Another new era of Florida football begins with the Gators looking to the past to fuel their future

By Adam Silverstein
August 30, 2018
Another new era of Florida football begins with the Gators looking to the past to fuel their future
Football

Image Credit: Tim Casey / UAA

For the third time in eight years, a new head coach will roam the sidelines for Florida Gators football when it begins the 2018 season on Saturday against Charleston Southern. And for the third time in eight years, there is renewed hope and raised expectations among fans for Florida to return to its once-annual place as a legitimate presence in the national college football landscape.

While it goes without saying that the Gators have languished in mediocrity since the departure of Urban Meyer following the 2010 season, it is worth noting why. A combination of poor hiring (at every level in the organization), roster management, player development and recruiting made Florida into an eye-roll in the national conversation.

Sure, UF could compete in — and win — the SEC East, a division that became a shell of its former self and has seen five new hires among its seven teams over the last two offseasons. But any time Florida was tested by any semblance of legitimate opponent, whether in the SEC Championship Game or a big nonconference showdown, the Gators got crushed.

Forget the team even being a shell of its former self — a program with an explosive offense, ferocious defense and dominant special teams — Florida was consistently undermanned, outsized and ill-prepared to compete with the big boys in the SEC and beyond. Not for a season but the better part of a decade.

Will Muschamp could not decide on an offensive philosophy, maintain a consistent staff or avoid occasions of bad luck. Jim McElwain could not shake the feeling among those around the program that he was a used car salesman with a whistle around his neck, and no one could deny that he sold the Gators a lemon. For all shine Muschamp provided in terms of Florida’s roster, McElwain let it rust and decay to the point that the engine started sputtering and the car could barely get off the line.

Dan Mullen is neither Muschamp nor McElwain. He’s an experienced, SEC-seasoned head coach that understands the cumulative value of having players, staff and fans buying into a singular mindset of what it takes to build a successful program. And most importantly for the Gators, he’s not only been successful throughout his career, he had already been successful in Gainesville before he stepped off the plane.

For all of the flirtations with Chip Kelly and Scott Frost, it always made the most sense for Florida and new athletic director Scott Stricklin to go with the man they knew best. And despite all of his flirtations with other programs throughout the years, it always made the most sense for Mullen to stay at Mississippi State until the Gators came calling (like they probably should have seven years earlier).

Mullen just fits — like Meyer did 13 years ago. He understands the tradition and pageantry of the program. He knows what it takes to win at a high level, particularly in the SEC. He built his initial coaching staff by bringing in men with whom he worked and trusted. He knew from the start that Florida had fallen behind in its strength & conditioning to an embarrassing level. And most importantly, he not only remembered what coaching the Gators felt like the last time he donned orange and blue but allowed fans to recall what they felt like the last time Mullen was roaming the sidelines at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

It is for those reasons that Mullen has repeated these facts literally every time he’s spoken publicly over the last nine months. More than likely, Mullen has called back to his past in Gainesville while visiting homes of recruits hoping to lure them to Gainesville as UF’s stars of the future.

Mullen’s focus is not building a program from the ground up like he did in Mississippi State. He’s renovating Florida football, retaining the strong brick-laden foundation, pressure washing the surfaces, knocking down walls and clearing out the accumulated crap that has held the Gators back from reclaiming a level of national prestige not truly seen by the program in a decade.

There is no guarantee it will work. After all, there are no guarantees in life. The rebuilding SEC East includes a Georgia team that looks more dominant than it has in decades. Tennessee has an opportunity to once again be a legitimate contender sometime soon. Muschamp has done a fantastic job building on the foundation laid by Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.

It will certainly take more than 12 or 13 — or if Florida is particularly lucky, 14 — games. But there should be little doubt that Florida football is operating differently after just one offseason of Mullen’s influence.

The Gators still had some of their swagger under Muschamp, but they have renewed confidence under Mullen. Florida appears to be poised and professional, ready to get back to playing winning football — not in terms of game outcomes but rather doing what it takes to be successful on a week-by-week, day-by-day, play-by-play basis.

Under Mullen, the Gators need only to look to their past to remember how bright their future can be.

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