He hit the raised stage with the energy of a rock star and the charisma of a stand-up comic. He grabbed the microphone from the stand and quickly observed the fact that the room had a concert-like feel to it. He joked about breaking into song, though I’m certain the hundreds in attendance would have taken his words in however he chose to deliver them.
University of Florida’s head football coach, Dan Mullen, made an appearance in downtown Orlando on Wednesday night at Cheyenne Saloon on Church Street. It was his first since being named to the position in November. The admission-free event was a welcomed site to the hundreds of Orlando-area Gator faithful that had lined the wooden balconies, after recent coaching regimes either administered closed-door appearances or simply chose to never host them at all.
Sure, many of the notes Mullen carried along with him as he paced feverishly back and forth, twiddling the mic cord, were coach-speak. Talks of relentless effort, being the hardest working team in the country, recruiting the nation’s premiere high school talent, earning one of the highest quality educations offered in America, and doing all of this while competing for championships at the highest level of college football.
“Those are the expectations around here, and I’m a man who loves the ideas of high expectations. I embrace the high expectations,” Mullen told the crowd. “I guarantee you there isn’t a Gator fan in here that wants to win as badly as I do.”
He spoke so knowledgeably about those expectations because he’s a man who knows them firsthand. Mullen served as the team’s offensive coordinator for three seasons under former head coach Urban Meyer. The two coaches were believed to be the brains behind the glory days of a decade ago, when Tim Tebow led the Gators to two National Championships in a three season span.
Familiarity with the program has seemingly always been at the forefront of most Gator fans coaching wish list, and Wednesday seemed to further prove why that is such a pivotal asset. When microphones were turned over to “Gator Nation” aka, the crowd, the line of questions held no bounds.
“I’ve been attending Gator games for more than 60 years, and my only question to you, Dan, is why the hell didn’t you come back five or six years ago?” remarked one elder gentlemen.
“Welcome back to Gainesville Dan, hopefully your wife will enjoy it a little more this time around,” one fan began his line of questioning.
And the ever pressing: “Do you have a dog named Clara-belle?” This question played off of the now infamous words of former Gators head coach, Jim McElwain, after he once jokingly remarked that he could win games with his dog playing quarterback.
I’m not sure how too many coaches who are not privy to the sweet subtleties of Gator Nation would have handled that line of questioning, but the experienced coach with the familiarity knew exactly what to say.
“No. But I do have a dog named Heisman,” Mullen responded, drawing both a sense of relief and excitement from the crowd.
Mullen also talked briefly about how lucky he is to have someone like Gator legend Steve Spurrier around the program, and he made no waves about the fact that he is willing to listen to anything the head ball coach has to offer throughout his tenure. He was very open about his goal of remaining in his current position at Florida for at least the next 10 years. That is quite an accomplishment considering six different men have worn the head coaching title for at least one game in the program’s previous 10 years.
Among other topics, the coach talked candidly about the need for better football operations facilities in the near future and discussed a more family-style game day atmosphere that would make Saturdays in Gainesville more than just about a football game.
He would like to see The Swamp sell out for the impending spring football game on April 14, where many of the fresh faces he and his staff just completed recruiting will be on display – a recruiting class that finished 14th nationally, according 247sports.com.
The Dan Mullen era will officially begin on Sept. 1, when the Gators host Charleston Southern in their regular season opener.