Transcript: Dan Mullen Talks Swamp Fire, COVID Numbers, Dak Prescott and Justin Shorter

Dan Mullen observes the Gators before kickoff. Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd

Florida Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen spoke with the media over the weekend. He addressed the fire at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the upcoming COVID-19 test results, Justin Shorter receiving his waiver and more. As a subscriber to GatorBait Magazine, we are offering these transcripts in full.

Opening statement:

“Obviously big day today, coming out with the rankings. I think it’s huge. You look at us being the No. 6th ranked public university in America’s pretty special. Again, continue to be the only school in America that’s a top-10 academic school in the public universities and top 10 in football, which is a pretty special, special deal. So really excited about that. We take a lot of pride here at Florida in being the best of the best, not just on the field but off the field. Quality student-athletes that decide to come here, as well as the success they have in football and the success they have beyond football in the classroom and in life beyond. I think that’s a really special day for us, and it’s great to see us continue that way forward. Besides that, we’re one week away from being into game week. We’re really excited about that. Questions?”

You were on fire on Twitter. What was going on there?

“We were… I wasn’t here. We did meetings all in the morning, and we had left in the afternoon. Players had kind of a film review in the morning. My understanding is that a maintenance vehicle caught on fire and really did no structural damage to the end zone. You would have that was, like, the new scoreboard we had there that caught on fire while our offense was rolling. It’s good everyone was safe and not much damage was done, facility-wise.”

Any help on the GIF?

“I don’t know. Someone texted, thought that was pretty cool. I was a big Game of Thrones. Right? Khaleesi?** Are you a Game of Thrones guy?”

You had 11K likes on two tweets:

“That’s pretty cool, right? I gotta see. I should have advertised something a little bit more on that. Maybe I can get, like, a stipend check for like 30 bucks. I had Cheesecake Factory for lunch. I needed to tweet out my salad right there. Maybe I’ll get like a free slice of cheesecake on my next visit.”

What might you be able to apply with your team after watching football over weekend to have them ready?

“You do see teams a little bit all over. I think you see a wide array of stuff. I think for us, we’ve got to come in – you see a lot of little mental errors. You go watch some of the games. I get to watch some of the NFL games yesterday. I haven’t watched that much NFL football in a while. You know, it was interesting. You just see some of the mental errors that you don’t usually see. I think guys are flying around, getting after it, and I think that’s the excitement of guys finally being able to go play some football. You see some younger players, or you know, some of the guys who are making these mental mistakes that shouldn’t be made and it’s something that we keep stressing on. Not just are you right with the physical toughness in how we practice, the effort in which we practice, but also the mental strain. I think that continues to be a big factor of the teams, not just handling all the adversity that we have to handle, but the actual mental strain of game day of putting ourselves in position to be game-ready to play. Avoid the penalties, avoid critical errors and mistakes. You’re see that in a lot of the games. That gets from lack of playing football.”

Do you sense in your team a week from game week, are you sensing that level of excitement where everyone is getting on edge?

“I’m not sure. I want to see today. We have practice this afternoon. We practiced Friday and I thought we were a little bit stale. Hopefully this week, really, we have two practices and then we do like kind of our mock game in the morning, on Thursday morning. So hopefully the intensity picks up. I think our guys, they’ve got to continue to find that balance of right now of making sure we’re getting better, getting everything in that we need to continue to improve and get the reps we need without the ‘holy cow, game week just get here. Can we move onto game week?’ I think there is a balance between that. I think our guys are ready to get into game week. I think our guys are ready to start playing football. We’re still two weeks away and we have some work to do before we get there and we’ve got to make sure we take care of that business, take care of the task at hand this week. But I do think, I’m hoping by next week, I think next Monday we’ll be pretty juiced up ready to get into game week.”

How have you guys done on the injury front?

“We’re pretty … we’ve done pretty good. I’ll get with you on that next Monday. We get into game week, I usually give the whole injury report game week Monday. I’ll get you all that next Monday. Of where we’re at. It gets relevant more towards playing in the game. Who can and can’t practice today, we’re still 0-0 at the end of practice today. It’s more relevant next week.”

Anybody out for the season?

“I don’t think so. If we do, I’ll let you know next Monday.”

Turning to social justice, NFL players are doing things and guys on campus want to do things. How do you balance trying to get these guys to do something that’s important and make them feel like they’re having a voice here and not getting too distracted from the task at hand?

“We’ve talked a lot about that. We’ve had guys come. … even some NFL players come talk to our guys about it. The importance of how to use your voice, when to use your voice, when it’s relative. Make sure you know what you’re saying, be educated on what you’re using your voice for. I think those are all really important things. I do like to see it. I love to see it in the NFL. I saw yesterday there were a lot of different things. It’s guys, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing?’ I talk to some guys in the NFL. I talked to Dak Prescott. I thought he had a great one. Is the whole team going to kneel, is the whole team going to stand. He said, ‘Why are we talking about the whole team? Everybody has their own individual feelings. And the most important thing is to have your why, why are you doing it? Why is this important to you?’ And make sure that you understand what your why is, but then you also respect other peoples’ whys. And that’s part of the issue. Everything’s not all or nothing or one or this, it’s about respecting each other, becoming educated and respecting the differences between different people. As a team, as we learn to do, as our guys are learning to respect, learn about each other, learn why they would want to do something, why something is important, maybe more important to one person and not as important to another. Whatever it is, have your why, why you do things. We’ve talked about that with our guys. I know they know they have a voice. With a voice comes responsibility. How we focus that the right way with the messages that we put out kind of as a quote. While giving our guys the individual voice to do what’s important to them individually. And most importantly, making sure it doesn’t distract from football, the task at hand, which is they’re separate things. While I’m using my voice, our guys, we’re fortunate. We have a voice that gets heard probably more than others because of the platform of football that we have. Let’s make sure we’re taking care of our platform and things that are important to us and things that we love like the game of football. That allows us to have this voice and then let’s make sure we educate ourselves and use the voice properly, the right way. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing that as a team.”

Do you envision guys will be making some sort of like pregame warm up or something making some sort of stance or message or whatever they want?

“Yeah, I think we've talked about our team, about having different messages each week. And the appropriate way to voice and get a message across from one week to the next and you know, have it be meaningful without having it become a distraction for the task at hand which is us trying to win a football game.”

To follow up on what Edgar was asking about since you've had a couple of weeks now to watch, either what's going on on the field or outbreaks and stuff elsewhere. What are kind of your biggest concerns for where you are a week and a half away from getting started.

"I would say biggest concern is us translating into game speed and game mode, you know what I mean. You know your practice, you know, sometimes, like I always say, you  give up—the defense, if you give up a big play, you can kinda bring the ball back, play the next play with whatever it is, whatever the drill is you're working on. You know offense, you know you make a mistake, you don't feel the turnover, you don't feel the penalty, and how it affects the drive or the complete flow of the game within the practice period that you're working on so probably the biggest one is that, is getting into the game flow of things and how you know every little detail affects the big aspect of the game."

Justin Shorter cleared, what have you seen from him so far?

"I think I mean, he's obviously had a great, he has a great attitude. He works hard, very physical player, talented, has size, has speed. You know, and you know can make explosive plays down the field, but also you know one of the things to me is, I mean great physical blocker the point of attack. Plays, you can see he's a little bit of an older guy, he's not a new guy coming in, he's a veteran guy that's played some football so he understands the importance of the complete game, you know, if you will; block, you know blocking is just as important as catching a 50 yard touchdown pass. And when you understand that you have the opportunity to become an impact player and I think he'll, he'll, he'll play, he'll be, he'll be an impact player for us this year."


"Hey, I was at home. I was actually working, scripting practices. There was like a huge rain going down, and somehow there were a bunch of kids that, like, kids started showing up at our house. Kids were on bike rides around the neighborhood, all the sudden looked at the door, there's like three kids that are under our little door. I remember my wife, like, 'Hey Mrs. Mullen, we got caught out in the rain.' And they're like, 'Hey, do you know the stadium's on fire?' And I'm like, because they're kids... they know, they're on social media, they get all this stuff so fast. So I'm like, 'What?' So I kind of looked at it and tried to make some calls to figure out what was going on. They said, 'Hey, it was just like a maintenance vehicle that got caught on fire next to the stadium.' They said everybody's fine. When I heard that, I said as long as everybody's safe and there wasn't big damage. Once I heard that, as long as everybody’s safe and there wasn’t big damage we can have some fun.”  


"Yeah, so on Thursday morning we come up into a mock game from every aspect. I'm talking we start in the locker room, what the schedule is pregame, how we walk on the field to warm up, to every single situation that you could come across in the game. We try to walk through and review, from substituting this. We have a huge script we always do every year within a mock game, goes all the way from walking into the stadium to singing the fight song after the game."


"No, it's 12 o'clock our time. That's very confusing to a lot of guys sometimes. But no, we'll just have our regular practice routine. Lot of times we'll do it when our first couple games are night games. We'll practice a little bit later. We'll kind of go into our regular practice time and practice schedules. Obviously first game being on the road this year is very different than a road game in every other year. With everything going on, your travel routine is going to be very different than it's been in the past for us, working with all our medical staff to make sure we're doing things properly that way."


"I mean just totally different. I mean everything's different. You show up at the stadium, well we're using different locker rooms, we're using different meeting rooms. OK? We're going to have actually a specifically assigned seat on the buses to the airport. Different groups leave at different times. Our seating arrangements on the plane will be different than they've been. The buses when we get off the plane will be very different. How we travel, what we're bringing with us will be different. When you get to the hotel, we're going to have to tweak our routine about that for spacing at the hotel. Roommate will be different, of how you normally would roommate with on the road. The fact that some people won't have roommates and we'll be able to have more single rooms. The bus on the way to the stadium will be different. Pregame locker room setup will be different, so there will be a bunch."


"Yeah, we're working a lot with all our local health officials right now. The SEC has their rules coming into effect on that. There's so much unknown. We'll have, I think numbers come out tomorrow, we release the numbers for everybody. We'll have a couple more guys that have tested positive. We've also, right now, I think we might have some false positives that we've identified. That’s a huge concern, you know, you have these asymptomatic guys with multiple negative tests that, you know, they had one that was a false positive come back, some false positives come back. I don’t think that will be reflected in the numbers you get but we’re working very closely with all our local health officials. Our medical staff here is doing a fabulous job of everything, creating one of the safest environments in Gainesville if not the state of Florida, here within our football program. And I give a lot of credit to our players. They’ve done an amazing job, I think, obviously anytime you infuse whatever 50,000 students on a campus you’re going to have a spike. Our guys, we have a minor one, but I think, you know, when you look at the numbers, if you take out the false positives - I can’t get into the specifics of all of that, I think there’s legal issues with those. But I give our guys a lot of credit for what they’ve been able to do and continue to do moving forward.”

Mock game scenario include a scrimmage?

“No. We won’t even have helmets on.”

Any more clarification on this being free year of eligibility and how to handle roster management?

“Yeah, it is a free year of eligibility, so it doesn’t affect everybody’s eligibility this year. But obviously we’re under different, we’re under bigger, our restriction … so for the overall roster that’s something to figure out long term. For this year, you’re still very limited, right, we still have only 70 guys that can travel to an away game right now, only 80 guys can dress and play in a home game. So that doesn’t have a big effect because the conference rules that are in place the year of eligibility.”

For roster balance later, have to worry about scholarship numbers?

“My understanding is next year we don’t and we’ll continue to work on things down the road. You know, the NCAA article came out. I can’t tell you. I’m sure we’ll have a bunch of guys who want to leave for the NFL and not take advantage of one more year of eligibility here. But if they did they would come back and it wouldn’t count against your numbers for next year’s team.”

Advantage of staff continuity?

“I think, one, the experience of having guys who have been together. There’s a benefit of everybody being on the same page, everyone understanding what the direction of our program is, what my expectations within the program are, how we’re going to handle different situations within the program year-round. Whether it’s, hey, did we have this workout today? Everybody’s pretty familiar with how that works. What our practice routine is, what our week in-game season schedule is. You have a lot of guys that are very, very familiar with that, so that makes life pretty easy for us. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on the staff on every little thing because the guys understand it. You have all these guys that have been around each other. They know what my expectations are and what we’re trying to accomplish with each aspects of the program. You have a great group of guys as you brought up not just the staff being around each other a long time but how they interact with each other, how the staff gets along, the camaraderie of the staff I think is a huge deal as well. I think that adds to a great work environment. Guys who want it and enjoy being part of our program, enjoy being on our staff, so it keeps guys around a little longer. I think one thing you always have to defend against, though, is we get so stuck in our ways and everybody kind of knows that this is how we do it and we don’t have always have fresh ideas. So we’re always trying to challenge each other with guys and I challenge the staff to come up with some different ideas and some fresh ideas. Come up with a different way for us to do it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to do it, but let’s come up with some different ideas so we can brainstorm. As soon as we get anybody new on the staff, the first thing we ask is tell us all the things that we do and how you would do it differently and how you’ve done it differently to help us brainstorm with new ideas so we don’t get stagnant in what we’re doing. We’re always trying to better and improve ourselves.”

Importance of WR coach Billy Gonzales?

“I think when you look at these guys. I think it was a couple of the guys. Freddie (Swain) said it. I think Van Jefferson had something out, and those guys made impacts in games yesterday in the NFL. You look at Billy and how he develops players, you look at where … to go from two years ago when we first got here and everybody’s like, ‘We have the worst receiving corps in the NFL’ and all of a sudden four of them are playing on Sundays. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we fixed the problem by just going to recruit.’ We just concerned ourselves with recruiting great players. We want to recruit great players but we’re also going to coach and develop them. That’s probably maybe one of the things that is different and our guys feel really comfortable when they talk about it. Billy’s going to do such an unbelievable job of not just recruiting and getting quality guys here, but the improvement they make in his development with them. Their development in the fundamentals of the receiver position, the style of offense that we run that prepares them to play professional football at the next level in a pro-style offense. Just, you know, those things, his knowledge of what he does with technique, of scheme and understanding the big picture of the game and how he’s able to motivate and get the most out of his players. I think you look at his body of work throughout his career and his success those guys have had going on at the next level is second to none and it’s great to hear those guys that go onto football and say he’s the best football coach in the country and if you want an opportunity to make it in the NFL, go play at Florida.”

Justin Shorter, what have you seen in terms of the timing in the passing game?

“A lot for him. I think Justin’s got a great work ethic. You take a guy with a great work ethic and you put him with a great coach and you’re going to see big strides. You’ve seen that out of Justin. He’s the guy to ask that, you know, how much do you think you have improved? In the short time that we’ve had him, obviously we didn’t get a spring, really limited what you can do in the summer with the players getting together, so in 17 practices how have you improved? When we get into game week that would be a good question for him and hopefully he says he’s improved an awful lot in these 17 practices in what I’ve learned and in what I’ve been able to develop more so than my previous college career.”

How much switching Dante Lang to defense was due to depth vs. ability?

“I think it’s a combination of everything, which is the defensive depth, as well as the tight end depth and the ability and number of plays he’s gonna get. Obviously we’re not very deep at tight end at all but we have some excellent players at that position. Our depth is a concern but we have some talent at that spot. He’s a guy even, he always reminds me my first phone call to him when I got hired — I tried to watch all the players that were committed to us, watch them all on film — I said to him, ‘hey, I love watching how you rush the passer, your athleticism, how you get after it and your athleticism getting after the passer.’ He said, Coach, I’m coming in as a tight end. I said, well that’s great but I was just watching film and I loved your athleticism getting after the passer. He reminds me of that. I think it’s something, you look at his body type, his skill-set, and the needs really fit into the defense. I think long term he even understands that’s possibly a better position for him not just here at Florida but even beyond here. I think it became kind of an easy choice for everybody.”

Was it always in the back of your mind to switch him?

“No. He’s got great hands and is a very solid route runner. We’re doing special situations, like hands team, the other day and he said Coach; make sure I’m still on the hand's team. I’ve got great hands even though I’m playing d-end. He does that. I thought he’d be a really good tight end but you look at, I mean his size. He’s been able to put on some size. I think he’s in the mid-280 range now. A guy that’s like 6-4, 6-5, 280. That’s pretty good size for a defensive end. A really big tight end, and a great size for an athletic defensive end.”

Talking about Alex Smith and his comeback from injury

“If you watch the show, Project 11 was unbelievably done. If you just look at that as an outsider it’s extremely motivating how he is able to go from a gruesome, life-threatening injury into battling his way back to being on the active roster of an NFL team is pretty special. Obviously, now the show was a lot more difficult to watch, when you have that personal relationship, and you know him, you know the family, you know his wife and his kids. It's, I think the tragic part of it all, the tragedy, the scary part, and the fear and the injury, and the family, when it hits home personally is always a little bit different than the motivational side of it. But, if you know Alex, and you know what a special person he is, the type of person he is, and his wife Elizabeth, and you see the type of people they are, even his whole family and seeing them on the show. His parents, what a great family they all are. You just see, it doesn't surprise you, his ability to come back from that. His drive to come back from that, his drive, I mean he's one of those guys, obviously his unbelievable success in football, unbelievable success in life. He graduated college in two years. You know, people that have that drive are going to be successful, and it just kind of also shows the type of drive he has as a person to overcome the unbelievable obstacles he had to. If you haven't seen the 'Project 11', I encourage you to watch it, on him, on the injury, what he went through, and on his recovery, it's pretty unbelievable."

Have you talked to anyone from the NFL or college yet on gameday experience?

"Yeah, I have those calls, I've got to make those calls this afternoon. Obviously, they were playing yesterday, so they're probably, you know, the immediate thought wasn't to talk to me. They had their own problems and issues yesterday, but those are calls that we'll make today, today and tomorrow."

Jeremy Crawshaw, punter competition?

"Yeah, doing really well, getting adjusted to it. I think, obviously again, he missed spring. You know, again, we were limited in the summer so he's only had some practices. Hasn't played, obviously, he's worked punting but he hasn't played in live game situations or live football situations where people are coming, running at you to try to block the kick. But he certainly has a lot of talent in there. And then, so you have him and you have Jacob Finn, whose obviously a fifth-year senior, veteran guy, been around the program a long time, understands what it is. So, both of those two I think have done a really solid job, and it'll be interesting to see who gets it. I mean, I don't make that decision until probably the end of next week, who will be the guy who kicks because you know we get equal reps, both of them have to be ready to play, and we'll see who the one guy will be at the end of next week, probably after Thursday's practice."

On Dak Prescott and mental illness… how would your team respond if someone on the team responded like that?

“Obviously, I think great. I think it is great. We had Dak talk to the team just about how to use your voice, last week. I think Dak is someone that does understand. He’s the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. In sports… you have one of the biggest roles in all of sports in being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and the responsibility that comes with it and the voice that you have that comes with it. In knowing the situation that he dealt with and what happened with his brother last spring. I think it was something that I’m proud of him that he felt that he needs to come out and be a voice for people that do deal with mental health issues and especially right now. I imagine… you don’t have the research, but I think what we’re going to find out a year from now is that dealing with all of quarantine, isolation, and COVID and everything that is going on, mental health issues were skyrocketing. And we’re saying that I’m skyrocketing with health issues and I’m supposed locked away in my house and I can’t even associate with other people. I think I’m proud of him to come out there and sit there and give a voice. Because you know what, I think people that are sitting there are going to say, ‘Hey, I’m dealing with all of these problems that I have and I might be the only one. Here I am and I’m told I have to isolate myself all alone and have to deal with all of these issues’. And now here’s a guy coming out and talking about it and is also that’s the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, so I’m not alone. I think that is something that takes a lot of courage. A guy like Dak who is such a great person, such a great presence on his team, he has unbelievable charisma and leadership within his organization and Just as a person within the community and really within the whole country. To come out and bring awareness to something and to help people out to realize that maybe you’re not alone in dealing with mental health issues and don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to try to get help. Everyone feels that. I guarantee you everybody… over the… you’d be hard pressed to find anybody that since April 1, or March whatever until now has dealt with some form of depression or feelings or thoughts they never had before. I mean I have. I’ve dealt… having to go quarantine, having to go isolate, having to change everything you know in your life. You just don’t feel normal at times. You mentally don’t feel normal and that’s not a comfortable feeling. You realize by Dak coming out and talking about it, you realize you’re not alone in that. You think of all the people that have had to deal with it. Everybody reflects on it and thinks about it as probably not something that is dealt with. There is lots of depression in life, but when you start to have those feelings because you’re in quarantine and isolated, in time you start … ‘well, this feels so different than I’ve ever felt’. Imagine people that are dealing with bigger issues and it’s great for him to come out with that voice to let people know that they’re not alone. That they can find ways to seek help, fin people to talk to, find people that are dealing with the same things they are dealing with.”

Have you felt the impact of COVID?

"We felt the impact of it going all the way back to June. From June until now, you felt the impact of it on different things within the program. But not anything that threw us off. I mean, hey, you have guys having to quarantine, you have guys having to isolate at different times. But the program as a whole has continued to move forward. And it probably hurts a little bit more on individual growth with each person that we've dealt with throughout the whole time."

Expectations for Lingard?

"Obviously we have some guys that have been in the program. So him picking it up is one thing that he's probably behind those guys in picking it up because this is his first time learning the offense. Again, he didn't have a spring. You have guys that, if you go spring and fall camp, you have guys that this is their sixth and seventh time going through it all that have played in seasons. But I think the one thing that I've been most impressed with him is his attitude and his work ethic. I know he is a guy that was really a highly rated recruit out of high school. Decided to transfer and transferred here. He is a guy that shows up and he works his tail off every day. He shows up on special teams. He plays hard and you see that he loves to play the game. The thing that I have been the most impressed with is really his effort level and his attitude and approach to how hard he works every day. And he has worked on picking it up. He is very conscientious on picking the offense, even though, mentally he is a little behind some of the other guys that have more experience in the system.”

Watch golf yesterday?

“Listen. football was finally on TV. I watched more NFL football yesterday than I have watched in a couple of years combined. Finally having football. It was so good seeing football and seeing people playing football.”

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