Peach Bowl, Florida vs. Michigan: Gators contrast Dan Mullen with Jim McElwain

By Drew Laing
December 28, 2018
Peach Bowl, Florida vs. Michigan: Gators contrast Dan Mullen with Jim McElwain

Image Credit: Tim Casey / UAA

Jim McElwain is not going to be on the sidelines Saturday for the 2018 Peach Bowl between the No. 10 Florida Gators and No. 7 Michigan Wolverines, but the former Florida head coach and Michigan wide receivers coach was a popular topic in the Gators’ bowl game press conferences on Thursday.

That’s no surprise. The impact of McElwain is still prevalent on this Gators roster given he recruited the majority of the current players. Just one season removed from McElwain’s departure, however, the direction and vibe of this Florida team is significantly different under Dan Mullen than under his predecessor. Last season, Florida finished with only four wins, but now the Gators have a chance to pick up their 10th in Year 1 under Mullen.

It’s the swag under Mullen that redshirt junior running back Jordan Scarlett says is a big reason why the Gators are so improved in 2018, along with a noticeable change in the confidence surrounding the program.

Obviously, the differences between McElwain- and Mullen-led Florida teams are tangible, given the stark record improvement in Mullen’s first season. But Florida fans who have watched the Gators this season can sense the intangible differences, too.

Mullen came into the Florida job with proven success not only at a Power Five school, but an SEC program. His history at Florida as an offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and two national championships didn’t hurt either. He may not have been some fans’ first choice for the opening in the offseason, but many, if not all, Florida fans knew that Mullen “gets it.” He understands what it means to lead an SEC program. He gets what it means to coach the Gators.

McElwain experienced success with Florida, leading the Gators to back-to-back SEC Championship Game appearances, but it never felt like the right fit … almost like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

That showed in recruiting, too, which Scarlett touched on his media day comments. The focus of bringing the top prospects from the Sunshine State to play football in Gainesville, Florida, has brought a renewed swagger to the Gators program, and that’s beginning to produce results.

“I want to say [it’s] recruiting,” junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said. “You go from having classes with more three-stars than four-stars to now having classes having majority four-stars and potential of two or three five-stars, recruiting is a big deal. We might not have the best facilities, this and that, but when you come to Florida, you know we’re playing for championships.”

Gardner-Johnson added: “People want to come be a part of this. I shout out to Coach Mullen and his staff for recruiting hard and bringing everything back.”

Now the Gators are hoping to add another big difference between McElwain and Mullen to the list — beating Michigan, a team Florida went 0-2 against under McElwain, including a season-opening 33-17 loss in 2017.

“I guess it would be full circle,” redshirt senior fullback R.J. Raymond said, according to Nick de la Torre. “Starting the year like that was not good last year, but hopefully this year we can finish it off with a win. We’ve been working these last couple of weeks preparing, and I think we have a good game plan put together. I look forward to see[ing] how it goes. I can’t wait until Saturday.”

It may take another few seasons and recruiting classes to completely purge McElwain and his impact out of the Gators program, but there’s no doubt that a win on Saturday against the Wolverines would certainly expedite the process.

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