Parental Perspective: Former Florida Football Parental Q&A

Florida Football RoundTable

by Alyssa Britton-Harr

Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

Inside the Gators concludes our series of Parental Roundtables by speaking with Mike Braun, the father of former Florida, and current Arkansas, offensive lineman Josh Braun.

Going back to your other son, Parker [Braun], in February of 2019, Florida was a finalist when he transferred from Georgia Tech, but in the end decided on Texas. What was your initial impression of Dan Mullen and the Gators back then?

“When I was a coach at Lincoln High School, we went to some clinic with Urban Meyer that he hosted. I had met Coach [John] Hevesy and Coach Mullen, and we were interested in what they were doing and thought they would be very successful at Florida. Parker ultimately decided to go to Texas, but it wasn’t because he didn’t want to play for Dan or Coach Hev; it was more of the opportunities at Texas and then what was available at Texas to keep playing guard. If he wanted to switch to center, did he want to play guard, and the deal with Coach Hev was that they needed a center.”

Fast forward a few months to the spring, and Florida was a factor for Parker’s little brother Josh [Braun]. How were the recruiting processes different as far as Florida is concerned? Were they looking for something different with one being a college transfer and the other being a high school signee? How did UF approach each of their recruiting processes? Was the message any different?

“Recruiting is different for every player, so we were recruiting based on relationships. What we were interested in was how we felt like they would develop Josh as a player, what he wanted to major in when he was at Florida, those kinds of things. It was a different situation because of where Josh would go for a long time while Parker was looking at one season. With Parker, it was where you would live and the level of opportunity for development; for Josh, it’s more of how that would look long term. Would Josh be able to get his master’s after he got his undergrad, that’s the thing when looking at someone for one season versus someone for five seasons.”

Of course, Josh committed to Georgia and remained with them until offensive line coach Sam Pittman left to become the head coach at Arkansas. There was such a tight window there until Signing Day. What was Florida’s message to Joshua at that time and basically, was it a one-man show? Was it Florida or bust [meaning he would stay at UGA]?

When Josh decided to flip from Georgia to Florida, it was based on the relationship with the OL coach, and how we felt, how Josh felt it would work throughout the seasons. The other factors were so similar that when it came down to it, it was down to whether you wanted to trust someone you knew or trust that the new person would be compatible. The relationship between the OL coach, the strength and conditioning coach, and the players is important. Whether or not coaches coach you is how you want to be coached and how well you respond. The idea is that this guy understands what makes you tick and how you go about that. It’s such an important factor that we felt like we did not want to risk having someone who was new come in. Coach Hevesy was that guy, and we never had an issue with his ability to coach and develop Josh. We were very pleased with how it all turned out and how it was going. However, it changed, and when the opportunity to go with coach Pittman, we were ecstatic about him being able to coach and develop Josh.”

At this point, Florida, under Mullen, had come off of back-to-back NY6 Bowl wins and the future looked bright. What were Josh and the family’s thoughts on where UF stood at that time?

“The whole idea of who is going to win and who is going to lose, you can’t predict that and weigh your life on that outcome. Wins and losses are not as important as relational development. Who is going to be able to give you the best chance to be the best player you can be and the best opportunity. What school will have the best academic opportunity and be able to help you succeed long term. It’s not who will win these next few games; if you try to predict who will win, you will drive yourself crazy, and I don’t think that issue came up as often. At that point, Josh had gone to schools, and all the ones he had been to had opportunities to be very successful. Georgia, Alabama, and Florida were all successful. If you pick a team based on how many games you’re going to win x number of games or be in the playoffs, that’s how you make yourself unhappy because you can’t guarantee any of that. We’re looking for what coach has the best ability to develop him.”

Florida Football Parental RoundTables

Remembering back, it wasn’t exactly perfect on your family’s end. There were concerns about some support staff, particularly on the nutrition side?

“It was an issue, but it all folded into development. What will be available for development, and what will be provided for the players long term. The change in nature of the way college football is even run was an issue at the time. It was what’s the difference between availability in an ACC school versus an SEC school. For the most part, those schools were very similar: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. They had a similar nutritional staff and opportunities there. That was our issue when talking about the offensive line, and Josh, who is going to be invested in that, and a lot of that had changed. We were unhappy with how the changes had gone from Coach Mullen to Coach Napier, but not everything is under the head coach’s control. Some interaction with the athletic department still says yes, you can make these changes, or no, you can’t. At least that was our take on it.”

Joshua’s first season, 2020, Joshua played in 11 games, but UF took a step back, going 8-4 during the Covid year. From your vantage point, were there signs of the bottom soon falling out?

No, as a matter of fact, I don’t feel as if the Covid year was a step back for UF. I mean, they played in the SEC Championship game and the NY6 bowl game, and we felt that Josh had the opportunity to be on a team of great players. I don’t buy into the idea that there is a winner and a loser in a football game, and again, you will make yourself crazy replaying what should or shouldn’t have happened. There are a lot of factors that happened in the Covid year that we felt we were very pleased with what UF had done. I think Covid had a particular impact, especially on Josh’s position and the way offensive linemen were able to be developed. Our concern was how we get some stability and long-term development. Josh had gone to UF early because he wanted to be under that college-level development that first semester, and then he ended up being home that whole time. Then, with the next season, the development is still affected by Covid, his ability to be in the weight room, and what interfered with OL development. That position is both technical and nutritional and strength and conditioning-wise very important. If you look at the overall college football development of offensive linemen, they are under-accounted for, and the impact of Covid in 2021 and even 2022 for the OL. I think that’s why they are a little behind on the positions right now because they are still making up for it.”

The following year, 2021, after a 3-1 start, which included only a two-point loss to No. 1 Alabama, things went south. Obviously, as a parent, you have a different perspective than most. Also, being a former coach perhaps gives you better insight. What happened at the end of the Dan Mullen era to go from approaching the mountaintop to falling to the valley?

“The problem with the game is that when you win, everything else matters, with how well you play. That’s why a win is a win, but everyone wants to know why you didn’t win by two or run as many plays. When you lose, nothing else matters but the scoreboard. So, what happens is that there is a lot of microscope on the overall team because of all the criticism. Per player, the problem is that you can’t control; there are times when Florida wins, and the other team wins in a game. You can’t control that as a player. There was frustration in Florida based on expectations and how others felt it should happen. That is one of the big problems that fan bases have: their expectations are so far out of whack that when the team fails to meet them, it seeds that. When Coach Mullen was at Mississippi State, there was a story that he met with the president of Mississippi State, and he said that if he won ten games, the whole organization would support him, and there would be a huge fan base. If the whole organization will support us, then we will win ten games, Mullen said. The reality is that once the support starts to slip, it becomes Why don’t you do this, and why isn’t this happening. You lost to Alabama by two points and didn’t beat these teams enough. All of a sudden, these comments say he’s not doing this; he’s not recruiting enough, and it leads to several prophecies. I am not saying that these statements are not true, but they lead to negativity against negativity. It’s dangerous because I don’t think you can fire and hire your way out of these problems; for some of these issues, you just have to weather the storm and evolve. It’s the idea that if I’m a line coach and a line parent in this situation, I’m not looking for Josh to start day one; I’m looking for development that leads to an opportunity for him to start continuously and be successful when that happens. So, people look at 2021 and say well, aren’t you glad Josh is starting I wasn’t too happy that he had to play the other guard position; it wasn’t his best position. So, the question is for him to start and be successful when he does it because when you’re not successful, there is a lot of negativity.”

What was it like at the end of the Mullen era? There seemed to be a divide on the team. Mullen seemed to go from being fiery/competitive to more nonchalant. Your thoughts?

“We felt like Coach Mullen was the right coach for our son, which I take to be a huge responsibility. The Coach Mullen I met and trusted to care for Josh is very different from the guy everyone thinks of as a head coach. So, there wasn’t a big difference, and I never thought I wouldn’t want Josh to play for this coach. I felt like he felt he was in a no-win situation; if you’re not going to allow a football coach to coach through hard times and be resilient after a season where you enjoyed that coach’s abilities, then you can’t be upset or become frustrated. I believe that if I were in an organization, I had four successful years as a general manager and make money for my organization. After one down year, they came to me and said you’re not good enough to continue being our general manager, and I can see the frustration with the organization. I would say look, I’ve shown I can do this and have this ability; I understand there are factors that you think I should have handled differently. I am not arguing that he shouldn’t have handled them differently, but if you lose faith in me, I can see how someone might change their demeanor towards that organization. If fans don’t generally learn resilience towards their organizations, they will end up in a cycle where you create a misunderstanding, you have to win now, or you have to get out. If I can’t win now, I might get out, and that’s not a good way to plan for long-term development in the future. The flip side is that, as a parent, I made it known I did not want Josh thrown into a starting position with no concern about how he could develop, and this is what’s best for him. It’s hard to come out of once you’re thrown into that, and people start to say you’re awful because of the function you are not ready yet. As a recruiting parent, I want longevity, stability, and that to stay because once I feel like that’s not there, it will be difficult to have players come to an organization like that.”

Despite how the season went, Joshua started seven games at guard that season on an offense that had the No. 23 rush offense in the nation and led the SEC in yards per carry. He has to feel pretty good about where he stood regardless – right?

We felt like Josh’s growth was good and were concerned about who the new line coach would be and who the new strength coach would be. If you compare the statistics to the 2021 to 2022 season, I think you will find that they were very similar offensively. What I think starts to happen as you read the narrative of one versus the other leads to negativity that may not have been there. I think I am two people; one is that I’m Josh’s dad and want what’s best for Josh and feel good with his playing. The other is that I am an OL coach, and I think I know a little bit about good OL play and what it looks like. I felt that, in the short term, it was a good season. Josh had done well, given the circumstances, and there was a lot of opportunity for him to grow. I understood when Coach Hevesy couldn’t be the OL coach anymore and why that had to happen. I still had hope that there was going to be a line coach that could come in and develop Josh. However, there also is an opportunity for poor relationships and personalities with things that must be done. There was a big risk for long-term stability. For any player, stability is better than moving from place to place.”

Mullen of course is fired. What is it like as a family to have to go through that? There has to be a lot of uncertainty. Were there any thoughts at that time of transferring?

“Josh had found what he wanted to study and was happy with his academics at Florida; he knew he would be married in about six months. So, from a lifestyle standpoint, there were a lot of positives about what was going on in Gainesville. He was in a good church with an old family friend. His fiance was looking to go to school at Florida, so the problem was with how the rest of his life was going regarding football. The problem with football was that the instability created questions; at the time, we needed to focus on the development of being in the weight room but to worry about gaining five pounds in this lift and the flexibility to work on those things. You can’t focus on those small things when the large things are in flux, so that’s the problem, and when you talk about transferring now, you’re in flux for a long period. Transferring without graduating is a horrible idea, and I do not recommend it to anyone. Once you transfer from college to college, you lose credits, money, and time. It was our number one that Josh graduated from the University of Florida with a degree.”

After Mullen, in comes Billy Napier. What was your first impression of him and his vision of Florida football? The improved parking, bigger support staff, better food, new housing, etc…

“I’m not qualified to judge Coach Napier’s vision; I have never been a head football coach. I’m not going to put myself in a position to be the judge of Coach Napier. We treat it like any recruiting process: what’s going to happen to Josh, the impacts, how is he going to develop, who is going to be the strength coach, the OL coach. Those are the relationships that are important to us. I wanted the person with whom Josh would have a relationship over the five years to come and see us, and that’s what Coach Hevesy did; he showed up the next day and said he wanted to coach Josh. Coach Napier’s vision for the team is his vision for the team, and I respect his ability to have and do that. I don’t know enough to know if he has a good vision for the team. One of the problems is that many people vocally vote for Coach Napier, who have no idea how to run football. We felt Coach Napier is a good coach, and he is doing a fine job. The biggest mistake that could be made is not being happy with your coach based on whether someone missed an extra point or somehow somebody fumbled a snap. The athletic director made a hire; he felt like this guy was the most qualified, and I had questions about the strength and OL coach for Josh and who would be developing him daily. These were the same questions we asked in 2019 when we went through the same thing with my middle child. Fundamentally, the question became, if we are not happy with the positions with our choices, what can we do to make the change.”

What kind of feedback did Josh get from his new coaching staff on what they thought he was good at and what he needed to work on?

“That’s a more difficult question to be more positive about, but I still want to be positive because one of the problems I have from both sides is that I’m not involved in any of the decision-making. I used to know everything there was to know about Josh’s development because I used to watch him every day, and I watched his film. Going forward, you have to have someone you trust and give Josh to him, and understand that I never watched Josh’s practice film, never talked with him about what’s going on in practice. I don’t know how they prepare for the team they play that week. If you don’t know what goes on in practice, you can’t make a judgment about what happens in a game. I 100 percent believe you can’t ask why your child is not playing if you don’t watch every bit of practice tape because the truth is the best five starts. I have always believed that, and that is the line coach’s decision to let the best five start.”

During the 2022 season, he only played in two games – special teams in one and as an offensive lineman against Eastern Washington. What was that like for him to take a big step back in playing time?

“He played one play on special teams, and the problem with that is you get four games for redshirts, so that comes into question with how is that assisting his development. I’m not saying you have to agree 100 percent that he is good enough to play if you don’t think he is ready to play right now. I agree, but how will you help his development when you play him in one play. For me, one play says you’re not concerned about his development. A mature player then goes, what’s your plan for my development, and works to alleviate some of the trust issues that make it difficult to play for somebody.”

What was the word from the Florida coaches as to why? What did they want to see from him?

“No one ever spoke to me about it. I don’t know what they told Josh he needed to do to participate in the playing time. Until he had the one play, I just assumed that they felt like Josh was developed as well as he could be developed by on-field play, and they needed to focus on other players for on-field play. I am in complete speculation; no one spoke to me about this. We assumed they were looking to preserve Josh’s redshirt because he wasn’t ready to play on the field this year, but if he redshirted, we knew he would have three more years to play. Josh went to them and said I want to be a Gator. I will do whatever needs to happen for the team, so you know I’m willing to do that. One thing we do know is that offensive linemen get hurt all the time, and now you’ve got five games left, and Josh has to start. So, that must be why they are not playing him in the playing period. From my outside, I thought Josh was the number two guard, and I was wrong about that; clearly, they didn’t think he was ready. If he wasn’t ready to be that guard, why wouldn’t you preserve his redshirt. He has played in the SEC and has played well many times, so clearly, he can develop into that player. Part of that was a miscommunication between coaches and players, leading to a misunderstanding about Josh’s long-term goals. There is no animosity, but there was miscommunication about Josh’s role on the team and how he could best help the team succeed.”

In your opinion what were the main differences between Mullen and Napier?

“When Josh decided to come to Florida, he said what do you think, and I said, playing for an offensive coach like Dan Mullen is going to be awesome. I don’t know enough about Coach Napier to know if that’s true; Napier didn’t recruit us, so I didn’t research his ability. When Josh had the opportunity to come to Florida, I was at Coach Mullen’s clinics under Urban Myer and knew how the offensive line was and how Mullen called plays. My son played against Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, and we watched Coach Mullen coach in the Bowl, so we had a lot of exposure to Mullen and his success as an offensive coach. It wouldn’t be fair of me to be critical of Napier because I haven’t had much experience with him as a coach. The results offensively this year and last year show some real ability. I disagree with the narrative that he is not a good offensive coach; I think the people who are critical of Florida offensively this year don’t realize how bad it could have been for them.”

Was there much difference in the strength and conditioning program going from Nick Savage to Mark Hocke?

Savage is an unbelievable strength coach. So, this is a difficult one for me because I don’t know Coach Hocke at all. Last time this happened and we didn’t like the strength coach’s fundamentals. At that point one of the coaches who helped us understand how strength and conditioning was supposed to work was Nick Savage. Nick Savage is considered one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the game. I explained to Josh you have to understand that Coach Napier has to have a strength and conditioning coach that he knows and trusts through and through. He has somebody that he has and that is who he is going to use. So, we knew it wasn’t going to be Savage and we felt that it was a horrible loss. The worst thing that happened in the transition was that Josh would not be coached by Savage.”

Is there a difference between the strength and conditioning program at Arkansas and what he received at UF?

I love the strength and conditioning coach at Arkansas, Coach Sours. When my oldest boy went to Georgia Tech there was a strength and conditioning intern there named Ben Sours. Then when Parker went there, he was there and worked with him. The day we visited Georgia, Sam Pittman showed up to campus and walked up to Josh and said, I know how you feel but you are coming to the University of Georgia to play for me. That was the first statement he made to Josh. We stepped on campus and one of the strength coaches walked up to us, it’s Ben Sours. He knows Parker, Josh, and me so we were like, woah we got connections. We went to Arkansas not thinking about strength and conditioning at all because it was such a whirlwind of where he was going to go to school. We get to campus and Sam Pittman says, hey man I know strength and conditioning is important to you, I want to set your mind at ease I just hired Ben Sours. Now we have a relationship with the strength and conditioning guy that is unbelievable, and he has been unbelievable. I am excited for Josh to have the opportunity to work under him for a full offseason. That is my biggest concern with everyone talking about whether Sam Pittman is still going to be the head coach because then we would have to go through all of this again.”

When did the decision to transfer take place?

The problem was understanding what the opportunity costs, we had a Covid year, you played for a year, and you’re obviously not going to play this year. There was concern on where he fit within the system. The opportunity cost is that they continue to put you in on one play with special teams, you lose another full season to develop. The problem with new coaches coming in is they talk about rebuilding, but none of these players get a year zero. So, if this coach decides he’s going in a different direction and lets make a change as the head coach you’re stuck because you have lost a whole year of development within the system. They say remember he gets to be a Gator, but he’s been a Gator, he has beaten Georgia, FSU, and then Tennessee in the swamp. It had just gotten to a point where he needed to focus on getting his degree from the University of Florida, and he felt the only way to do that was to step away from the program. Football is a rough and dangerous game, so at some point you have to step away because if you don’t think Josh is good enough to play in the SEC then we need to find another opportunity for him to develop and play at this high level.”

Was it always going to be Arkansas or were other teams in play?

There were a lot of schools and with UCF Josh felt that he wanted to prove he could play in the SEC, and I don’t blame him. With Florida State there was some misunderstanding with what Josh had wanted. The thing with Arkansas was that Fayetville is an incredible place, and they recruited his wife Suzy fantastically.”

I think that one thing that really jumps out at most fans is that Arkansas is unique in that with there being no pro teams in the state, as well as the Walton and Purdue families, NIL really should be a positive there. How does it compare to UF?

Northwest Arkansas is a fantastic place, and there is probably not a better place to be a 22 and 23 married couple with opportunities to do cool stuff. It was a slam dunk when they stepped off the plane in Fayetteville.”

Talk about some of the differences between Florida and Arkansas from a football player standpoint?

Honestly there is not a lot of difference, other than the scheme and the coaches. From a football standpoint, Florida plays on the other side of the SEC, so for Josh it was an opportunity for him to play in a bunch of different places he never played before. He played in Death Valley, but never Tuscaloosa. There was a lot of opportunity to go to new places, and I think he will have played in every stadium in the SEC except Georgia because Arkansas doesn’t play them and at Florida they play in Jax. The SEC is very similar but from a facility standpoint Arkansas has some of the best facilities available, but so does Florida.”

It looked like Josh still has plenty of friends on the Florida side. Does he still stay in touch with various players? Does your family still stay in touch with any of the families you met while he was a UF player?

The kids today all stay in touch through social media. He knows Austin Barber and Riley Simmons and is in touch with all of them. He used to be roommates with Leonard and these guys are not enemies, but understands you gotta do what’s best for you. I don’t stay in touch with the parents, I appreciate that they are all nice but I’m not like that. I’m not very nice on game days, they make me crazy especially when I am in attendance.”

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  1. I remember when Braun was a freshman at the game in Jacksonville and he actually handled UGA D-lineman Jordan Davis. We blew it letting this kid leave and is just another reason Napier made a bad hire in Sales as the O-line coach.
  2. It sounds like he was trying to be diplomatic comparing Arkansas to Florida in strength coaches.

    You can tell they are high on Savage so that leaves Hocke for the one that they don't think is that good.

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