I like swagger.
I like a coach who isn’t afraid to push his chips into the middle of the table and say that his team can compete with anyone. In football, and really in life, you need to have that to a certain degree.
That’s especially true for Dan Mullen, who enters Year 1 at Florida trying to avoid the land mines that blew up Jim McElwain’s tenure in Gainesville. For the time being, Mullen can pretty much say whatever he wants as long as it isn’t fake death threats (too soon?).
Mullen can also go to a fan event after National Signing Day and call out rival Georgia. In fact, that’s exactly what Mullen did Wednesday night.
“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.”
So according to Mullen, Georgia is not a dominant program and it is a blind squirrel. Got it.
My vision is pretty decent, and I remember seeing Georgia stomp Florida en route to an SEC Championship and College Football Playoff National Championship berth. I also remember seeing Florida — coached by McElwain at the time — grind its way through the inferior SEC East twice only to come up short of winning a conference title or even sniffing the Playoff conversation.
But I get it. By day’s end, Mullen was sick and tired of hearing about how great Georgia was after it closed with the nation’s No. 1 class.
“Kirby Smart is the king of college football.”
“Nobody is on Georgia’s level right now.”
“Georgia is Alabama East.”
If all of that happens, Mullen will not coexist in that world. He’ll ultimately be run out of town for being a notch below Georgia. In many ways, Florida should be doing exactly what Georgia is. Having the combination of that recruiting ground, that tradition and those resources is supposed to crank out SEC Championships. If Mullen has things his way, it will.
But for now, he’s as naive as his predecessor if he really thinks that Georgia is just “a blind squirrel that found a nut.” To compare what Georgia did in 2017 to anything that Florida did in 2015-16 would be comical. Sure, both won the SEC East, but they did so in completely different fashion.
Georgia won 6 of its 8 conference games by at least 25 points. That was double the amount of such wins that Florida had in that entire 2015-16 stretch. Florida, in the rare event that it actually had to leave the state and face a quality opponent, didn’t fare so well. The Gators’ lone quality road win in that stretch came against the Ed Orgeron-led LSU squad in 2016.
Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly the Rose Bowl against the Heisman Trophy winner.
I understand why Mullen said what he said. Of course he wants to make it look like a 1-year wonder. He’s going to do whatever he can to make Georgia seem mortal and not like an unstoppable force that’s going to dominate college football for the next decade. At this time last year, one could have argued that Florida was in better shape than Georgia. Now one is coming off a national championship berth and a No. 1 recruiting class while the other is trying to rally the troops at a signing day event following a 4-win season.
Life comes at you fast in college football. Florida got a reminder of that when 42-7 happened. That helped bring Mullen to Gainesville in the first place.
But I’m going to give Mullen the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn’t really think Smart’s program is going to revert back to its Mark Richt days. He saw that up close when Georgia kicked the doors off his solid Mississippi State squad to open SEC play. And sure, some like Mullen will argue that the Dawgs still have a lot to prove without that senior class, but that question mark seem a little easier to answer when you replace it with a historic No. 1 recruiting class.
Mullen doesn’t have to feed into the Georgia hype. There are plenty of people who are willing to do that. The coach who goes to a fan event and praises a rival school isn’t the coach for very long.
On Wednesday night, Mullen told Florida fans and boosters what they wanted to hear. He fired his first shot across the state line.
Sooner or later, though, Mullen will realize that he’s hunting much bigger game than a blind squirrel.