UPDATE: Florida has now parted ways with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy. This goes against over a decade of data that suggested that Dan Mullen would never do so.
Does it change things? Kind of, but not really; Mullen still has that dozen years of data that suggests this pair of firings was forced, and an anomaly, and that should similar circumstances arise in the future, he would not be willing to do it again. One piece of data that conflicts with 12.75 years of consistent data does not overwrite that 12.75 years of data. I still have my doubts about Dan Mullen, and if forced to lay down my life’s savings on this, I would bet that he hasn’t learned anything, hasn’t grown and become better as a coach, and will ultimately go down as a casualty of his own stubborness.
But now, I’m at least willing to see where things go. I’m willing to let more data present itself and be proven wrong, whereas prior to these firings I was done as done could be. Go ahead and prove me wrong, Dan. I beg of you.
(Original story starts below.)
Anybody who’s reading this knows that the literature that follows is going to be one of the most difficult-to-read combinations of words to ever be published by In All Kinds Of Weather, and I assure you it was just as difficult to write. After all, what happened in Columbia, SC last night was simple: the Florida Gators quit on their coach and put out a product that embarrassed the program, the university, hundreds of alumni who sounded off on social media, and worst of all, themselves.
The shame, though, isn’t exclusively theirs. Rather, it’s a symptom of a larger problem.
But before I get into all the ugliness, I do want to point out one thing. Not every single player on the roster is responsible. Most are. But not all.
Specifically: Zach Carter, Mohamoud Diabate, Kaiir Elam, Rashad Torrence II, Jason Marshall, Dameon Pierce, Nay’Quan Wright, Malik Davis, Justin Shorter, Kemore Gamble, and yes, even Emory Jones. You looked like you cared. And from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for giving your all.
So without further ado, here we go. And let’s start at the top, where the problem’s roots reside: it’s time for Florida to fire Dan Mullen.
The Florida players aren’t without blame for the fact that the Gators lost 40-17 to a team that doesn’t recruit from the same pool of talent. But when it’s the overwhelming majority of the players that do the quitting, the problem is deeper than them.
Simply put, minus a few players that I listed above, the entire team quit. They shut down the operation. In video game terms, they disconnected the remote and walked off. And that’s why Dan Mullen needs to be fired.
It’s not because Florida gave up the most points to South Carolina in history. It’s not because Florida lost to South Carolina by the most lopsided margin in school history. It’s not because Florida lost to a school that’s significantly less talented and that struggled tooth and nail to beat Vanderbilt, East Carolina and Troy. It’s not because Florida entered the month of October 3-1 and ranked in the top ten, and is now staring at finishing outside the top five in its own division square in the face. It’s because Florida quit.
Sports are designed so that one team amasses a score that’s superior to its opponent; someone has to win and somehow has to lose. Sometimes, the better team doesn’t win. Sometimes, the more talented team doesn’t win. Sometimes, the smarter team doesn’t win. And sometimes, the team that deserved to win doesn’t win. But quitting is the ultimate sin a player can commit in organized sports; conversely, overseeing a team that quits is the ultimate sin a coach can commit. Once respect for a coach is fundamentally lost, it cannot be regained.
The shortsighted see this result and call it a bad performance to lowlight a bad year. Savvy fans noticed the problem toward the end of the 2020 season, when Florida was beating inferior teams but doing so by decreasingly convincing margins each week. Then the LSU game happened, and triggered some alarm bells. After the Cotton Bowl, the alarm only heightened, but there was the excuse that half the team was looking ahead and unwilling to risk its collective future in a meaningless game.
Now, there’s no excuse. There’s no doubt anymore. And there’s no Marco Wilson to throw in front of the larger problems as a human shield. Wilson took a beating for getting baked by Caleb Chapman of Texas A&M and throwing the shoe against LSU, but he’s long gone now, and the problems that his incompetence played the role of human shield to are still there, and worse than ever. The only difference is, now they have nowhere to hide. And it starts at the top.
Want to run through them? Sure: let’s go. Offensive linemen played with bad pad level and simply didn’t look interested in engaging with defenders. Other than Shorter and Gamble, receivers’ route running was lazy, predictable and easy to blanket for Gamecock cornerbacks. Defensive players didn’t know what gaps to attack and thus ran around randomly and aimlessly. Many of those same defensive players took bad angles toward the ball carriers and looked like they’d rather run the social media handles of a taco truck than attempt to make a tackle. Defensive backs seemed to be hoping the ball wouldn’t come their way rather than wanting the ball to come their way so they could make a play; on one play, the DBs went so far to make sure that the ball wouldn’t come their way that there was not a single defender even on the television screen when Josh Vann caught a 24 yard touchdown pass from Jason Brown.
It’s not one player. It’s not one position group. It’s not one position coach. And it’s not even one man named Todd Grantham. The sum of those things do not happen on a football team that respects and plays for its head coach. And the result was merely the confirmation receipt. Mullen bought himself a one-way ticket out of fans’ range of respectability with the raw game film and the eye test.
Oh, but the flu. I know, I’ve heard the excuse that the team was ravaged with the flu the week before the game. Granted, the flu can be miserable, but South Carolina started its third string quarterback, a transfer from FCS cellar-dweller St. Francis. And having the flu a few days before the game doesn’t excuse looking completely disinterested in executing the fundamentals of the sport… nor does it excuse not being ready to play LSU’s scout teams two years in a row as part of a 2-8 record in the school’s last ten games against Power Five opponents.
So, Dan: I want to sincerely thank you for your four year tenure as Florida’s offensive coordinator from 2005-08, and I want to sincerely thank you for bringing back the energy and respectability that the Florida Gators deserve for the first two and a half years of your tenure. The innovation you displayed by rolling out a new staple to the offense every week was masterful. One week, it was the Bubba Caldwell reverse. The next week it was the inside shovel pass to a tight end. Then it was the jump pass. That evolved into the triple option with an inside TE option and an outside scat back option. Then came the diamond look. And so on.
Because of all that, you were atop my list of coaches to replace Jim McElwain. I knew you had some of the components that would be necessary to be the next great head coach of the Florida Gators. And I wanted you to be elite so badly.
But I couldn’t fix your shortcomings for you, nor could anybody other than yourself. Maybe Scott Stricklin could have, but now it’s become clear that he was too busy covering up all sorts of allegations of abuse against one of his program’s coaches to allot any time to doing so. So the onus was on you to learn from your failures, take corrective action to fix them, and make sure they didn’t happen again.
The burden was yours and yours alone to make difficult personnel decisions, the way that Lincoln Riley (Caleb Williams over Spencer Rattler), Nick Saban (Tua Tagovailoa for Jalen Hurts) and Dabo Swinney (Trevor Lawrence for Kelly Bryant) all have. Maybe if you had, you could have joined those men in the elite club of coaches who have been to three or more College Football Playoffs- which would clear your own bar of “competing for championships” with plenty of room to spare.
When you retained Todd Grantham after the single worst defensive season in my lifetime, the prevailing feeling was sadness. A good portion of that was sadness on behalf of the players who work too hard on a daily basis to be placed under the supervision of the single most incompetent coordinator Florida has ever employed outside of Steve Addazio. Most of the sadness, though, was really felt for you. You may be the best offensive mind Florida has ever had- at worst, you’re third behind Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. The ability you’ve shown to develop quarterbacks is second to none. So the pieces were clearly there. Of all the dozens of traits that a championship coach must have, you definitely have some of them.
But you simply couldn’t help yourself. You couldn’t get out of your own way. You just couldn’t part with Todd Grantham when you still had the chance to save yourself. You just couldn’t bench Feleipe Franks despite his obvious deficiencies, or at least give somebody else a chance and rotate him in. And you just couldn’t learn your lesson from that blunderful piece of decision-making when Emory Jones struggled and Anthony Richardson shined- at least, not in time.
Because now, you’ve proven that you will never take any action you’re not absolutely forced to take. That’s not how this works. You can’t operate as a coach with the AD lurking over your shoulder, just waiting for him to force you to make a move. You have to know to pull the right levers on your own.
You just had to do it your way, rather than the right way- the winning way. You just had to operate with the mentality that you’re a walking god, and that any reporter or fan who questions you is a moron. Your constant application of snarky twattery towards the media was admittedly funny while you were winning, but now reeks of a man on the defensive and trying to redirect the public’s ire elsewhere. And it’s now become clear that- whether it’s tomorrow, the day after or in 2023- your obvious preference to lose your way than win some other way that didn’t have your personal stamp of approval is going to cost you the best job you’ll ever have in your life.
You had so many chances, too. Bryce Perkins torching your defense in the 2019 Orange Bowl should have been a clear sign that your defense needed stewardship from someone else. By the time Oklahoma had gotten through making a four-course gator feast out of your defense in the 2020 Cotton Bowl, it was as obvious as obvious gets that you needed to make a change. But still, you held off. Then came the public comments from Mohamoud Diabate that essentially said “I don’t respect Todd Grantham” without actually using those words.
Now throw in the fact that your decision-making with your players shares that profound lack of logic. Why was Marco Wilson not only on the field, but allowed to serve as a captain a week after throwing Kole Taylor’s shoe? Why did it take a gruesome injury to Feleipe Franks for you to give Kyle Trask a chance to play in a meaningful situation? Why did your rope for Emory Jones only run out after he cost Florida its third loss of the season? Why has the ultra-talented and naturally motivated fan favorite Diwun Black not played beyond the occasional sprint down the field on kickoff coverage?
More generally, why are players who struggle so mightily allowed so much rope while young, hungry talent waits in the wings? Why couldn’t you have taken a look around the ultimate copycat industry of college football, notice what your peers were doing differently than you that was working, and followed suit? Why couldn’t you have learned from your failures, continued to utilize those strengths that made you so appealing as Florida’s head coach in the first place, and at least have been willing to try something other than what led to loss after loss? Why couldn’t you have just put the best people for certain jobs in those positions, rather than repeatedly try to ram the same square pegs into round holes over and over again? Why? Why? Why?
Now it’s too late. I use the words “couldn’t you have” and not “can’t you” for a reason. The anger is gone; the sadness has set in. The realization that you, Dan Mullen, are not the man to be the Florida Gators’ head coach has settled in. This is done. It’s not going to work out.
Florida is 2-8 in its last ten games against Power Five opponents- and one of them was Vanderbilt- and the results are almost certainly going to get worse before they get better. Because with a few exceptions, your players have quit on you. What’s worse, they’ve quit on the logo that you vowed to restore to the championship level it needs to be at.
And so if the people above you have the slightest morsel of interest in achieving the goals you set for this program, they no longer have a choice but to execute the type of business decision you declined so many chances to make- move on from Dan Mullen, and find someone else who can help them do so.