outer space and have a crash landing on Pluto. The weird part was it was most engaged I had seen Mac at any point in his Florida career -- instead of talking football – talking-out-of-body experiences in the Milky Way.”
Apparently McElwain was going to remain out of body for a while, because he never seemed to be able to reconnect or regain focus on the task at hand the remainder of the season. Implying he’d had death threats, none of which could be verified, McElwain had become even more detached and after getting off to a 3-3 start, with 42-7 loss to Georgia, he got the axe in a mercy killing. Finally he was fired.
All this after going to the SEC championship game two straight years. Maybe the McElwain Lesson might be a reminder of how quickly success can disappear. One day you’re gone.
In Mullen’s case, I don’t see that ever happening because he’s so entrenched. As Steve Spurrier once said, “I think he’ll (Mullen) probably coach here until he beats my all-time record for wins.” (122)
Yeah, let’s go with that. Only 103 more!