‘They’ve caused problems for everyone they’ve played,’ Smart says of Gators’ defense
No one knew where this program would be when Dan Mullen was hired a year ago to turn the struggling Florida Gators around.
But the first-year coach has accomplished the feat and turned plenty of attention toward his 9-3 Florida team in the process.
CBSSports.com released its regular-season grades for college football’s head coaches who took new jobs, and Mullen was given an A.
“The Gators spent the majority of the season in the top 20, topped LSU in a rivalry game and will likely finish in the top 10 with a New Year’s Six bowl bid. Not bad, Mr. Mullen,” the CBSSports report said.
Others in the listing included UCLA coach Chip Kelly, who was graded a C after the Bruins only managed three wins in the PAC-12 this year. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher received an A- grade after the Aggies finished 8-4 on the season. And Fisher was the only other power-five coach besides Mullen to receive a grade of A or higher.
UCF’s Josh Heupel received an A+. And he was the only coach in the entire report to receive a higher grade than Mullen after he went 11-0 and kept the Knights’ undefeated streak, which extends to last year, intact.
For Mullen, the accolades come after a regular season that saw his Gators rank as high as No. 9 in the country earlier in the year. And they’re now seated at the ninth spot in the latest College Football Playoff rankings with the final release on Dec 2.
Mullen brought with him a staff that included defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who helped Florida’s 13th-ranked pass defense remain in the top-15 in the nation for most of the season.
And a Gators’ offense that ranked 109th by the end of the 2017 season seemed to have been revived by the Mullen system, ranking 48th in the FBS in total offense this year.
The Gators averaged more than 30 points per game, and redshirt-sophomore Feleipe Franks went from throwing just nine touchdown passes during his freshman campaign to tossing 23 TDs in 2018.
“I know it’s tough to play quarterback at the University of Florida,” Mullen said. “And everybody’s got pretty high standards. But first year in this system, as a sophomore, [Franks] put up some pretty good numbers this year.”
And it’s almost certain that this team — a team that hasn’t played in a major bowl game since 2012 — played itself into earning a New Year’s Six berth.
“You got a good team that was 4-7 last year with a new coach, new program, new way of doing things, ” Mullen said. “So there’s a lot of firsts … I think guys really learned what we expect as a program, which is really you should come up and go as hard as you can every day. And that’s the Gator Standard, it is to come out and give relentless effort every day in everything that you do.”
And Mullen has gotten his players to fully buy into his system and culture since he arrived at Florida a year ago.
“He brings great energy to our program,” linebacker David Reese said. “He brought a great coaching staff here that got us in the right position … So all of this is his, you know, this is his program.”