Dan Mullen often puts on his bright orange and blue attire and stands in a room filled with reporters to express his vision for Florida football.
He discloses his ideas of the type of team he’ll lead down the tunnel on game day as they pile into a stadium filled with 90,000 passionate football fans.
For Mullen, it’ll be a team that is distinguished by its effort and consistency. A persistent effort that pushes each player that steps on the field to give the same energy in scrimmages that he does under the blazing lights on game days.
It’ll be a program characterized by physicality and toughness, qualities Mullen says he wants to be recognized by every team that competes against the Gators. And it’ll be a team rooted in a mindset of camaraderie and leadership that forces teammates to motivate one another and hold each other accountable through adversity.
From the moments he decided to return to the University of Florida, Mullen has made clear his mission to transform the character of Florida football.
“I knew what I wanted our culture to be like,” Mullen told reporters. “It wasn’t as much of ‘OK tell me what your culture is’ as much as I came and said ‘This is what it’s going to be.’”
The former nine-year Mississippi State head coach knew this in November 2017 when UF athletic director Scott Stricklin announced Mullen would return to the Gators as the team’s new leader — a team with which Mullen had served four years under Urban Meyer as offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008.
But Mullen inherited a program in need of a renewed identity after it had been hit by a handful of off-the-field scandals in recent years, which carried into the 2018 offseason.
The new Florida coach was tasked with addressing issues surrounding incoming freshman and four-star recruit Justin Watkins, who left the program in July after being suspended for his second arrest in three months.
Around that same time, six members of the team were cited as being involved in a May 28 confrontation with Santa Fe student and local gambler, Devante’ Zachery, aka “Tay Bang.”
Though the latter incident hasn’t resulted in a UF player being charged with a crime, they could still face student conduct violations.
It’s a daunting task for a new head coach to turn around a program that is coming off a 4-7 season and one that can’t seem to keep its players out of trouble.
But fast forward to less than a month before the Gators’ first game of the 2018 season, and it is evident that Mullen and his staff have already begun to transform the Gators’ culture.
“I have a lot more experience in my life than some of these guys do. They’re still young kids that are growing and developing, so it’s a constant educational process for them to learn how to handle all the different situations that you get yourself into,” Mullen said. “As a coach you look at the lives you can impact, and that’s certainly the most important thing.”
Through spring and into camp, Mullen has made it clear that physicality is a top priority, but he’s also been teaching the intangibles to his players, including leadership and decision making.
They’re ideals that are slowly starting to come to fruition.
Players are showing the consistent effort that he’s been looking for in this new culture, and they’re slowly starting to exhibit those qualities of toughness and accountability as the season approaches.
And on Sept. 1, when Dan Mullen emerges from the tunnel and sprints onto the field alongside his team of Gators to take on Charleston Southern, it’ll mark the unveiling of a new Florida football era.
Though it remains to be seen if this new standard will translate to consistent success on the field, Mullen’s pursuit to build a championship culture at UF is already in the works.
“We’re going to give great effort everyday,” Mullen said. “Being a champion is not a sometimes thing, It’s an all the time thing.”
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