GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Florida coach Dan Mullen spent his first few months on the job trying to sell the program.
First to recruits, then to boosters and students.
He used a helicopter to make a splash at high schools. He made headlines by promising a national title at a basketball game and then backed it up repeatedly during a state-wide speaking tour. And he became the most popular guy on campus by running with ROTC members in the mornings and visiting with dozens of fraternities and sororities in the evenings.
Mullen’s goal: Energize a fan base that had grown increasingly restless since he left Gainesville nearly a decade ago. Mullen felt the results were encouraging.
But all that preseason groundwork could be for naught if the Gators aren’t considerably better on the field this fall. Of course, it shouldn’t be too difficult to show improvement considering Florida is coming off its second four-win season in five years.
“The lack of consistency to me is something that really is glaring,” said Mullen, pointing to two four-win campaigns and two trips to the Southeastern Conference title game. “You shouldn’t have those massive swings. … The massive swings that went on is something I’m still trying to figure out.”
The Gators can point fingers at former coach Jim McElwain, who left the program in need of repair . The offense ranked in triple digits for the third consecutive year and the usually stout defense allowed its most points (27.3 a game) since 1946 and gave up its most yards (5.7 a play) since at least World War II.
Throw in off-the-field issues and a strength-and-conditioning program that lacked, well, strength and conditioning, and it’s easy to see how Florida endured its second losing season since 1979.
Mullen is tasked with fixing it all and getting the Gators back to a higher, more acceptable standard. The former Mississippi State head coach spent four years (2005-08) as Florida’s offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and helped guide the Gators to some of their most successful years in school history.
“Being a champion is not a sometimes thing,” Mullen said. “It’s a way of life. Don’t tell me, ‘Coach, I’ll show up on game day. Wait until you see me perform on game day. I know I don’t to class. I know I don’t work hard in the weight room. I don’t do sprints very much and I don’t study the plays. But I’m a baller on game day.’
“That doesn’t float with me. Being a champion is not a sometimes thing. It’s an all-the-time thing.”
Florida’s turnaround starts at quarterback. It’s Mullen’s specialty, with Alex Smith (Utah), Chris Leak (Florida), Tim Tebow (Florida) and Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) having learned under him.
Sophomore Feleipe Franks is the expected starter, with Kyle Trask and highly touted freshman Emory Jones also in the mix.
“I have a season under my belt, so the experience is kind of there,” said Franks, who started eight games in 2017. “But it’s just taking that next step to being a championship team. We really need to bring that back to Gainesville.”
Some other things to know about Florida:
The Gators begin the season Sept. 1 at home against Charleston Southern of the Football Championship Subdivision. Coincidentally, it’s the same team coach Dan Mullen opened with in 2017. Mississippi State beat the Buccaneers 49-0. Charleston Southern is winless in 20 games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Transfer receivers Trevon Grimes and Van Jefferson, both cleared to play immediately , should be huge additions to Florida’s offense. Grimes spent last year at Ohio State, catching three passes for 20 yards. Jefferson spent the past three seasons at Mississippi, hauling in 91 catches for 999 yards and four touchdowns the last two years.
No Florida quarterback has thrown more than 12 touchdown passes in a season since Tim Tebow in 2009. It’s a glaring statistic that shows just how inept Florida’s offense has been since.
Six players, including top receiver Tyrie Cleveland, are facing university disciplinary action following an on-campus altercation that included the brandishing of Airsoft guns that resembled assault rifles. Fellow receivers Kadarius Toney and Rick Wells also could be punished.
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