Transcript: Dan Mullen Reflects On History With Ole Miss, Previews Saturday and Breaks Down Injuries
Florida Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen met with local media on Monday. Finally in the first game week of the 2020 season, Mullen previewed Saturday's match against Ole Miss. He also reflected on his history with Ole Miss from his time as Mississippi State head coach.
Mullen also revealed injuries—some season ending—and the expected return for others.
As a GatorBait Magazine subscriber, you are receiving exclusive access to this full transcript.
“Ok, kind of seems like a long time. I don't know. It’s like Bizarro World right? Like Bizarro Jerry if you ever saw that Seinfeld episode, like I'm like this weird deal. I've never been this late in September we haven't played. For our guys, obviously it's a huge adjustment this week for us because you got to go full on change into game mode, different types of practice, different preparation, different routine. Different everything for us getting ready from what we've been doing. It's been a long time since we played so we're excited to go.
“Injury wise for you guys; I'll give you a Finley Graham will be out this week. He has a broken arm. Lamar Goodes has a foot strain he'll be out. Josh C is out with a hamstring strain. Nick Sutton is out. Ethan Pouncey will be out for the year, had hip surgery and Ethan White will be out coming off, had a knee surgery we expect him to be back shortly though. Those are injuries right now. So I know you guys love those things. So, what questions you have or is that it? Gave you guys the injuries, I can go now.”
I mean how much, how much are you curious and looking forward to seeing how your team responds to all that they've had to go through and then and then to go on the road to start the season?
"Ah, I mean we’re excited, I’m excited to see how we respond and how we come out play. I know our guys I think we're, I think everybody's excited to play. Excited to get out there on the field and go. I'm excited to see how we respond how we handle it, you know, because I think it's a little bit different. It's going to be a different environment that we play in, obviously going on the road is always—on the road in the SEC is always a big challenge but you know the the environments and how those are going to be played out differently. You know, and then, you know, our travel will be a little bit different this year than it's been in the past, how we set up game day you know, with, with meals and all of that stuff of trying to keep everybody spaced out. You know, I'm excited. I mean, you know we haven't played in forever so I'm excited for us to play, you know, like, you know, you keep asking, you know 'hey how are we going to be this year?' I don't know, we're gonna find out on Saturday I mean all we’ve, kind of had a weird training camp only going against each other so you know, be good to see what we look like against another team and a quality SEC team."
And also, how are you in terms of is it I mean is everybody else expected to be as we sit here right now ready to go in terms of any contact tracing or testing?
"Yeah, I don't know, I'm not going to get into that stuff, that's not for me to get into I don't think. You know I mean I give you guys the, the injury report but that, all of that stuff and how that works, I don't know, I'm gonna have to brush up on all my medical stuff of how we, how we would let people know if there is anybody of that nature."
So we'll find out Saturday?
“You'll find out Saturday."
Are you relieved to get to this point and what makes you anxious going into this, this game?
"Ah, one obviously you're kind of getting into your routine. You’re always anxious in game one into, 'have I, you know, do I have my checklist of all our stuff?' But you're not in the routine, you know, I mean by game—you get into your game week routine and you're just very routine oriented. You know game one, you're not really in that routine yet. So that makes me anxious. Obviously the, all the COVID stuff makes you anxious, you know what I mean is, is all the different scenarios that can play out during the course of the week. I mean you could sit here and on Thursday afternoon, say, ‘Hey these 10 guys can’t play.’ You know? You kind of have your whole game plan done, your depth chart done. Right now, as it's set up, I could be getting ready to walk on the plane and they could say, 'Hey, these 10 guys can't get on the plane' and you've got to do a whole new game plan Friday night. That makes me pretty anxious. That'll keep you up at night just trying to create as many different, solve as many different issues and problems and deal with every one of these scenarios that could happen."
An assistant coach tested positive, is everyone back on the staff?
"Yeah, yeah. That was a false positive. We did have a coach test positive and we found out, the next three days he tested negative and it was a false positive from the lab."
O-line has made strides and shown experience; feel like you. finally have a downhill running game?
"Well, I think two years ago we ran the ball pretty well, I thought. Last year not as well, so I don't know, we'll find out on Saturday, you know, how well we'll run the ball. Like I said, I mean if you would have asked me going into the season last year, I'd have thought, 'Boy, we can really run the ball downhill and we're pretty physical up front' and it just didn't turn out that way in games. We were much better passing and doing other things. If you would have asked me the year before that, I didn't know we were as good a running team as we were coming into the season. We ended up being a pretty darned good running team. I think a lot of it you don't know until you start playing other people because you've just kind of gone against yourself so much. The offense and the defense kind of know each other, they know how to play against each other, they know their opponents, and I think sometimes it gets skewed the wrong way of what you do well and what you do poorly. Once you get into games you find out a little bit more."
Have you talked to college, NFL coaches about generating energy without big crowds?
"Yeah, it's interesting. I've talked to people. One, we are going to have people in the stands. You talk to people, the difference when there are people in the stands to when there aren't people in the stands and how different that is and the different feeling of everything. We're going to have some people in the stands, but even with people in the stands it's going to be very different than what you're used to. So we've talked about that and kind of prepared our guys for that."
Have you had any players opt out?
"Nope. But it's only Monday."
History with Ole Miss, favorite memories?
“Oh wow, a bunch. You’re talking that the Mississippi State-Ole Miss game is one of the great rivalries in sports. So to be involved in that, such a huge, huge deal. So, yeah, I have five great memories and four terrible memories, I think of that game, of playing against them. Any time you win. I mean, holding that trophy up when you win that Egg Bowl trophy, something that’s really, really, really special. Rivalries are one of the things, look at the rivalries, look the traditions. Those are the things that make college football so great and so special - the passion of the fans. And you have the in-state rivalries. You’re talking neighbor against neighbor. I have a bunch of good ones, I have a couple bad ones, too, in that game. It’s different now. Everyone’s like, you know, I don’t think I said Ole Miss for nine years, but now I say it. That was all just part of the rivalry. It became a pretty big deal, you know what I mean, early on it was kind of, when I first got there, the teams were kind of fighting for their identity. Then all of the sudden when I was there, both teams became top-10, national programs. So I think that kind of also, I don’t know if it helped bring it to that level or the rivalry brought it to that level or the intensity got both teams to that level of playing. But it certainly became a big deal and it became a huge game.”
Why did you not call it Ole Miss, why was it the school up north?
“I did not give them credit for that. We were the state university of Mississippi. And, you know, there was Southern Miss, I didn’t call them Northern Miss, you know. But I got people all worked up too. No, it’s just one of those things you do. To be honest with you, it sparks the rivalry. It’s something about your kids. It was always something that made that game so different than every other game because that was your big rivalry game of the year. So it was always just little things we would do to make that game different and feel different and kind of stand alone in a uniqueness and being a big game in our rivalry. So that was just one of the things we did for them.”
Yea but you never had anyone simulate using the restroom...
“I saw that last year. That was a tough deal. It’s such a big game. I don’t know that was such an intense game, so, you know, in those deals and to see … that was a crazy ending to that game last year. I remember watching that one. I was a big proponent of that game being played on Thanksgiving, and then now I’m not there to play it. So we get to go up to Oxford and play Ole Miss on a regular deal. I don’t know, I remember going to a high school once and the lady - hopefully Ole Miss they’re cheering, they like me now - I had a lady come up and say, ‘Coach I pray for you every day.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so nice of you.’ She goes, “I’m an Ole Miss fan. I pray somebody comes hires and gets you heck out of this state as soon as possible.’ Just the intensity of the rivalry, so now I left so maybe they like me a little bit.”
In game week…scouting report on Ole Miss?
“It’s tough. One of the things, you look at the talented players. They’ve got two really talented quarterbacks, great talent at running back, some guys on the edge, O-line has some guys kind of back up front on the O-line. Defensively, inside linebacker has a lot of experience and guys that can come off the edge and rush the passer. And guys that have played in the secondary. They have guys that have been out there, guys that have played. One of the hard ones is when you have a whole new coaching staff. They’re looking at us and saying, ‘Hey, let’s get last year’s film.” Same offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, head coach, special teams coordinator’s all the same. Theirs, everybody’s brand new. So you’re kind of trying to mix and match what they’re going to do offensively, what they’re going to do defensively, what they’re going to do special teams wise. Watching all these different other teams from where people have been in the past and then you’re trying to watch their personnel. It’s always tricky. I’m never a big fan of not watching the team you’re playing. Anytime you play a team with a new staff, that’s’ what you have to do.”
See anything that jumped out from the NFL that you jotted down?
“No. We do that in the offseason, so we study a lot of NFL stuff in the offseason. That Cowboys onside kick was pretty impressive.”
—Depends on which team you’re on.
“Yeah. Just little things. I saw that. A lot of the stuff we end up watching a lot more in the offseason, breaking down a lot of the NFL during the spring and the offseason more than the last weekend or two weeks ago. We were working all day yesterday, so I didn’t get to see much NFL yesterday.”
Gainesville Police Department coming over last week to talk to the team. How important was that/what was the reaction of players?
“I think it was great, very educational. We’ve done a lot of things. We’ve done the players talking to each other, different groups, different experiences. In light of where we’re at today, I thought it was really important to hear different sides of things. Great for law enforcement to hear issues, thoughts and concerns, how our guys think. Also for our guys to be educated on a lot of different things. I learned a couple of the new things. So I thought – very helpful, very beneficial. I have a lot of respect for our law enforcement. I think they have such a very, very difficult job in what they do and the respect I have for them is immense. I always have. I think I always, wherever I’ve been, with the football team, we end up trying to have a great relationship with the law enforcement where you are, because you’re two very recognizable groups in the community. So I think for our guys to kind of learn and learn a little bit about them, learn different things, different procedures, different situations they’re into and have a different feelings for these people that also have an extremely—they live their life really under a microscope in the community, as well.”
Are you content with how the team approached fall camp and everything that was thrown at them?
“Yeah. I think our guys have done a great job to this point. We’ll see how it translates Saturday. I’m pleased with how our guys have handled everything. The maturity with how they’ve handled things, how they’ve continued to work and improve. I mean, the responsibility of wearing their mask, social distancing, trying to limit issues. I think our guys have done a really good job. I’m happy with where we are. We’ll see how it plays out Saturday.”
What did you learn about Ole Miss’ defense with DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge?
“Well they’ve never played a game together, so I don’t know. We’ll find out on Saturday. I mean, what we’re doing is trying to look at the different schemes, look at the different personnel, we’ll know more about that on Saturday. If we were to watch them play a couple games I could give you a better answer.”
What is it like to assimilate into a culture in Mississippi, can Lane Kiffin do it, what does he bring to the program?
“I think this, I went to Mississippi as a northerner going into Mississippi, I think there were a lot of questions about me. I won a bunch of football games at Mississippi State, so they accepted me. My kids were local; they were born there, so they were ok. Megan and I, we won a bunch of games so we got accepted, so they started to like us. I think one of the really unique things about coaching is you get to experience a bunch of different things. I’ve gotten to go to a lot of different places around the country, experience different cultures, experience different people. I think Lane will do a great job. I think Lane’s a good coach, brings a lot of energy, brings confidence, and kind of a swagger to a team. I think that’s something that will be really good for Ole Miss, to have a guy like that at the helm and to help give that confidence. I know this, in Mississippi they love their football. They love their college football. They love their teams. I think Lane will do great because I loved living in Mississippi. There are great people, great sense of community, great family values in the state. Have a lot of close friends that we made in our time there. If you ask a lot of guys on our coaching staff they’ll tell you it was their favorite place they ever lived. Some of our coaches, their kids are going back there to go to college. That just speaks highly of the sense of community. I didn’t spend time in Oxford much, but in Starkville, the sense of community, the sense of people, and the quality of people that are in Mississippi, I can’t say enough. The best thing about the state of Mississippi are the people and the Mississippians are a great people. I really enjoyed the time there and I’m sure Lane will too. To be honest with you, I think he’ll have a great time too.”
How do you set but still temper expectations for fans?
“I’ll be honest, I always set high expectations. It would be hard for me not to lead them down the wrong road. I always have extremely high expectations of myself, our team and our football program. Our coaches, our players, I have extremely high expectations of everybody. I always have. That’s just me as a coach, I want us to be the absolute best we can be every single day. I want us to compete for championships on a yearly basis. If that causes our fans to think. … we’re better than we are, then it does. You know what, my expectations, I’m not going to lower my expectation level to make it easier for our fan base to accept where we are. My expectations are probably going to be higher than our fan base’s. I also do think probably a little different because I’m viewing our expectations on a play-by-play, day-by-day basis more than, ‘Hey, the season ended at this record.’ I’m looking at expectations at a different view than the general fan. I have a play-by-play expectation.”
During your first cycle, Matt Corral was committed to Florida and you went out there to visit him. What was it like to get to know him and his family? What do you think about the job he’s done at Ole Miss?
“I got to meet him just the one time, went out there and visited him one time. He seemed like a nice kid, a nice family. He’s a good quarterback, has a live arm, can make a lot of different throws, deceptively athletic in that. … I think he’s, for kind of a guy that’s is credited to be a passer, he’s pretty athletic and can extend plays, make things happen out there on the field. He hasn’t been there very long, so to be, he’s still growing, still learning and then a new system, see you he adapts to that system.”
What was your favorite win at Oxford? Probably the last one, right?
“I won twice there, they were both really good, to be honest with you.”
You hung a lot of points?
“That series, when you play huge rivalry games, it’s hard to say I have a favorite, you know what I mean. You embrace every single one of them. The last time I was there we had a great win. The first time I was there we had a great one. So, they were both really, really good.”
Rash of injuries in the NFL, some say, may have to do with shortened offseason. Is that a concern for you?
“We’ll see. I did see something about that and that was one of the first things that popped into my mind — how prepared is everyone ready to go? We haven’t played games yet, so we’ll see how that plays out in games. We’re very protective of our guys in practice. We take health extremely seriously in practice. But injuries, unfortunately, are part of the game of football, so as you see guys get banged up — especially when you high profile guys, that’s bad at the next level — we’ll see as the season plays out if it does or not. I don’t that I have any facts to say yes or no about it at this point.”
With Ole Miss QB battle, how much an advantage is it to have established starter in Trask?
“Yeah, I guess it’s a good advantage, but both of their guys have started and played games. So they have experience being out there playing games, it’s just new in their system. So it’s good for us, I guess, that our guys know the system and can go out there and execute it. The tough part is, they’re guys are out there learning their system, but we don’t have much to evaluate the guys in their system and they have a lot to evaluate our games in our system.”
Defending John Rhys-Plumlee, a guy who can run and throw?
“They’re a little different players. Obviously, Plumlee, I mean I know really, really well. I was the first person to offer him at Mississippi State back in the day. He came up and he is an EXPLOSIVELY fast player. When he first came up, we were looking at him as a corner. He wasn’t a starting quarterback, but he was playing DB and he can fly. I mean, he has elite, elite, elite speed and is a game-breaker. He can break a game open at any time. But then you go to Matt, who can extend and scramble and play. So it’s going to be kind of that strain to play all the way to whistle on every snap. Don’t just assume. A lot of at practice, you thud, the whistle blows. ‘Hey, I had him. Hey, that would have been sack.’ We can’t assume those things. We have to get 11 guys running to the ball as hard as we can every snap.”
When was that offer?
"Right before his sophomore year."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s that elite speed. I don’t know that we have anybody as fast he is."
CJ Henderson last year?
"No, I think [Plumlee] would probably time faster."
It says Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is a 4.4 in 40 guy at least?
“Yeah, he’s pretty fast.”
How does Ethan White injury reconfigure plan on offensive line for you?
“Like I said, we have to get a bunch of guys ready. You hope that you really feel comfortable, I think you feel good if you have eight O-linemen kind of going in, right? You have your starting five and you have a backup center, a backup guard and a backup tackle that you feel really comfortable about playing. We’re obviously going to have more than that, but you feel really comfortable within a rotation. He’s a guy playing center and guard, so again, what it does is it hurts the depth aspect of things. We expected him to be a starter for us, either at center or guard he could start for us. Now you’re going into the sixth guy is coming in to play. It’s just the trickle-down effect. No. 7 now has to become No. 6, and eight becomes seven. You’re trying to find an eight guy that you feel really comfortable with. We have some good young players. I do think we have some really good young players but you want to always give them time to grow on the offensive line. It really, I think, hurts the depth a little bit more. But one of the reasons why, when you guys ask, ‘oh, who’s playing where?’ that we shuffle guys all over the field so that we have to opportunity to put different combinations to handle injuries. We have a different combination to get these five guys on the field. If we think we have our five best linemen, we want to have them on the field and not be position-stuck.”