Updated: Jan 9
Abrupt change has become the norm today. A sudden pandemic. Economic peril on the heels of a record-setting stock market. One minute we are about to certify the electoral college count for the president-elect, the next minute our Capitol is crawling with thugs inside of what should be an American fortress. The warp speed of this disgraceful display of treason frightens even the most courageous of Capitol Police.
When we don’t consider a potentially wrong and possible damaging impact of our actions, it just shows how quickly things can get out of hand with unintended consequence. That’s why I’m issuing a warning today about something of far less importance than a national security threat, but gives Gator football fans pause for concern.
Six or seven weeks ago when his Top 10 team was sailing along smoothly enroute to the SEC title game and his quarterback was maybe the front-runner for winning the Heisman, it was a Hallmark movie – a love story between Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators that was uplifting even in the shadow of a plague.
Perhaps the vast majority in Gator Nation still love him. But the confluence of events surrounding Mullen since that time has been confusing and somewhat unsettling – even a little disturbing. Recent events don’t compute. Some were downright Un-Mullen-like.
1. The unintended ugly optics of the Darth Vader costume in the post-game presser following the Florida and Missouri player scuffle.
2. The LSHOE loss to a three-touchdown underdog, at home. The best player on offense held out for what they said were medical reasons, when Kyle Pitts could have been a red-zone distraction on a night that Kyle Trask wasn’t at his best. Dan’s lack of wizardry was superseded by the stupidity of a veteran player drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing a shoe after a rare key defensive stop.
3. After battling back to within a score vs. Alabama in the final seconds of the SEC Championship game, Mullen uncharacteristically wasted a time out on – wait for it – a two-point conversion, robbing his quarterback of time needed to negotiate the 88 yards for a winning score.
4. And what’s this? An NCAA probation handed out with a “show cause” for Mullen, usually reserved for more egregious violations than an illegal “bump” into a recruit. All of this had been going on for nearly a year, most of it time already served, but somehow UF had been able to keep it quiet. I’m still waiting for somebody to explain the “show cause.”
5. Picked for a New Year’s Six Bowl and significant payday, Mullen mulled over whether he had enough players to compete with high-powered Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. This just in: He didn’t. Sooners 55, Gators 20 after eight starters and 17 total players were missing due to opt outs and Covid-19. Mullen said they chose to play game to give young players experience for next year.
6. Three consecutive losses.
7. After all that, word began to dribble out from somewhere that perhaps Mullen was enamored about coaching in the NFL. The peerless Adam Schefter reported last Sunday morning that at least one NFL team had his name on a short list.
Keep in mind, much of this with hardly any explanation from Mullen or UF. In fact, Gator fans are still in the dark.
That’s when I asked one of Dan’s former bosses and best friends what he’d been hearing about Mullen. I tried to present the scenario to Urban Meyer with the query, “What’s up with Dan Mullen?” on our Best Fridays in Football weekly podcast.
Urban, unaware of any situation change for Mullen, asked: “What’s the question? I don’t understand.”
“Some Gator fans are afraid of losing their coach,” I said to him. “They want a loyalty oath. I guess I am asking you if you have any idea of where Dan’s head is right now, or if you think it might be in the NFL, or if you think he’d fit in the NFL.”
Urban replied that he said he sees no indication that Dan is unhappy:
“Dan is like a brother to me and we’ve very close. I’ve not talked to him in detail about that. He was distraught, like all great competitors get distraught over a loss. You feel an obligation to the fan base of the Gators, or Buckeyes, you do! Some people don’t. Dan does. I did. When we lost a game I felt we let people down. It destroyed me! We lost that Alabama game (SEC Championship, 2009) and it was like a punch to the jaw. I had a hard time getting up off the canvas. It wasn’t because of me, but I personally felt I let the Gator Nation down, let my players down.
“The commonality of all great coaches is that they care deeply for their players and they care deeply for their university. And Dan has that. Are you kidding me? It’s one of the top five jobs in America. There is a lot of pressure and expectation. But no one points a gun to your head and says ‘You need to be the coach there!’”
Meyer admits he didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in Gainesville from Utah and “I wasn’t quite ready for it.” He was young and didn’t grasp the power of the SEC yet and The Gator Nation.
“I watched Steve Spurrier,” Urban said the day before he was packing to leave for the College Football national championship game. “That’s how I knew about The Gator Nation and the SEC. Then you get into it and you fall in love with Jeremey Foley and Dr. (Bernie) Machen … the fans … The Swamp … and then you start winning…”
The unprecedented two national titles in three seasons placed Florida in elite company. But with that came even more pressure and the fans’ unrealistic expectations of winning championships every season which took its toll on Urban’s health, which eventually drove him out of coaching.
“Mack Brown told me one time, ‘the good news is that you won the national championship. And ‘the bad news is that you won the national championship.’ That became my life – Gator Nation’s life – after that day.”
While all the chatter on the talk shows and social media suggest a possible rift with Mullen and UF, that’s not the message his good friend and former boss is getting or giving out.
“He seems very happy at Florida, loves Florida and I don’t think there is any intent on his behalf of leaving Florida,” said Meyer. But Urban admits he is intentionally out of the loop. “I don’t really read anything – I just go about my business.”
If that’s the case, then both parties need to move forward, kiss and make up, or just huddle up and sing Kumbaya. Or better yet, a verse of “We Are The Boys.”