Buddy Martin Blog: Is The Honeymoon Over For Mullen? Probably. But He’s Still Married To The Gators.

Updated: Jun 3

Not Dan Mullen's finest moment: The Halftime Scuffle with Mizzou.

I’m looking for Jo. First name Mo. As in Mo-Jo. Counting the final 45 days or so of spring, trying to bust through the Wall of Pandemic Hangover with a sprint to football season 2021, here in my three-point stance, skipping over the forthcoming summer heat and cutting right to the chase. I want college football back, full go.

Just to be certain, I looked it up. “Mo-Jo. To regain one’s confidence, energy, or enthusiasm, especially coinciding with a resurgence in one’s success.” Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for. However, I’m also a realist. Things are going to be different.

For instance, you and I know The Honeymoon is Over for Dan Mullen. It’s Year 4. There are no championship trophies in the case yet. And while progress is nice, patience is not in abundance when it comes to The Gator Nation. If you haven’t already, are you willing to invest long term in Dan Mullen? And is he willing to reciprocate? No, I’m not throwing shade on Mullen, because I still think he’s the ideal Florida coach. But facts is facts.

In Urban Meyer’s fourth year at Florida, he went 13-1 and won the BCS national championship. In his fourth year at Ohio State, the season after winning his third career national championship, he went 13-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame, winding up No. 4 in the final AP Poll 5.

In Steve Spurrier’s fourth year at Florida, 1993, he went 11-2, beat West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl, won the SEC and wound up ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll.

Fourth-year seasons have been fairly kind to Florida’s greatest coaches. What will it be like for Dan Mullen in 2021?

You’ll get a mixed bag of answers – as I have on #The Buddy Martin Show in recent weeks. Most of my so-called “expert” guests who specialize in college football – and especially the Gators – see moderate success ahead. Perhaps it can be best described “close but no cigar” for Mullen whose progress was rocking along nicely until the semi-collapse at the end of the 2020 season.

No matter how you slice it – and most of my most knowledgeable guests commentators tend to cut Mullen slack – the tail-end 0-3 swan dive was not a pretty optic. We can talk about the unfortunate oopsies that occurred as the Gators closed out a season which had included an encouraging win over Georgia, but the truth is 0-3 still 0-3. And the question is: Where do they go from here?

OK, so The Shoe Game was ugly, but perhaps an anomaly. And we don’t just assume Kyle Trask would have gotten Evan McPherson close enough to have cut through the fog with a sure-fire winning field goal over LSU. But probably. So chalk that off to circumstance. Besides, they could be forgiven for peeking around the corner at Alabama.

If the Crimson Tide were the measuring stick in 2020 – and why wouldn’t they be? – then let’s apply the Dan Mullen Algebra to the question that he answered about Georgia in 2019 when the Gators lost by a touchdown to the Bulldogs:

Reporter: “How far behind is Florida to Georgia?”

Mullen: “Seven points.”

Seems like Dan Mullen used to smile a lot more. Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd

By that standard, since Saban beat Mullen only, 52-46, in the SEC Championship game, it could be argued Florida is nipping at the heels of Alabama, except we all know that’s not the truth. Nobody else came within 6 points of Alabama. Progress, but no cigar.

And then we don’t even need to discuss that disastrous 55-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton “Opt Out” Bowl, do we?

So Mullen must own all of that. And as he cobbles together his roster from various sources, including the happy hunting ground of the Transfer Portal, we shall be watching keenly to see if the 2021 squad can drum up a rebuilt defense and reshape the offense behind four-year non-starter Emory Jones.

Meanwhile, Mullen must expunge some of the missteps of 2020-2021. Critics will continue to bring up:

1. Torqued because he felt Kyle Field appeared to have more spectators than may have been allowed, Mullen fired off a comment that he wanted 90,000 in The Swamp for the LSU game. The AP wrote: “I know our governor passed that rule, so certainly, hopefully, the UF administration decides to let us pack The Swamp against LSU – 100% – because that crowd was certainly a factor in the game,” Mullen said after the Aggies upset his Gators.

2. The half-time squabble when Mullen ran on the playing field and physically confronted Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz and was later fined $25,000 by the SEC, with three Missouri players receiving one-half suspensions for their part in the fisticuffs. Later, he donned a Darth Vader costume for the post-game press conference – already pre-planned and not in any way related. But the untimely optics didn’t help the situation.

3. Mullen offers from NFL: Did he receive any? After showing no apparent interest in a pro head coaching job, Mullen’s name started popping up at the beginning of 2021, at which time he seemed to change his position. It didn’t appear he was seeking employment elsewhere, but Mullen’s name surfaced in a few stories about the New York Jets job and he didn’t go out of the way to deny it. Understandable perhaps that an agent would utilize leverage if it’s there, but not embraced by many Gator fans who may have taken umbrage that while Mullen asked for loyalty from them and the players, he was willing to breach it in his own case.

4. NCAA level II and level III violations, a $5,000 fine and a one-year show-cause penalty for breaking recruiting rules. The show-cause prevented him from all off-campus recruiting in the fall of 2020 and a four-day ban in 2021. Very little was said and not much is known about the circumstances except that he and an unnamed assistant were charged with “impermissible in-person contact” with a recruit and that the two violations were cited for lacking in the promotion of “an atmosphere of compliance.”

Then came the “Opt-Out” bowl. Who knew?

Having said all that, I think most people would agree that Dan Mullen is exactly the right man for the job and still has plenty of time to win a championship. It is not without significance that after his first 34 games, Mullen became the first Gator coach to ever go 28-6 – including Spurrier and Meyer. However, after reaching that mark, he only won once more as his Gators lost three of the last four in 2020 and currently sports a respectable 29-9 record. He did not overtake the two legends.

When you consider all things, Mullen is about where he needs to be – poised, confident, scouting the transfer portal for more help, at 49 wiser and more experienced, a guy who can hang points on the scoreboard but needs some relief on defense, a year of Covid-19 survival under his belt, equal to the challenge. He can be forgiven for his mild transgressions. And will be. Especially if he takes care for business for the home opponent on Sept. 18. You know, the one that he’s only six points behind.

Back in the Happy Days when The Swamp was packed. Photo Courtesy: UAA

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