Dan Mullen Addresses John Huggins Departure & Gators Culture

By: Kassidy Hill

John Huggins intercepts a pass during the 2019 Orange and Blue Game. Courtesy: Florida Gators

Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen addressed the local media Monday afternoon, less than a week after he last spoke at the podium. It’s been a long week for the coach though if outside perception is to be believed.

The coach was asked last Tuesday about the status of defensive back John Huggins who had not to that point practiced with the team during fall camp. Mullen gave the stock answer of a “family issue” but then was asked about an incident involving the then freshman last October choking a female tutor. Mullen revealed that a five game absence last fall was part of the DB’s punishment and his absence now was unrelated. Over the weekend it was reported (first by the Orlando Sentinel) that Huggins had been dismissed from the team.

As for that decision, Mullen says it wasn’t a university decision but instead a program call: “That was ours’.”

The decision, at the end of the day, came down to one thing.

“Not living up to what we expect of the Gator standard…[the decision] was evolving. There were things we were looking at him having to do. It was a constant process.”

Huggins was the fifth guy in the program to be accused of violence against a woman during Mullen’s tenure in Gainesville. Only one player, Justin Watkins, was arrested and in each other case the player (and in once case a staff member) was released from the program. Despite this fact, there was an onslaught of criticism about both Mullen and the program, questioning the culture of the program. Last Tuesday Mullen said they try to educated their guys on right from wrong in those situations but also touched on the difficulty of sorting through the complexities of those same situations.

“Now we do a lot of education on our team with that stuff. Obviously I’m a big anti-violence against women person. I’m also a person that I really want to have all of the information as I make decisions and what happens in different situations and that’s one of the toughest deals. Because, it’s a jump to conclusion on every detail that happens sometimes. It’s something that obviously, it outs us as coaches sometimes in a really tough decision as you deal with that stuff. Because you want to give people an opportunity to have rights, like everybody else in the United States are supposed to. But everybody wants to see ‘what are we doing’ instantly. And we try to gather the facts.

"We spend a lot of time in educating our guys. Obviously we are very anti-violence against women, but as you try to investigate the situations, as you try to educate guys on what happens. The great things is educating on how to make good decisions.

On Monday, the head coach remained confident in how he’s handled each situation.

“I’m comfortable with me, and I’m comfortable with how we run a program. People outside are going to have their opinion on me I’m sure good or bad. I don’t pay much attention to it.”

Now both Mullen and the Gators are ready to move forward, even if it’s with a depleted secondary. Huggins is the third defensive back to leave the program this offseason, along with Chris Steele and Brian Edwards. Corner CJ McWilliams will also be out for the season now with a torn Achilles heel.

“Next guy’s got to step up. I’m concerned with the depth on our entire roster,” admits Mullen.

"You’re always concerned with the depth on your roster going into the season. I think you see most teams that have great years tend to stay healthy. I think that’s such a huge aspect of it. So for us staying healthy allows you to have a better season. And to me that’s such a huge challenge because you’re trying to control, you’re trying to put guys in good situations to stay healthy.”

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