Dan Mullen predicts a national title for Gators but doesn’t say when

Dan Mullen made a very public promise the other day. The Florida Gators are going to win a national championship in football with him as head coach, just like the two they won when he was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2008.

At halftime of Florida’s Saturday afternoon basketball win over Baylor, Mullen took the microphone to brag about the school’s standards for excellence, highlighted by the reigning

FILE – In this Nov. 27, 2017, file photo, Dan Mullen, the new head football coach at the University of Florida, is introduced during a news conference in Gainesville, Fla.(Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner via AP, File)

national championship baseball team, and then, with voice rising and arms flailing, he added “On the football field, that standard is not just SEC but national championships. That’s what we promise we’re going to bring back to you here in the Swamp in Gainesville and put the Gators back on top as the most dominating team in the United States of America.”

Now it’s recruiting season and all, a time when the sales pitch never stops and the salesmen sometimes get carried away, but there’s really no reason for Mullen to hold back.

The Florida fan base was spoiled long ago by the bold promises Steve Spurrier made, and the success he had in keeping so many of them.

At his introductory press conference on Dec. 31, 1989, Spurrier said there was no reason that Florida shouldn’t take control of the Georgia series, which had been pretty much of a disaster in the previous two decades. That came true, and so did the previously unimaginable reality of Florida winning its first SEC title, and then stringing a bunch of them together.

Just prior to his first game as Gators coach, Spurrier wrote a letter to be published in the student newspaper, saying “We trail FSU and Miami heading in the 1990’s. We have the resources to catch and pass them and that is our target.” That also happened when the Gators won the 1996 national title.

At SEC media days, Florida was predicted by sportswriters to finish seventh in the league in 1990. In addition, there were no offensive players from Florida selected to the preseason All-SEC team. Spurrier guaranteed that would change by season’s end, and it did, with Shane Matthews as the highlight. Fifth on Florida’s quarterback depth chart in the summer, Matthews earned SEC Player of the Year honors that year and the next as the operator of Spurrier’s outlandish Fun ‘N Gun offense.

Of course, Spurrier said a lot of other things during his 12 seasons at Florida and infuriated a lot of people in the process. These are just a few memories of what he did and how he acted before coaching his first Gator game.

That’s where we find Mullen now. He doesn’t have his quarterback problem solved right off the bat any more than Spurrier did when he took this job. He doesn’t have a lot of momentum from the previous season, either, with the Gators coming off a 4-7 faceplant. Might as well say what people want to hear, though.

In short, like always, Florida has the resources to catch and pass everybody, and if Mullen doesn’t do it or at least come close, he won’t make it to end of that six-year contract.

It’s the same rock that Willie Taggart is pushing up the hill at FSU, and Jimbo Fisher is pushing at Texas A&M, and the one that Mark Richt continues to push at Miami. Oh, and let’s not forget Josh Heupel at UCF. That sounds like a sin of omission to many these days.

More power to any coach with the courage and the credibility to try.

And one day, when Nick Saban retires at Alabama, it will be a lot easier for all of them to reach that ultimate standard.

[Who knew Hoffman was bound for Cooperstown when Marlins traded him?]

[Only accomplishment remaining for LeBron James is player-coach]

[Eagles coach Pederson once saved Shula’s bacon as Dolphins’ QB]

 

 

 

Mullen and Gators need to join SEC’s parade of true freshman quarterbacks

If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.

That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.

Former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen gives the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the team’s 31-28 loss to Mississippi on Nov. 23, 2017. Three days later he was hired to coach the Florida Gators. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Is this any way to run a major college program?

Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.

What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.

Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.

More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.

If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.

After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.

Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.

Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?

The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.

It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.

Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.

Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.

[Somehow, the latest national title in Bama’s dynastic run came as a shock]

[Richt next task is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

Bravo to college football for making a national title by its greatest dynasty come as something of a surprise

Is it possible to be shocked when Alabama wins a national championship?

I would have said no before Monday night. That 26-23 overtime win over Georgia was almost too much to process, even for Nick Saban, who when it was over actually sputtered “I’ve never been happier in my life.”

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, right, sits next to head coach Nick Saban during a press conference in Atlanta, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Alabama beat Georgia in overtime to win the NCAA college football playoff championship game. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Think of what just happened here. The Tide won with Saban grasping for straws this time, not mechanically processing and dominating one situation after another.

When his young star quarterback got off to a lousy start, Saban switched to an even younger one, true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, and came climbing out of a couple of 13-point holes. Oh, and the hero is a lefty from Hawaii wearing lucky No. 13. You know, the usual.

When Alabama’s kicker missed two standard-range field goals, including what should have been the game-winner in regulation, Saban forfeited his usual bonus of stellar special-teams play but overcame that, too.

Finally, when a disastrous sack opened Alabama’s overtime possession, Saban hoped that new playcaller Brian Daboll, a former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, could come up with something remotely positive to get his balky kicker in position to force a second extra period.

Who could have dreamed that the game would end on the next play, a 41-yard touchdown bomb, and that Georgia’s night would turn out so horribly wrong after the Bulldogs had done so many things right?

It’s not like Saban has never been shocked and disappointed in a similar manner. Clemson beat Alabama in last year’s national title game with one second remaining. Also, at the end of the 2014 season, the top-ranked Tide drew No. 4 Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff and lost 42-35.

This year, though, it was Alabama’s time to squeeze into the last playoff spot. That got a lot of people grumbling, and not only because the Tide didn’t even win their division, or because the title game was an all-SEC affair. The biggest annoyance was that everybody kind of figured Saban would win it all again, like always.

Well, Alabama did win it, but not like always. This was a crazy demolition derby, with tensions so high that one Tide player had to be restrained from going after an unidentified man on the sidelines and another player needed emergency personnel to cart him away with some kind of medical issue.

Put it all together and you’ve got five national titles in nine years for Saban at Alabama. Miami fans don’t need that kind of dynasty to be explained to them. The Hurricanes won four titles in nine years, plus five in the space of 19, and ESPN made an epic 30-for-30 documentary about it.

What if I were to tell you that Saban isn’t slowing down at the age of 66, and that after winning six national titles, including one with LSU in 2003, he’s still adapting and finding new ways to crush the competition?

That’s not a documentary. It’s a horror movie, played on an endless loop.

[Richt must advance beyond his Year 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

[Does anybody, including Nebraska’s Scott Frost, want a piece of UCF now?]

Richt’s mission is to advance beyond the second-year highlights he’s had at Georgia and Miami

Miami fans are loving Mark Richt after this 10-3 breakout season, but soon they’ll want more.

Georgia fans did, even though Richt ripped off double-digit wins one season after another there while building an overall .740 winning percentage.

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt yells during a team drill before the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Saturday, December 30, 2017. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

Now that the Bulldogs are in the national championship game with Kirby Smart, many fans are probably wishing they had made the switch sooner.

That’s not fair to Richt, who won more games as Georgia’s coach than anyone except Vince Dooley, the 1980 national championship coach who ran the show there for a quarter century. This is how the business works, however, and this may be why a guy like Richt gets so wound up during the Orange Bowl the other night that he grabs the arm of an official and draws a flag.

Nine times at Georgia Richt won 10 games or better, and it he would have had another if he wasn’t fired at 9-3 in 2015 just before a Gator Bowl win over Penn State. By the numbers, he should still be there, but the administration got tired of boosters grumbling about SEC titles that didn’t materialize and quarterbacks that didn’t develop and playcalling that didn’t crack the code against Alabama and Florida and other SEC irritants.

The job that is ahead of Richt now is to push past the wave of excitement that marks his second season at Miami and into a series of moves so dependable and signings so right that Clemson won’t be able to stand in the way, or FSU, or anybody else.

It was his second season that rang the bell at Georgia in 2002, too. The Bulldogs were 13-1 with a Sugar Bowl win over FSU that year, convincing the faithful, as Miami fans are convinced now, that the right coach finally was at the right place at the right time.

It was great, all right, but it didn’t get greater, and the national title opportunity that Smart has now did not come to be. It happens like this, the feeling that 10-3 over and over is some kind of a drag. If that doesn’t seem possible at Miami right now, think of how Larry Coker started out 35-3 as the Hurricanes coach but began to lose momentum with a couple of 9-3 seasons and soon, after just six years, was gone.

Oh, I know that Coker and Richt are not the same guy, that Coker inherited a championship-caliber roster and didn’t have the same legwork to do at first, but the point is this. Miami had a coach with an .800 career winning percentage and a national title but he wasn’t enough to satisfy anybody for long.

So you look at the Hurricanes’ 2018 season opener, a Labor Day weekend showcase against LSU at Jerry’s World in Texas, and it’s like Richt has something to prove again. A loss by Miami would be the fourth in a row. A win and the Hurricanes are only getting started, with anything less than another trip to Charlotte and the ACC title game to be viewed as a step back.

It’s the pressure that every elite coach at every major program accepts, and Richt means to be in the middle of it, too.

My hope is that his alma mater will be a little more forgiving than most if everything doesn’t go perfectly. That’s because nothing goes perfectly in college football, not when a team like Auburn can upset a couple of No. 1 teams and come off looking like a dog at season’s end with a 10-4 record and a bowl loss to UCF. Not when UCF can have its best season ever and forfeit a head coach in the process.

Good luck keeping it going, Mark, and keeping it together, too. All things considered, that one sideline meltdown in the Wisconsin game was probably a long time coming.

What he had this season wasn’t much different than Jim McElwain’s introduction at Florida, an exciting 10-1 start and a rapid return to the Top 10 after years of wandering, followed by three lopsided losses in a row to FSU, Alabama and Michigan.

Nobody wants to hear that, but it’s so.

[Does anybody out there, including Scott Frost, want a piece of UCF now?]

[Jeter missed the memo on how fed up Marlins fans are with fire sales]

[It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger will return to Honda Classic]

Does anybody out there, including Scott Frost and Nebraska, want a piece of UCF now?

Scott Frost won’t be scheduling UCF any time soon.

Now that he’s the coach at Nebraska, Frost is like everyone else at a Power Five school. It makes no sense for him to tangle with the Knights.

ATLANTA – Kam Martin of the Auburn Tigers is tackled by the UCF Knights in the second half during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Not saying that new UCF coach Josh Heupel will finish unbeaten in 2018, the way Frost did there in 2017, but if the Knights have enough talent to beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl, they are good enough to win in any league.

This 34-27 upset of Auburn came as a bigger surprise to me than UCF’s 52-42 Fiesta Bowl win over No. 6 Baylor four years ago. That Baylor team didn’t play much defense, but Auburn definitely does.

The Tigers limited Alabama and Georgia to a combined total of 31 points in upset wins over the two teams in Monday night’s national championship game. And then UCF goes out and scores 34 on them in one night?

I was wrong to think that the supposed step up in class would be so great. Wrong to think that a limited number of ranked opponents in the regular season would prove the Knights to be unworthy of a top-10 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. Wrong, in general, to think that any college team with a ton of momentum would shrink from an opportunity to build its national brand tenfold with a convincing bowl win.

So, should UCF have a spot in the national title game? Can’t go that far. Not after watching Alabama roll Clemson’s defending champs and not after what Ohio State and Wisconsin did in their bowls.

Miami belongs below the Knights, however, in any final reckoning for 2017, and Miami just had one of its best seasons in many years. Florida and FSU don’t even rate a mention beyond saying that they don’t rate a mention, and USF is scrambling to stay up.

Here are a few interesting notes on UCF in 2018.

The Knights play FAU on Sept. 22 in Orlando. That’s more than a date with Lane Kiffin. It’s a matchup between the two teams with the longest active win streaks in Div. I. Thirteen in a row for UCF and 10 for FAU.

Also next September the Knights travel to North Carolina and play Pittsburgh at home. If Frost were sticking around, you could chalk both of those up as wins over major-conference opponents, but we’ll have to see.

Also, Nebraska has a pretty full slate of non-conference games schedule through 2022 and there is no mention of UCF. Frost might try to change that at some point as a favor to the program he loved enough to work the Peach Bowl after taking another job, but is it worth it?

Back in 1997, when Frost was the quarterback of Nebraska’s 13-0 national title team, UCF came to Lincoln for a September game and hung pretty tough in a 38-24 loss.

That same season Nebraska beat Oklahoma 69-7, pounded Iowa State 77-14 and dominated Texas A&M 54-15 in the Big 12 title game.

The Knights’ football program was in its second season at the time, and with Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Dangerous almost from the start.

[Jeter missed the memo on how fed up Marlins fans are with fire sales]

[It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger will play the Honda Classic]

[Bobby made FSU seem a dream destination but Jimbo didn’t feel it]

Bobby made FSU seem like a dream destination and Jimbo? Not so much

Of all the major college programs to find their football coaching position turned into a revolving door, Florida State is the last one you would expect.

The Seminoles finally reeled in Willie Taggart on Tuesday, completing their first full-scale coach search since Bobby Bowden came aboard in January of 1976. I know that sounds like a long time ago but you really want to know how long?

Bobby’s first FSU salary was $37,500 a year.

Former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden celebrates after defeating Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl’s 1993 national championship game. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

Jimbo Fisher, of course, was designated as the head-coach-in-waiting while serving on Bobby’s staff, making for an automatic transition in 2010 without a messy search. Now he’s gone to Texas A&M, calling the decision “a no-brainer.”

No wonder Bobby is so adored in Tallahassee, with a stained-glass image at the stadium and a statue out front. He built a lasting connection to FSU, one that couldn’t be severed despite many tempting offers to coach elsewhere.

In 1990 Alabama made an offer to Bowden but, after a few days of chewing on it, he declined.

“By that time, I felt like FSU was my school,” Bowden said in his book “Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith and Football.”

“No matter what I could have done as Alabama’s coach, it still would have been Coach (Bear) Bryant’s program. I could never have topped his accomplishment there.”

There’s a strong element of loyalty in there, but a bit of anxiety and humility, too. Other coaches positively burn with ambition, believing themselves capable of accomplishing anything, anywhere. Nick Saban, for instance, wasn’t afraid to take on the Bear’s legacy at Alabama. Jimbo didn’t shy away from following Bobby at FSU, either.

In his book Bobby also says he passed on offers from LSU and Auburn and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons through the years. He formally interviewed at Alabama in 1987, too, and was disappointed not to get an offer that time. Probably would have gone if he did.

There is no good way and no good time for a coach to leave one school for another, at least in the eyes of his former employer. Now Taggart is getting ripped at Oregon, where he coached for one season after upgrading from South Florida. If he ever left FSU for another job, we’d have a true gypsy, a modern-day Lou Saban, on our hands.

I’m thinking in all of this there will be a new wave of nostalgia for good ol’ Bobby.

Nobody cares now about the reasons that he stayed at FSU for 34 years, or about the close calls that almost took him away.

All that matters is that he stayed, and he never made it seem like some kind of sacrifice on his part.

In today’s climate, that is at once wonderful and weird.

[History says Dolphins can’t make playoffs from 5-7)

[Sean McVay overtakes Adam Gase as NFL’s Next Big Thing]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Greg Schiano]

 

Before Mark Richt became available, Miami interviewed Greg Schiano and Dan Mullen, too

Miami Hurricanes administrators can sit back and grin, satisfied that they’ve got the right football coach in Mark Richt.

In just his second season at the school, Richt has Miami in Saturday night’s ACC Championship game against defending national champion Clemson, and a win there should lead to a spot in the College Football Playoff field.

Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau(left) and Damione Lewis (right) after a 1999 practice. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

Could it have gone this well with any other coach available to at the end of the 2015 season? Impossible to know, but Richt was not the only candidate who got serious consideration.

Greg Schiano interviewed with Miami back then. The opportunity came at a time in his life when the former UM defensive coordinator would have given anything to be the boss in Coral Gables. Schiano was between jobs, having been fired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach. He was volunteering as a high school coach, as a matter of fact, at Tampa Berkeley Prep.

There was reason to believe that something would come of it, too, since former UM star Jonathan Vilma, who played for Schiano, was a member of the six-person advisory staff that athletic Blake James put together to assist in the search process.

It’s a matter of timing in these things, though. Earlier, when Larry Coker got fired at Miami, the Hurricanes were turned away by Schiano. That was in 2006, when he was building something of his own at Rutgers, and formally asked to have his name removed from Miami’s list of candidates.

Lately, Schiano’s name was turned toxic when Tennessee pulled back from a decision to hire him because of an ugly social media reaction, buoyed by campus protests.

The advertised reason for the uproar was an unsubstantiated narrative that the coach somehow ignored or condoned Jerry Sandusky’s child molestation crimes while the two were assistants at Penn State. More likely a ton of Vols fans just thought they could do better than Schiano and coalesced around a convenient rationale to scare Tennessee administrators away from what had seemed a fairly straightforward hire of a well-respected coach.

So who else did Miami interview in November and December of 2015 before Richt got the job?

Dan Mullen, freshly introduced as Florida’s new coach, talked with James and his search staff. At that time he was 54-35 in seven seasons at Mississippi State. Had he gotten the Miami job, he would have been just as enthusiastic about flashing the “U” hand signal as he was about doing the Gator Chomp in Gainesville on Monday.

Butch Davis also interviewed with Miami before the Richt hire. He had been out of coaching for a couple of years and was eager to a second stint as head coach of the Hurricanes. These days Butch is coaching at FIU and waiting to see which minor bowl assignment his 7-4 Golden Panthers will get.

All questions were answered, and quickly, when Georgia fired Richt on Nov. 30, 2015. Four days later he was announced as Miami’s coach.

No need to be smug when one of these frantic coach searches works out. For every athletic director who nails it there are 10 who regret ever being put in the position to choose, and scores who fear the moment when they will be out there scrambling to find the right man again.

[For Gators, Dan Mullen is a good solution who wants to be great]

[Because hiring Chip Kelly wasn’t easy for Florida, nothing else would have been]

[Hurricanes finally bring out the beast in antiseptic Hard Rock Stadium]

For Gators, Dan Mullen is a good solution who wants to be great

Florida hiring Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State on Sunday is less about big splashes and more about steady ripples.

Because he was at Florida, working directly with Tim Tebow, when the Gators won a couple of national championships, all the good feelings and all the great players from those golden days will come rippling back to Gainesville now.

STARKVILLE, MS – NOVEMBER 4: Dan Mullen, former head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, talks with Nick Fitzgerald during a game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Starkville, Mississippi. On Sunday Mullen was announced as Florida’s new head coach. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

“Thrilled that #GatorNation gets a coach who accepts our Championship expectations!” is how Tebow put it in a tweet. Oh, and also “Congrats and welcome home.”

The Swamp hasn’t felt very much like home lately to the players from Urban Meyer’s title teams. It has become a place where Florida State comes to relax, where Missouri scores 42 points, where even Georgia Southern can get a win. Florida fans feel it, too, a disconnect with the last two Gator coaches and a dismantling of the program’s mystique.

Mullen, the offensive coordinator at Florida during the sweet spot of 2005 to 2008, is more familiar, more established, more certain to stir up some high-scoring fun than Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain were. There is danger it won’t work, just as there is danger in any major move like this, but Florida athletic director wasn’t getting any action anywhere else.

He couldn’t get Chip Kelly, but hey, Mullen is from New Hampshire, too.

He couldn’t get Scott Frost, but Frost could hardly say no to Nebraska, where his own homecoming eventually lies, and yes to somebody else.

So Gator fans will try to get used to this marriage in a couple of ways.

The older ones will try to believe in Mullen as a coach who was tough enough to last nine years in the SEC West, and one who should be able to bring the same high class of quarterbacks to Gainesville that he brought and developed in Starkville.

The younger ones will sputter a bit, noting that Mullen has never won anything bigger than a Gator Bowl as Mississippi State’s coach and demanding that he present his extreme makeover credentials no later than Sept. 29, 2018. That’s the day Florida visits Mississippi State, a day when Mullen either shows the new Gator program to be ahead of his old one or comes off as no great improvement.

Frost would have been a better compromise between the two groups and a stronger guarantee of drastic and unconventional change in the Gator playbook. Would have been nice to get a taste of that. A chip off the old Kelly block but without the jagged, arrogant edges.

Sunday showed, however, that no AD’s selection ever goes completely unpunished. Florida will take a little grumbling, maybe even a little yawning, over the shouting and protesting in the streets that was ignited by Tennessee’s choice of Greg Schiano, a deal that was sunk before it was signed.

Mullen, at least, knows he won’t get the quick hook from Stricklin, who once was his boss and supporter at Mississippi State. That alone helps Florida, which has forfeited the vital continuity of recruiting and player development with recent firings.

What helps the Gators more is Mullen’s ability to grow kids with good arms into quarterbacks with great instincts and solid leadership skills.

I don’t think even he can fix Feleipe Franks, but the next wave of highly-regarded prospects who arrive in the Swamp will know that Mullen had great success with Chris Leak and Tebow at Florida, with Alex Smith at Utah, and with Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State. They’ll know that and they’ll expect to happen for them.

That’s the start to revving up the Gators again, just as putrid quarterback play was the start of Florida’s drop into the pit of mediocrity, with the loss of basic offensive principles wringing the life out of the Gators’ great defensive traditions as well.

Will the turnaround be instantaneous? Of course not. Think of how far Alabama had sunk before Nick Saban took over, and how the Tide went 7-6 with a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe in his first season there.

Will ever Gator fan rejoice at Mullen’s hiring simply because he helped bring two national titles to Florida? Of course not. You can tell that by the fact that a great cheer of celebration went up in the Swamp Saturday when the videoboard showed Ohio State trailing Michigan. That was a rebuke of Meyer, plain and simple.

Mullen didn’t leave Florida for supposed health reasons, however, and then experience a miracle recovery in time to coach at his real dream job.

Mullen did a great job at Florida and got an SEC head coaching opportunity out of it. Now he has an even rarer opportunity, leaving Mississippi State for greener pastures. Normally coaches wear out their welcome there and get fired. Normally coaches don’t show themselves to be any better than those who came to Starkville before them.

The Bulldogs are better off, though, because of Mullen’s organization and ingenuity and psychological stamina. He will need all of that and more at Florida, but the good thing is he fully understands what it means to be a Gators coach and is not frightened of the challenge.

So UCLA gets the big splash with Kelly. He would have been a pain for SEC opponents to deal with, but he didn’t want to coach Florida and soon enough would have been a pain for Stricklin and the Gators brass, too.

Chip, remember, is the guy who cut Tebow from the Philadelphia Eagles roster. Instead Florida gets the coach who Tebow will greet with a big old bear hug, whether it’s at Monday’s official press conference announcement or soon thereafter.

Until the wins start coming in, that’s the most genuine celebration that Florida could hope to inspire.

 

 

 

Because hiring Chip Kelly hasn’t been easy for Florida, nothing else about him would be either

If Chip Kelly doesn’t want to coach the Florida Gators, it’s better to find it out now.

That’s the only conclusion to draw from Friday’s Yahoo Sports report that the Gators have moved on from their top coaching candidate.

In this Monday, Dec. 28, 2015 photo, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly listens to a question during a news conference at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Philadelphia. The Eagles fired Kelly with one game left in his third season, dumping the coach after missing the playoffs in consecutive years. Kelly was released Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015 just before the end of a disappointing season that began with Super Bowl expectations. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

No matter the reason, if it’s Kelly telling Florida no or Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin tiring of the mind games, this would have been another one of those bad fits that have combined to set the program back a couple of times now.

Of course, there is a part of me that wants to wait for official announcements from Florida or from UCLA, to see if Kelly will change his mind.

[Saturday update: Chip Kelly agrees to a five-year deal to become UCLA’s football coach]

That’s what happened in 2012 when he was all set to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach but decided at the last minute to stay at Oregon.

The following year he told the Philadelphia Eagles no, thanks, but he would be staying at Oregon. Then he changed his mind and went to the NFL anyway.

The guy burns bright, like a firefly, and isn’t always sure at any given moment what he truly wants for himself.

Bottom line, though, Kelly could have taken the Gators job last Sunday when Florida’s top brass came to see him in New Hampshire. He is not coaching anybody and has no reason to delay if this opportunity to run one of the college game’s most coveted programs was a top priority.

Because he didn’t, it shows that the thought of coaching in the SEC, of struggling to overcome Nick Saban and all the others, held no instant appeal.

Because he didn’t, it shows that Kelly has no appetite for operating in an environment where his ego and his powers might be checked by Stricklin, or his failures magnified by a hypercritical SEC fan base.

Because he didn’t, it proved that there are other candidates out there who are far more motivated to take on this task, men who wouldn’t arrive in Gainesville with an exit strategy already building in the back of their minds.

It’s a major disappointment for Florida to miss out on the rebirth that Kelly could have brought to the Gators’ offense. This major swing and a miss looks bad for the program, too, just as it looked bad when Jeremy Foley went shopping for Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan but wound up hiring Ron Zook when those two didn’t jump at the offer.

This job search won’t have a good ending, however, if there is conflict at the beginning.

Stricklin and Kelly either haven’t connected or haven’t yet, even though there has been ample time to do so. There’s no forcing it now. Just as importantly for the Gators, there should be no looking back.

The only way Kelly can truly destroy the Gators is by taking a job in the SEC. That’s why the best news now might be his quick introduction at UCLA, far, far away.

Hurricanes have finally brought out the beast in fancy-schmancy Hard Rock Stadium

Turns out there never really was anything all that wrong with Hard Rock Stadium, a building that has worn many other names since its opening 30 years ago. Took a while to figure it out, though.

When the Miami Dolphins didn’t get much going after moving there from the Orange Bowl, everyone agreed that the new facility had no soul. The seats were too far away from the action. The noise leaked out before anyone had a chance to feel it. Pretty and clean, sure, but where was the grit?

It was the same when the Miami Hurricanes showed up in 2008. Must have been the building to blame for all those lackluster seasons. Couldn’t have been Randy Shannon and Al Golden.

The Marlins kept looking to get out, too, reasoning that baseball wasn’t meant for so big a barn and that’s what explained the team’s perennially poor attendance.

Miami Hurricanes linebacker Zach McCloud  celebrates with fans after Miami’s 41-8 win over  Notre Dame at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Saturday, November 11, 2017.  (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

Funny, though, how sellout crowds of 67,000-plus filled the facility, then known as Pro Player Stadium, for the 1997 World Series, and again when the Marlins won it all in 2003. Couldn’t hear yourself think in there, as I recall.

Winning big is the secret to every stadium’s charm, and the Hurricanes are proving it again with the rock-show atmosphere of their recent home wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

Along the way, Stephen Ross has spent the money and Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkle has used it wisely to spruce up Hard Rock in many important ways, including a canopy to keep sun and rain out but lock crowd noise in. If the teams stink, however, it’s like booking a show that nobody wants to see for the Kravis Center. You can send half the ushers and valet parkers home in that case because it just ain’t happening.

Ask anybody who attended the Notre Dame game last Saturday night if the stadium experience felt flat to them.

Ask if they would like to return to the Orange Bowl days, with backless benches for sitting and backyards for parking.

The answer from some will always be yes, so sweet was the big-game sound of the Hurricanes and the Super Bowl Dolphins back there. It’s nostalgia, a magnet to the past, and that’s understandable.

Don’t imagine, though, that Hard Rock is actually soft, that opponents will never worry about coming there because the place is just too corporate. That notion doesn’t fly anymore.

The 9-0 Hurricanes have proven it wrong and you can tell it because there reportedly will be something close to a sellout for Saturday’s home game with Virginia. That’s for a noon start, the exact opposite of those late-night parties of the last two weeks, and it’s against an opponent that drew just 40,963 customers the last time these two teams met at Hard Rock.

The new building that Joe Robbie built isn’t so new anymore after three decades of sports events and concerts and such. It’s far from perfect, no matter how many expensive improvements are made, and there always will be a little too antiseptic to satisfy some rough and ready football fans.

What counts for personality down there, however, will always be the personality of the spectators themselves. And if they’re wildly happy, as they have been lately with the Hurricanes, Hard Rock Stadium will continue to be a wild and happy place.

The kind of place that earns a rugged nickname that rolls right off the tongue, like The Rock.