You knew Dan Mullen had a trick up his sleeve.
Or perhaps the better way to phrase that when it comes to Florida coaches is, “you knew Mullen had a trick tucked somewhere in his visor.”
That trick was related to Florida’s spring game attendance. As we found out before Saturday’s scrimmage, Mullen apparently likes to have some fun with that number. He shared the idea of using a number like 41,140 to troll Florida State after the Gators’ 41-14 victory in Tallahassee last year, but that Saturday would be a surprise.
Mullen’s spring game attendance number for this year was 39,476. After some frustratingly unsuccessful digging from beat reporters (and me), it appeared that we were never going to find out the significance of that number.
Ah, but the internet stepped in and saved the day.
Reddit user Camwhite_guy did the Lord’s work and found that “39,476” did have a trolling significance related Georgia. It’s been 39 years since UGA won a national title, and in that stretch, the Dawgs played 476 games. Ergo, 39,476.
Mullen didn’t come out and confirm this because it was well after his spring game press conference, but if that was all just a coincidence, I’d be stunned.
After all, we’ve seen this from Mullen before. Trolling Georgia has become one of his new favorite things to do.
And if we’re being honest, I don’t hate it.
Yes, Georgia fans. I realize that it seems strange that Mullen picked on Georgia to troll when the Dawgs were the ones who dominated the Cocktail Party last year (LSU would have been an easy but respectable target). In fact, even if Georgia has way more fans than this number, Kirby Smart should totally make the spring game attendance 36,170 in honor of the 36-17 victory in Jacksonville.
Or if the crowd showing warrants it, Smart could step it up a notch and go 78,240. Why? Georgia outscored Florida 78-24 the past 2 years.
— Chris Wright (@FilmRoomEditor) April 16, 2019
Something like 67,020 would also work considering Smart outscored Mullen 67-20 the only times they faced off (Georgia beat Mississippi State 31-3 in 2017).
But even if Smart claps back and wins the internet for the day, I’m starting to understand the message that Mullen is sending by poking fun at Georgia’s expense.
Remember National Signing Day after Mullen was hired? At the time, his “every blind squirrel finds a nut” comment had me scratching my head:
“Listen, winning one SEC Championship Game doesn’t make you a dominant program, you know what I’m saying?” Mullen said with a laugh via 247sports. “In two of the last three years, we’ve been to the SEC Championship Game. So even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”
Georgia, based on the fact that it now hasn’t lost a divisional game the past 2 years, is closer to being a dominant program than a blind squirrel. And yes, even though both programs finished in a tie for the No. 7 spot in the final Associated Press Top 25, the Dawgs still have the bragging rights.
Mullen would probably acknowledge that, though not publicly. As many would point out, that’s the difference between his jabs and Steve Spurrier’s jabs. Spurrier actually dominated the SEC teams he trolled … and still trolls. But that doesn’t mean Mullen is going to refrain from poking holes in the Georgia narrative. There are benefits to gaining fan support, locker room support and recruiting support by doing that.
This comment made the rounds after it looked like Mullen threw some passive aggressive shade at Georgia following Justin Fields’ transfer:
Dan Mullen on transfers. Justin Fields reference or nah? pic.twitter.com/ZMuOycSR4i
— Thomas Goldkamp (@ThomasGoldkamp) March 11, 2019
And this comment from a couple weeks ago after Georgia added Florida State to its future schedule was a bit more of a direct shot from Mullen:
“We play Florida State, so people are trying to catch up to us, with how tough are schedule is, to be honest with you. I mean, we play Florida State every year. Right? People make a big deal, Georgia is playing them, they are trying to catch up to us, I guess,” Mullen said. “Toughen their schedule because we play one of the toughest schedules. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody non-conference next year, we are playing Miami and Florida State.”
Now there are a couple directions you could go with this. You could say, “look, man. Until Mullen beats Georgia, he should shut up and focus on doing that.” I get that. There’s also the approach of, “you know what? If Mullen feels that making light of Georgia’s shortcomings is going to help him gain a competitive advantage, I’m OK with that.”
Let’s not forget that Jim McElwain was fired immediately after Florida got its doors blown off by Georgia in 2017. UGA’s rise in Year 2 of the Smart era had an impact on the spiral of Florida and Tennessee, both of which made midseason firings following ugly losses to Georgia (the Vols waited another month to fire Butch Jones).
Mullen wants and needs Florida to be Georgia’s actual on-field rival. That’s the standard that Mullen strived for when he took over. That’s what is standing in the way of Florida getting back to an Urban Meyer-like level or even a Spurrier-like level.
To get there won’t be easy. Clearly, Mullen recognizes that there are some angles to play here. By taking digs at Georgia, one of the angles he’s playing to is the fan support. His predecessor didn’t understand how to do that. Spurrier did.
Do I believe Mullen is trying to be Spurrier? Not necessarily because any coach will tell you that you don’t win championships trying to be somebody else. But is Mullen taking a page out of the HBC’s playbook? It looks like it.
If Mullen doesn’t succeed in Gainesville, some will probably look back at his Georgia trolling and say that he should’ve kept quiet. For now, that’s a risk he’s willing to take.
And strangely enough, I can’t say I blame him.