As I sit here less than 100 days before the kickoff of the best game on God’s little acre, I am beset with three emotions: Concern, Confusion and Confliction. What I’m searching for is a fourth “C,” Clarity. I don’t know where college football is going. Nor do I see a clear path. That’s the bad news. However, in keeping with the “C” theme, I am ready to join everyone in Celebration of CFB’s return.
The good news for Gator fans is that the best coach they could want has been re-upped after a rocky finish to the tumultuous 2020 campaign and is ready for a jump start in 2021. So let the Dan Mullen Era Part 2 begin with a touch of gratitude and a tinge of expectation.
If some of you want to disagree, or aren’t convinced Mullen is the long term answer, that’s fine. The cards have been dealt and let’s see how the game plays out. I’ve seen and heard enough to buy stock in Mullen for the next five years. One reason is that he’s a thinking man, a problem-solver who may be the SEC’s best developer of offensive talent.
I don’t have the band width yet to absorb the problems that are coming with the new Name, Likeness and Image legislation. Thus my comment and concern about “Confusion."
As for all you haters, go pound sand.
I, myself, raised some unresolved issues about Mullen a few weeks ago in a story headlined: “Is Honeymoon Over For Dan Mullen?” They included:
1. Torqued because he felt Kyle Field appeared to have more than the allowed number of fans, Mullen fired off a comment that he wanted 90,000 in The Swamp for the LSU game.
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.
3. Mullen offers from NFL: Did he receive any?
4. NCAA level II and level III violations, a $5,000 fine and a one-year show-cause penalty for breaking recruiting rules.
Maybe a little “Clarity” please?
Scott Stricklin is confident Mullen can move forward now. The contract extension was a strong move by the Florida AD – and a little too strong for some that basketball coach Mike White was also extended two more seasons – but the hiring business is tough these days. Ask around – I know it’s a different level with these millionaire coaches, but the principle remains the same. Business needed to get done in a timely fashion.
Just in case you’re struggling with that word, “gratitude” let me help you. Seems to me that one of the favorite pastimes of the Gator Disgruntled is ragging on Mullen for something. No SEC title after three years. Average recruiting. And, of course, the one not of his doing -- subpar facilities. All things considered, Mullen has done a good job and given his skill set, the future look bright. The facilities are morphing.
I would agree there should have been more transparency on the NCAA probation meted out -- before the media even learned about the “time served” clause was invoked. That’s on Stricklin and UF President Kent Fuchs. And when it finally came out the comments were sparse, murky and what few there were sounded disingenuous. They can do better.
Now you’re beginning to understand my “conflicted” comment.
Re: Gratitude. The people with short memories have already forgotten the sorry state of affairs which had befallen Gator football at the end of 2017 when Jim McElwain quit caring, phoned it in and came up with the lame excuse of death threats, wanting to opt out of his final four games, which he did, as the Gators suffered their second losing season since 1979.
It was one of the lowest periods for Gator fans I can remember since the late 1980s when the NCAA came up just short of administering the Death Penalty for cheating. Doing a talk show and writing a column as Mullen came aboard, I’d never heard such hopelessness. And when the faux hiring of Chip Kelly turned out to be a smokescreen, I heard grown men bemoan that Gator football, as we knew it, would never recover from such an abyss. The photo of Dan Mullen doing The Chomp as he disembarked the flight at Gainesville Regional Airport looked like a hero’s welcome for the Return of a Prodigal.
Yet here we are almost four years later, complaining about not having enough 5-star recruits to beat The Greatest Coach of All-Time who is gunning for what feels like his 25th straight national championship.
Let me confess to you that while I honor the journalistic tradition of listening to all sides, I’m really tired of hearing the Johnny-One-Note responses of That Expert out there with 50 followers on Twitter who knows anything and everything about anything and everything.
I am in the information/opinion business as host of a streaming show 4-6 times weekly, editor/columnist of a weekly digital magazine at GatorBaitMedia.com and author of seven books. Not that it makes me any smarter or better than anybody else, but at least I’ve got experience listening to people, plus my longevity (over 50 years). So forgive me for not valuing the opinion of Johnny Popgun on Instagram as much as I do, say, Dan Patrick, Tony Barnhart or Pete Thamel.
I respect the Facebook comments of former Gator players like Jack Westbrook and Fee Bartley, even if I do disagree with Bartley, who has become a harsh Mullen critic:
“It’s moronic for a coach that’s never won the sec nor even made the playoffs to date. To pay him as a top four coach when he’s not won sh-t is rewarding mediocrity. New Years bowls are all runner up bowls in this age. Welcome to MSUeast,” Bartley posted. I asked him who he’d like to see hired over Mullen. He declined to answer.
Chris Doering said on my show this week, “I am convinced Dan Mullen is the right coach for Florida. And Florida is the right place for Dan Mullen.”
Mostly comments were positive. Two other journalist friends felt the need to comment:
“With UF’s substandard FB facilities, Mullen has put a pretty good product on the field. Once, the new facilities are finished, the bar needs to be raised with recruiting and championships.” Mike Hodge, former writer and editor in Gainesville and Ocala.
“I don't want any other coach right now. Glad he's signed up!” said Eric Girard, who started on training wheels in Cocoa, worked in Atlanta and wound up as a colleague at the New York Daily News before moving to several other editing jobs. I agree with Eric, so let’s leave it there.
Concern, Confusion and Confliction. I’m still searching for Clarity. But happy to join in the Celebration to begin the under-100 days countdown for the greatest game on God’s Little Acre.