I can see hear the groans already.
Florida fans will be sweating out a nail-biter against Kentucky in the second week of the season. The Swamp will be full of comments like “here we go again” and “isn’t Dan Mullen supposed to be a quarterback guru?”
Mullen did go to Gainesville to fix what’s been a horrific Florida offense. It’s his duty to clean up the mess that Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier left behind. Everything about Mullen’s career path suggests that he was the right man for the job.
After all, he was the offensive mastermind behind the Tim Tebow squads that won national championships a decade ago. Everybody knows what he did in Starkville developing Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald. For a fan base that’s been deprived of quality quarterback play since the Tebow days, Mullen is a breath of fresh air.
So let this be a reminder to Florida fans to take a breath of that fresh air and relax. Mullen likely won’t have righted the ship by the time Kentucky comes to town in the second week of the 2018 season. He might not even have Florida back to being an offensive juggernaut when the bye week rolls around in mid-October.
As we’ve seen in the past, though, patience is key with Mullen.
Mullen’s quarterbacks often end up finishing their careers like stars, but it usually takes them a bit to get rolling. Mastering the art of the run-pass option and understanding the reads Mullen demands his quarterbacks make isn’t easy. Perhaps that’s why they aren’t usually freshman sensations. Fitzgerald, Prescott and Tebow all had to wait until they were sophomores to get their turns.
Tebow, of course, had a package put in for him as a true freshman. In his first season as a starter in 2007, Tebow’s squad started off SEC play 3-3. That group was held to 23.7 points per game in those losses. After that, the Gators won 15 of their next 16 regular season games and averaged 47.5 points per contest while Mullen was in Gainesville.
There was a learning curve for Prescott, too. He also started off in an atypical two-quarterback system in 2013. MSU was just 7-6 and finished the season ranked 70th in scoring. In Prescott’s second season — and first as the lone starter — MSU was ranked No. 1 in the first ever College Football Playoff poll and had the 16th-best scoring offense in the FBS.
After Prescott, MSU was a mediocre 6-7 in Fitzgerald’s first full season as a starter for an offense that ranked 56th in scoring. But after the Bulldogs got off to a 2-5 start that year, they went 12-6 during Mullen’s final 18 games in Starkville. During that latter stretch, they scored 33 points per game.
If Mullen’s offense averages 33 points per game at Florida in Year 1, it’ll be a win. In the post-Will Grier stretch of the Jim McElwain era, Florida reached 33 points just three times.
That’s obviously why expectations are so high for Mullen. With the talent that he’ll get to work with at Florida, of course he’ll be able to light up the scoreboard, right? It’s not like Florida’s quarterback recruits are choosing between Mullen and Tennessee-Chattanooga.
#GatorNation your next coach!
Mullen’s response when asked who he had to out recruit to get Nick Fitzgerald….
— Florida Gator Content from… (@OurTwoBits) November 26, 2017
Sorry. Had to.
On paper, it’s easy to suggest that Mullen will turn Florida into a cradle of quarterbacks because of all the 4- and 5-star talent he’ll get to work with. The challenge for Mullen is just that. Tebow was the most coachable player Urban Meyer said he ever had. Prescott was a 3-star recruit who couldn’t get the big boys’ attention. Fitzgerald’s other finalist was … . OK, you get it.
Mullen is going to have to find a way to break down that recruit whose been to all of those quarterback camps and told how great he is. His challenge is getting them to trust in his offensive principles and work through the learning curve just like those other three did. That’s not a given.
Will Feleipe Franks be willing to surrender to Mullen’s teachings? Would blue chip Gators recruit Matt Corral tweak his style to run Mullen’s offense? Or is there someone else whom Mullen will favor to win the job out of camp?
We don’t have answers to those questions today. We won’t know how this thing is going to play out for a while. Mullen’s fate won’t be decided if and when that first lackluster offensive showing happens next year. History suggests that this process is going to take longer than one offseason.
Florida is always a win-now job, with fan-base expectations that are criticized nationally. For people who watched the Mullen offense soar and the McElwain offense sink, it’s understandable why those expectations are high again. Just don’t assume that this transition will be seamless.
Trust the process, and trust that the victory cigars will follow.