Dan Mullen's showing at South Carolina is irrelevant because he already took an 'L' this week
In the movie “Hoosiers,” Hickory coach Norman Dale’s pre-state championship pep talk famously included the line “if you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.”
I think a variation of that applies to Dan Mullen this week, only I would make a slight tweak to that quote.
“I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the (South Carolina) game, in my book, you’re gonna be a loser.”
By Monday afternoon, Mullen had already lost this week. It doesn’t matter if his team goes out and hangs half a hundred in Columbia. Add his latest foot-in-mouth debacle to the file of “reasons Mullen might not be the answer.”
In case you somehow missed it, Mullen was asked about recruiting at his Monday press conference. He said “we’re in the season right now. We’ll do recruiting after the season. When it gets to recruiting time, we can talk about recruiting.”
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) November 1, 2021
To add insult to injury, Mullen’s availability ended abruptly and it was announced that with the exception of his usual spot on the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday, all media availability for Florida coaches and players was canceled for the rest of the week.
Not ideal. At all. It’s especially not ideal on the heels of a 27-point loss to your biggest rival to fall to 4-4.
I tried to think about the best-case scenario for Mullen here. Like, what are the chances that he was simply trying to avoid talking about recruiting because after all, he’s still got a show-cause that lasts until December. That prevents him from any off-campus recruiting. Is there a possibility that Mullen simply attempted to avoid the subject of recruiting so as to not dig his grave any deeper by illegally mentioning specific players before they were signed? It’s possible.
It’s also possible that Mullen simply wanted to avoid that subject after he was skewered by fans for answering a postgame question about Florida and Georgia’s talent gap by saying “we won last year and they won this year. That’s what it is.”
(Georgia also won the 2 years before Mullen’s 2-year timeline of events began, and the Dawgs clinched their 4th SEC East title in the past 5 years, but sure.)
Whatever the case, even Mullen’s best-case scenario is bad. Real bad.
Social media took that comment as Mullen isn’t actively recruiting in-season, and that he’s not relentless in that all-important area. Mullen treated that question like I would if my wife asked me if I fixed the string trimmer during a fall Saturday.
It doesn’t help that Florida’s No. 22 class in the 247sports composite rankings actually lost as many 4-star recruits (2) as it gained since the season began in September. It also doesn’t help that Florida’s class ranks No. 9 in the SEC behind the likes of Mizzou, Kentucky and South Carolina. Forget catching No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama. The Gators will have to scratch and claw just to finish in the top half of the division.
Meanwhile, Mullen seemingly teed up every Power 5 coach to talk about recruiting this week. Smart did so on Saturday after his team of 100 5-stars (those are Shane Beamer’s words) dominated Florida in Jacksonville:
Kirby Smart: “There’s no coach out there that you can out-coach recruiting. No coaching is going to out-coach players. Anybody will tell you our defense is good because we have good players.”
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) October 30, 2021
Smart might as well have said, “I’ve got the recipe for success and Dan Mullen doesn’t.”
Not surprisingly, we got a recruiting-based answer from Florida State coach Mike Norvell at his Tuesday press conference:
Mike Norvell asked about importance of recruiting. Calls it lifeblood of a program and requires constant evaluation.
“Really excited about the guys we’ve been able to bring here” as well as future classes. Says there’s a “lot of momentum” and excitement about what FSU is doing.
— Brendan Sonnone (@BSonnone) November 2, 2021
When Eli Drinkwitz’s team got blown out a few weeks ago against Texas A&M, what did he address in his postgame press conference? Recruiting (H/T The Athletic).
“It’s a heavy work week for the staff because you got to self-scout who you are, what’s the problems, where do you got to get it fixed, who keeps attacking you the same ways, and then we got to recruit. We got to recruit, recruit, recruit. We got to recruit, recruit, recruit. And then we got to get ready for Vanderbilt.”
Now compare that to Mullen. He might not hate recruiting, but does he come off like a guy who eats, sleeps and breathes it? No chance. That sends a loud message to everyone. Fans, boosters, recruits, media, etc. Maybe the only party involved who doesn’t have a problem with Mullen sidestepping such an important subject is his current roster.
Again, though, if you’re Mullen, your team is 4-4 and 2-4 in SEC play. Your job, which you’re paid $7.6 million to do, is to sell the future and show everybody that you’re working like heck to make sure another season like this doesn’t happen again.
Instead, you get bent out of shape when asked a perfectly fair question. It’s not like Mullen was asked to again break down why he went for a field goal down 24-0 in the third quarter inside Georgia’s 10-yard line. If he was a little snippy about rehashing that decision 2 days after the fact, that’d at least be somewhat understandable.
But he was asked about recruiting, which in theory, should’ve been a chance for Mullen to talk about something besides his 4-4 team that just got whipped 6 ways to Sunday.
Recruiting is all a struggling SEC coach is supposed to have. Mullen doesn’t. He doesn’t have the time to discuss anything publicly even though we’re in Week 10. Say what you will about that. Some fans will say that’s a guy trying to eliminate distractions, but all Mullen did was become a distraction with his recruiting comment.
If his goal was to fly under the radar and have a ho-hum blowout win against South Carolina, he failed. Even in his best-case scenario, Mullen did something baffling for someone who will sign the majority of his class next month. What that looks like, who knows. What Mullen’s future in Gainesville looks like beyond, who knows. But let’s talk about South Carolina instead.
After all, we’re in the season right now. We’ll do Mullen’s job security after the season.