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.

How to lavishly spend the 2017 college football season on the road and in the doghouse

 

With unlimited funds and unlimited time, wouldn’t it be fun to attend as many games involving Florida’s college football teams as possible?

Something to think about on a lazy summer day, with a preferred list of 2017 games to follow.

New South Florida head coach Charlie Strong  (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Don’t think about it too long, however. My guess is that merely committing to watch each and every one of these games on the man cave’s big screen would be the end to most marriages.

 

Saturday, Aug. 26 – South Florida at San Jose State (Charlie Strong’s USF debut)

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Florida International at Central Florida (Butch Davis’ FIU debut)

Friday, Sept. 1 – Navy at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin’s FAU debut)

Saturday, Sept. 2 – Florida State vs. Alabama at Atlanta (Why, oh why, does Florida-Michigan have to be on the same day?)

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Miami at Arkansas State (Red Wolves crushed UCF in bowl game last year)

Friday, Sept. 15 – Illinois at USF (Illini went 3-9 last year but beating Big Ten team has certain cachet)

Saturday, Sept. 16 – Miami at FSU (Catch first half of Tennessee at Florida on the way to Tallahassee)

Thursday, Sept. 21 – Temple at USF (Weeknight games good for Bulls’ exposure)

Saturday, Sept. 23 – North Carolina State at FSU (Seminoles needed late rally for 24-20 win last year)

Friday, Sept. 29 – Miami at Duke (Division rival and often a pain in the ACC for Miami)

Saturday, Sept. 30 – Florida State at Wake Forest (End-zone interception secured close win on Seminoles’ last trip there)

Saturday, Oct. 7 – LSU at Florida (Goal-line stand against Tigers clinched SEC East for Gators in 2016)

Thursday, Oct. 12 – Georgia Tech at Miami (2nd straight week on ESPN national telecast for Mark Richt)

Saturday, Oct. 14 – Texas A&M at Florida (First trip to Swamp for Aggies, who joined SEC in 2012)

Saturday, Oct. 21 – Louisville at FSU (Cardinals put 63 points on Seminoles behind Heisman winner Lamar Jackson last year)

Friday, Oct. 27 – FSU at Boston College (Short week after Louisville showdown)

Saturday, Oct. 28 – Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville (Sooner or later Bulldogs are going to be good)

Saturday, Nov. 4 – Virginia Tech at Miami (If Miami ever wins the Coastal, it will be a game like this that does it)

Saturday, Nov. 11 – FSU at Clemson (Tigers are defending national champions)

Thursday, Nov. 16 – Tulsa at USF (Will Charlie Strong have the Bulls in the Top Ten by this point?)

Saturday, Nov. 18 – FIU at FAU (Butch vs. Kiffin in battle for major recruiting coup)

Friday, Nov. 24 – Miami at Pittsburgh (Stop grumbling about Thanksgiving travel and get to the airport)

Saturday, Nov. 25 – FSU at Florida (Would be nice to see this game mean a lot to both teams again)

 

That’s all of the schedule we know right now. The conference champions follow in December and then the College Football Playoff and the bowls.

Would you be sick of college football after traveling to all of those games? No problem. Just switch to the NFL in 2018.

 

 

 

Confident Jim McElwain is remaking the Gators again

The Florida Gators barely beat FAU last year. In overtime.

They edged Vanderbilt 9-7, struggling mightily to outscore a team that completed three passes for 30 yards.

Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
HOOVER, Ala. – Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Against Florida State, the Gators would have been shut out at home if not for a safety that the Seminoles gifted them in the fourth quarter.

Finally, in a bowl game that only Jim Harbaugh could love, Florida got rolled 41-7 by Michigan.

Is it any wonder that the Gators are flying under the radar at this week’s SEC Media Days in Alabama? Based on the results listed above, and the fact that coach Jim McElwain’s best quarterback from last season has transferred to West Virginia under the cloud of NCAA suspension, Florida’s ability to win a second consecutive SEC East title deserves to be doubted in every way.

Except one.

The Gators offense has to be better this year for the simple fact that it can’t possibly get worse.

McElwain has four quarterbacks from which to choose, with everyone figuring that Luke Del Rio will be the one, but really, it all comes down to this assessment from the 2015 SEC Coach of the Year.

“We’ve really got good arm talent,” McElwain said, “and I’m looking forward to stretching the field vertically.”

Good arm talent is the beginning point for any quarterback. It’s the opposite of what Treon Harris displayed last year. It’s the reason every play felt like fourth-and-long in the season’s final month.

A little foot power comes in handy, too. That’s why McElwain put so much energy into flipping powerful place-kicker Eddy Pineiro’s commitment from Alabama to Florida in February. Austin Hardin, the Gators’ previous best, made five field goals last season and missed three extra points. That’s middle-school stuff.

[Dolphins’ stadium, the one rushing renovations, also had a bumpy debut in 1987]

[The upside on Hassan Whiteside, who was Riley’s first free-agent priority]

[My strangest day in the business, an afternoon with Macho Camacho]

So we’ll talk more in the weeks to come about specific players at specific positions and what kind of magic potion it’s going to take to beat Tennessee again.

For now it figures that the defense will be good and Antonio Callaway will find his way back in the lineup and McElwain will go into his second Gainesville season quite happy that nothing spectacular is expected of the Gators.

One game, that 38-10 rout of Ole Miss, is all it took last year to get people believing in Florida again.

One game, maybe that trip to Knoxville Sept. 24, could do it again.

FSU won’t win ACC this year but do you realize how rare that is?

 

Florida State won’t be going to the ACC Championship game next month and that’s a real letdown for fans who have come to expect it. Take the long view on this thing, however, and recognize that nobody has dominated their conference in recent years like the Seminoles have.

Since joining the ACC in 1992, FSU has won or shared the league title 15 times. In the early years the Seminoles won or shared nine ACC titles in a row. Check out the following chart of the other Power Five conferences during the same time frame.

 

League       Most titles won since ‘92       Most consecutive since ‘92

SEC                           Florida (7)                                    Florida (4) 1993-96

Big Ten                    Ohio State (10)                            Ohio State (5) 2005-09

Pac 12                       USC, Oregon (9)                          USC (7) 2002-08

Big 12                       Oklahoma (7)                               Nebraska (4) 1992-95

(Note: Numbers reflect conference titles won or shared)

 

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 07: (L-R) Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles talks to head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers before their game at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CLEMSON, SC – NOVEMBER 07: (L-R) Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles talks to head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers before their game at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Fifteen ACC titles for FSU in 22 years isn’t just a lot. It’s a ridiculous level of domination, the kind that wasn’t supposed to be possible after Miami and Virginia Tech joined the league in 2004.

If that doesn’t ease the pain for Seminole followers, maybe this will. Jimbo Fisher has used a ton of young players this year, tying for third nationally with 28 true freshmen or redshirt freshmen seeing game action. What’s more, he’ll be a recruiting monster for years to come. That means No. 1 Clemson won’t be getting a hammerlock on the ACC, and neither will anybody else when it comes to competing with FSU.

Hey, no winning streak lasts forever. Under Bobby Bowden and Jimbo, the Seminoles have always gotten all they’ve got coming to them and a whole bunch of what everybody else wishes they had.

Oh, by the way, FSU still has a chance to claim the unofficial state championship by beating Florida on Nov. 28. That’s never a bad thing, no matter how the rest of the season and the rest of the nation are going.

[Learning from the Heat’s Big Three and their ugly 9-8 start five years ago]

[Mike Leach interviewed for the UM job in 2006 and lobbied hard for it in 2010]

[Don’t sweat the small stuff with early College Football Playoff rankings, and it’s all small stuff]