Dan Mullen shouldering responsibility for disappointing season
Dan Mullen has had some interesting press conferences during his time in Gainesville.
He's a competitor, first and foremost and he, understandably, isn't in a great mood right after a loss, which isn't a great mix when you're contractually obligated to sit and answer questions from reporters about said loss. It's led to some rough press conferences and fans have begun to tire with some of the tropes Mullen will regurgitate.
When Mullen took over the program he talked about the "Gator Standard" and what the program will strive to reach and achieve under his leadership. That "Gator Standard" line is now commonly thrown back at him when the team doesn't live up to the standards of the fan base, which has happened a lot during a 4-4 start the 2021 season. Mullen was caught smiling on his way to shake Mark Stoops' hand following the Gators' 20-13 loss and a screenshot still floats around social media as a way to say that Mullen has checked out and doesn't care that the team is losing. Mullen avoided questions and said the word "evaluate" 14 times following an upset loss at LSU, something else that has been thrown back at him.
"There's a lot of negativity. A lot, a lot of negativity," Mullen said when asked about the outside noise around the team this season. "And I think that feeds in sometimes when I don't know that that should, but it does, unfortunately for these young guys. They're young kids, so it does feed in. And we've got to make sure we're blocking all of that out and focusing on the things.
As a reporter covering Mullen and the team, I've probably fed into that as well. It's easy to make jokes when a team isn't doing well, so Mullen may have even been talking as much about me and the media as the fan base but it's also my job to be objective. In the past when I felt that Mullen wasn't taking responsibility for things he should be I'd write it, which is why this story is being written.
The Florida Gators are 4-4. That isn't the Gator Standard. Dan Mullen knows it and he took responsibility for that on Saturday night. Some fans may say too little too late. Some may say finally, and some may have stopped reading because this isn't the kind of thing they want to read Saturday night or Sunday morning following a 34-7 loss to a bitter rival but, in my mind it's fair.
"Football's a great team sport, the ultimate team sport, and you know, as the head coach, the mindset of the team falls on me and where we're at the attitude, the approach and everything we take falls on me," Mullen said during his opening statement.
"I know, two-thirds of the way through the season right now, I'm certainly not pleased with where we are. I know our players are certainly not pleased with where we are. I know the Gator Nation, I know it's not pleased with where we are, with the standards and the expectations within this program. But in this final third of the season, that’s on me to get this fixed and the approach that I take and the mindset that we play with, that's on me to get it fixed. And you know, I certainly plan on doing that, of changing this, where we're at right now with us, and creating some positive energy for us and some confidence for us, and the expectations to feed off of each other. And I'm gonna work and I'm gonna make sure I get that right.”
Every August when the football team gets together the goal for Mullen and the Florida Gators is to win the SEC East. Get to Atlanta and give yourself a shot at winning the conference.
Those goals are out. They've been unattainable for several weeks now and the loss to Georgia is more than the final nail in the coffin but Mullen can't let it be the sod laid above the dirt in front of a tombstone for the season.
His and the team's mettle will be tested.
There isn't a whole lot left to play for outside of the guys in the locker room. The same guys that met in August to start camp, the ones who have spent early mornings and late nights working toward a singular goal are all they have left to play for.
In today's college football you have players on teams that are at this point that look towards their future. Whether than be the transfer portal or opting out to focus on training for the NFL Draft, this is the point in a disappointing season where teams can fracture and crumble.
Florida can't afford that. They need to finish the season with positive momentum and use it to build towards a better tomorrow.
Mullen knows that this team is at a critical point and he knows that he needs to be the one that leads them through it.
"As you start slipping, right, the rope’s slipping right now," he began. "I will say something about me: I don’t drop the rope. I'm not gonna let you even rip it out of my hand. You can drag me around by my face if you want, but I'm going to let it squeeze it, and not let it go. I'm not going to let an inch of that rope go, and I know our players won't either, okay, but I'm going to tell you that's what we have to do.
"For the Gator Nation, we got 1/3 of the season left. And obviously, I’ll tell every fan, listen. This is not where I want to be right now. And I'm sure, at 4-and-4, nobody that’s where they want to be. But we still got 1/3 of this season left, and we'll see. We'll see what we define ourselves by at the end of the season.”
Florida has been defined this season by inconsistency and losses but they have a chance to change the narrative. There are four games left and a possible bowl game. What Mullen does the rest of the season could go a long way to define the state of and trajectory of the program moving forward.
On Saturday, however, facing more adversity than he has in four years as the head coach of the Florida Gators, he looked more determined than he has all season after a loss and that's a good sign for the immediate future.