In what may be the perfect combination of the two most successful Florida Gators coaches, Dan Mullen brings Urban Meyer's playbook with Steve Spurrier's attitude to Gainesville.
BY KASSIDY HILL
From the moment he left for a job in the NFL, there has been a Steve Spurrier shaped shadow hanging over the University of Florida Gators. Each coach since has been measured against him and none have been found to measure up. There likely never will be again, as he’s one of a kind. Even Urban Meyer, winning two National Championships in three years, is still considered a far second to Spurrier.
The reason Spurrier has become synonymous with the Gators is far more than his 122-27-1 record. It was his attitude. Despite being a long standing member, Florida has always been a bit of an outlier in the SEC, due partly to geography, partly to a different type of lifestyle south and east of the Chattahoochee River and partly due to an air of arrogance that existed in rivals due to the long period of time it took the Gators to become relevant as a contender within the SEC and all of college football. Spurrier didn’t spurn any of those things but instead boldly pointed and laughed while pointing out the hypocrisy of them all.
He cocked his visor and would cackle, cutting someone so quickly and effusively that they wouldn’t even realize it had happened until they looked down and saw the blood. While some coaches slept in their offices and never left during the season, Spurrier never missed a tee-time. He was awarded relaxation time because when it was time to work, he demanded-and received-perfection.
He kept a slick back and let any insults roll off his back. It gave Florida an impenetrable shield, at least for a while, because Spurrier and therefore the program and fans, simply didn’t care what you thought of them. They just kept winning.
Even as Meyer was winning crystal balls faster than they could be made, he did so with a cloud of worry and stress hanging over his head. Meyer, like Spurrier, pushed for perfection and helped his teams go farther than even they thought was possible. But Meyer was always clenched, waiting on the other shoe to drop. It’s why no matter how much he did for this program, it will always be Spurrier who is considered the shining example, the pinnacle of success at Florida.
While the Gators went through a cycle of Nick Saban disciples and watched them fail at trying to emulate only parts of Saban’s philosophy instead of implementing the entire “Process”, new Athletic Director Scott Stricklin decided to try for a different style with his first big hire. He went after someone he already knew and therefore was confident could win. But in hiring his former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, Stricklin also hired the closest thing to Steve Spurrier that Florida has seen in two decades.
Mullen wears a visor and does so because, as he explains, it’s what Spurrier did. Like many offensive coaches coming up in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, Mullen studied the greatest offensive mind in the game at the time, Steve Spurrier. It began with the visor but became so much more than that.
Like Spurrier, Mullen has perfected the smirk and stab, the subtle way of throwing a jab at a rival while delivering it in a candy coating that delivers the insult under layers of a joke. Things like changing the Orange and Blue Game attendance to match the amount of days since Georgia had won a National Championship, or reflecting the score of a Gator win during a Florida-Florida State game.
Mullen isn’t afraid to roast Georgia’s inability to hold on to 5-star quarterbacks-“I’d think we did a poor job recruiting if guys were coming in and then immediately walking out the door because it was something different than what they thought it would be and we lied to them during recruiting, or we sold them on a dream that wasn’t true.”-even if it means it can later come back to bite him. The opportunity to do so in the moment is too good to pass up.
It’s an attitude that rival fanbases will critique, but Florida fans-after spending years as the laughingstock of the SEC once and then once again with Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain-have once again put on a shield that allows them to rebuff those Twitter taunts. And Mullen, like Spurrier, is ok with the risk of one jab if it means he can later throw another. It’s the leeway given with back-to-back New Years Six wins and a trajectory that is heading up again for the first time in a decade.
Mullen was brought back to Gainesville labeled as the prodigy of Urban Meyer, the offensive coordinator responsible for Tim Tebow and some of the greatest offenses seen in Orange and Blue since Spurrier. He is all of those things and so much of what makes Mullen a great CEO of a program is what he learned from Meyer; how to run practice, what to expect of your team’s in meetings and away game trips, how to structure expectations and more. But what makes Mullen perfect for Florida is his penchant to allow his personality to mirror more that of Steve Spurrier. It’s flippant at first glance, but driven by a deep motivation to win. It’s barely concealed nervous energy that forces itself to relax and never take itself too seriously. It’s a combination of Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier and it’s what gives Florida it’s best chance to win in decades under Dan Mullen.