Parting Thoughts Q&A: Rick Wells Part III

Aug 7, 2022 | 1 comment

Parting Thoughts Q&A

During each off-season, Inside the Gators interviews departing seniors and early-entry juniors for a recap of their time at Florida as part of our Parting Thoughts series.

In this four-part interview, no topic was off-limits as we discussed Rick Wells’ past six seasons in a journey kicked off under the lights of Jim McElwain’s Gators, through Dan Mullen’s tenure, just short of Billy Napier’s revamped Florida dream.

The goal of this feature is to give our readers an honest and freely expressive look at the Florida football team and an unapologetic look at one of its many faces.

Today, take a dive into Wells’ experience at Florida beyond practice and game day beginning with his rocky start in Gainesville and moving along the regimes that have shaped Florida’s recent history through the lens, or rather the visor of one of its own.

How much do you think it hurt UF to lose Brian Johnson?

Wells: H*ll yeah, he should’ve stayed! But you know people have to do what’s best for themselves.

He was like a players’ coach. He was cool, he used to laugh. He wasn’t all serious and army drill. You could be yourself. I felt like he was himself. It goes back to relationships. You’re going to ball if relationships are good. You’re going to know somebody has your back. So, you’re not going to be scared to mess up or be like “Damn, if I do this I’m going to be taken out.” You don’t have to worry about that.

You just have to worry about balling and if you make a mistake — he might get on your a** but he wants what’s best for you. He knows you. So, he wants you to succeed. He isn’t just basing off business.

During the BLM movement, there was a point that the players wanted to go to a rally while Mullen wanted to scrimmage. Do you believe that irreparable damage was done at that time?

Wells: I don’t really know because that was like a surprise to me. I’m thinking we’re going to have a scrimmage all day. I’m thinking all day about the scrimmage, “I gotta ball, I have to show coach G (Billy Gonzales) I can ball.

I get to the facility, they’re talking about, “We’re going on a march.” I’m like, “A march? Man, I ain’t going on no march.”

But I don’t know. I think he didn’t like it. I don’t really know because I was focused on the scrimmage. I was upstairs in the Champions Club, looking at the field, thinking about the scrimmage. I was daydreaming.

Mullen seemed so upbeat and fiery during his first two years but seemed more passive the last two. Is that something you or your teammates picked up on?

Wells: It goes back to the relationships. He brought who he brought in based off relationships. He felt like he could’ve won over there. When somebody believes in you, it’s going to work out good. Y’all seen that the first two years. Then what happened?

Sh*t went down, people kind of left. People got drafted. So, now it’s like “Damn, who are these guys?” These are dogs though. The people that they’re not talking about, these are straight dogs.

It just it goes back to relationships. You have to know how to form relationships when you’re dealing with kids. That’s why I work with kids. I’m good at relationships.

What do you think of how he was when he first got to UF compared to his final two years?

Wells: He was ready to win. The business was good. He had what he wanted in order. He had who he wanted there. He got who he wanted. It was good, he put his all into it. Sh*t kind of turned left. People left.

You have to know how to recruit. You have to be a people person. You don’t know how to recruit as a head coach? You’re a head coach! You’re the main reason most kids come to your school. It’s because of the head coach, the head coach is what most recruits.

As players, was it frustrating to see that Mullen wasn’t a good recruiter?

Wells: Yeah. As far as recruiting, he has to do better. I don’t know what he’s doing now. I don’t hate on nobody. I love all people man. I love the day he told me what he told me. That sh*t pushed me. That made me the person I am.

You got to know how to deal with people. If you don’t know how to deal with people, with certain kind of people and learn how to deal with more people — you can’t just be stuck with certain people.

You have to learn how to deal with everybody. That’s one thing I focused on, dealing with everybody. That’s just something he’s not good with. He doesn’t know how to deal with people.

Man might walk past you in the hallway. Then you’ll have practice, he is yelling at you. Like what? I just spoke to you, and you didn’t say anything.

Any stories about the team or the coaching staff you want to share during last season?

Wells: The year before my last season, they saw that I could ball. I was showing that sh*t. Ever since they got there, I adapted. I’m not going to say off the rip I was buying in because I wasn’t. I was just like “Who are these people? They are judging me.”

Coach Mullen told me in his office. You know how we had meetings? He sat me in his office. I’m sitting down, this is my first time meeting dude, I think.

So, he’s like, “What’s up? How are you doing Mr. Wells?”

“I’m good,” you know what I’m saying?

He’s like “What are your plans?”

So, I’m like “Man, I like playing football. I want to go to the league.” That’s every kid’s dream, to go to the league. I’m not going to say that every kid is going to make it, or every kid is not going to make it. It’s just based on you and your relationships, and where you go at. That’s why I say if I could give recruiting directors or coach the class, the kids in my class would straight succeed.

Dude sat me down in the office. I said I wanted to go to the league.

He says: “The league?”

He said something like “The league is not made for guys like you, ‘cause some people are just not cut out for the league,” or something like that.

In my head I’m like, “Damn, you don’t think I’m good enough? Damn coach this is my first time meeting you. You’re in charge of the show. We’re following you and you’re the main dude that done told me, “It’s just not for you.’”

And that’s what I’m here for so like, that’s why I came here. To play football. I’m really hurt now.

What really made it worse is that he brought somebody else in. I’m not going to say the dude’s name because he’s kind of cool. He’s got kids, I respect his kids. I respect their game so I ain’t going to mention his name. But just know that he brought somebody in to kind of agree with him.

He asked him.

He was like, “Tell him, sometimes it’s just not cut out for you.”

And the dude was like, “Yeah, for real Rick. Sometimes it’s just not for you.”

I’m like, “Damn.” But just imagine telling a kid though. You’re really crushing their dream. It’s crazy, the dude was crazy bro.

How did you even go back to practice after that?

Wells: It just goes back to knowing yourself. I told myself, “I did two years of not playing ball, I finally got the chance to play ball again. I don’t care what nobody says, I’m going to ball. I’m going to adapt to y’all. I’m going to learn how to be fake. I’m going to learn how to take in to what y’all want,” and that’s what I did. If I wasn’t playing, these are real facts and you can watch tape, I was the number one fan for any dude that was on the field.

Any dude that did a touchdown, watch who come up. The first dude, or watch the sideline. You’re going to see me, I promise. I just want everybody to win.

I don’t know. I just didn’t expect that sh*t bro. I told my mom about that sh*t man — I don’t even think I told my mom at first. I just kept that sh*t to myself. I was just saying “I don’t care, I’m going to just ball.” It is what it is, I’ve been playing football before I even knew you, and you’re going to tell me this?

I don’t care, I’m going to ball, and they had no choice but to play me. If I wasn’t balling, I was No. 1 fan and that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

Florida started the season 2-0 before losing a close one to Alabama, not unexpected, then came back the next week to beat Tennessee before losing five of the last six SEC contests. What was it like living through that?

Wells: We were supposed to win that game (Alabama). I promise you. We had them beat. If we’d run the stuff we run in practice, we would beat any team I promise you. I think it was a third down, it was something. You can tell when you overprepare, I don’t know. I think they were nervous. That’s just how I feel. I think he was nervous, and he made other people nervous that weren’t nervous before.

Can you give me an example?

Wells: It was just the meeting like before games. We used to overdo the walkthroughs. We used to have too many walkthroughs, instead of having one big walkthrough. I just felt like and from what my team was saying, it just felt like they were nervous. We were overdoing it during that game, during that whole process.

Practice was fine. We practiced hard like — it’s time to play now.

We won in practice, that’s what it felt like, that’s what I felt like. When I walked off the field Thursday, I’m like “Bro, we’re going to win.” That’s how other people were feeling, I swear.

The energy was good, that’s why I feel like we played like that. If we would’ve did some more plays how we were practicing — I feel like we were supposed to go at ‘em. Because they weren’t going to expect it.

Who were these guys? They weren’t going to expect that man. We ain’t use Jabo (Jacob Copeland) one time. I think this man had like two catches. But that’s your number one receiver. This man gets two targets, like come on man.

They weren’t really calling the plays. They weren’t really using the players, who we had. The people who showed they could play, he ain’t really use them. He started off the season using them.

For example, I started out the season — a dawg. I was balling in the beginning of the season. Then all of a sudden something happened. I don’t know. You had one receiver, this man the No. 1 receiver on your team on the depth chart. This man gets two catches a game? Like huh? Then against USF he goes off. Man, he was supposed to go off the next game. Who we played? Bama? Come on bro. You’re supposed to turn him up. You’re supposed to keep going. Then you’re supposed to feed the dawgs under him because the dudes under him dawgs. You got (Justin) Shorter, then you got me, then you got little Hendo (Xzavier Henderson), come on bro. It’s just crazy man.

When did you and the team know it was over for Dan Mullen?

Wells: Man, what this was? South Carolina? When did we play South Carolina? What’s the first game we lost?

I don’t know. That sh*t started after Alabama I promise. H*ll yeah, the spirit went down. Spirit went down because everyone knew we were going to beat them and then it was just like “Damn we didn’t beat them.” When you want to do something and then you don’t do it, you kind of go in a slump. That’s just how it was.

They started getting desperate. Started moving guys around, playing different positions all season. It’s crazy. Them boys moved me to third string. I started off fall camp first string, I had a concussion. I come back from my concussion, I’m second string. I’m going to respect that because I’ve been out, but I’ve been working to get back.

So, I never go back to first string, I stay at second. But the whole season you’d think I’m first string though ‘cause I’m balling. I got most of the targets going into the third game or whatever. They’re trying to get ME the ball basically.

After that I got hurt. I hurt my ankle LSU game. I don’t get to play Georgia but I’m back next game and sh*t I’m third string, I don’t see the field. But they done moved the No. 1 receiver outside to the slot and put me third string. But this dude ain’t play slot all season!

The slot hard as f*ck, you have to do reads, checks, all the sh*t. Dude wasn’t ready for it. He a dawg, don’t get me wrong. It’s just like they were trying to force it, instead of just getting back to it. Like I said, it’s business bro.

Then when I had asked them about it, I get no response. I used to sit down with them coaches man. Them boys wouldn’t even look me in the eyes.

Overall thoughts on Dan Mullen and his staff?

Wells: His staff were good people man. Don’t get me wrong I love coach G [Billy Gonzales], I love that dude. Coach Mullen, he was just running the show bad man. When business got bad, he got bad, and it showed. You have to know how to be a people person just not friendly to the people you want to win.

He has to work on his people skills. I don’t knock dude. I ain’t hateful towards dude, none of that. I respect dude for telling me that. Because it really pushed me. He should’ve left and got another staff. He should’ve left and we could’ve gotten another head coach.

But I mean, they brought in the right dude. The right dude is going to change everything, especially when you got players who’re bringing it to your attention like “Coach, I’m getting parking tickets coach. I got $2,000 in parking tickets.” Real life bro, people had $2,000 in parking tickets. Just imagine that sh*t bro and you’re only getting paid on the first and the 15th.

How big was it for you to finally score a collegiate TD in the first game of the season against FAU?

Wells: It was straight man. It’s just like when you go through your best moments at the worst time. It was a happy moment and then when it was over it was like ,“Oh, back to reality.” Back to walking that tight rope. You feel like you’re behind. Like what’s next?

A lot of expectations fell on the receiving core, especially on Jacob Copeland. Where do you think his struggles were rooted? Was it the offensive scheme? Emory Jones?

Wells: Man, it had nothing to do with no scheme. Nothing to do with none of that. If you got a guy, you’re going to feed that guy right? That’s what I thought. That’s how every other school do it. They feed their guy and whoever follow after that get theirs too. He wasn’t getting fed.

How hard was it to see how easily calls for a different WR1 and QB1 came throughout the season?

Wells: Whatever fans were saying that have never played a down of football in their life. If they have, they were JV. Who are they to say something? I promise you; you can’t get out there and compete at this level or even last through a workout. Let alone last a workout a day.

The final game at the Gasparilla Bowl, a loss to UCF. How frustrating was that?

Wells: It was frustrating as h*ll ‘cause I felt like I played sorry that game. I felt like I was trash that game. When I went deep, I was supposed to set it off. That’s just how we play football. Like we’re going to set if off from the rip and I felt like that was the play. I had an inside fade, back of the endzone, left side from like the 35 or 40 and I dropped that b*tch.

With the coach and him leaving, there was so much pressure. It was just like, “Damn, coach Mullen gone, what now?”

Do you think Mullen’s last season was better or worse than McElwain’s last season?

Wells: It was worse because of the way he handled it. he just up and left. Didn’t say anything. I don’t know, it was just weird to me. Coach Mac, was a people person. When somebody loves you and something goes wrong, they’re going to tell you what’s wrong. They’re going to tell you what’s going to happen.

Is there anything you always wanted to tell coach Mullen that you never had the chance to?

Wells: I want to say ‘preciate it. I want to say ‘preciate it for telling me that the league wasn’t for me. It just pushed me man, I really have a good job now where I work with kids. I protect kids. I get paid great. I just had a son born. First thing I’m going to teach him is to believe in yourself no matter what people say or think. Know you have a strong support system who’s going to believe in you no matter what, especially a daddy who’s going to believe in you no matter what.

I don’t have anything bad to say about dude, I just want to say ‘preciate it and I’m thankful.

What are your honest thoughts on the Swamp and the fans?

Wells: I love the school and I love the Swamp. It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I got to experience for six years.

For six years that’s crazy. Just running out of the tunnel, especially if you score. Imagine you score a touchdown, everybody’s like “Rick! Rick!” People calling your name. You’re going to think “Man, this sh*t’s crazy.”

You’re on TV. Your mom is seeing you; the neighborhood is seeing you. You go back home, and everybody is talking to you. You really feel how people feel about you when they want to see you do good things, especially when they know where you come from.

If you go back to a few years ago, it looked like you were in danger of not being on the team. What happened to turn everything around?

Wells: Got my sh*t together. I was making good grades; I was never making a 4.0. But I really applied myself. I said, “I’m going to really do this shit.” What do I look like making it here and going back home? People are going to be like, “You did all that just to go there and come back and do nothing?” I really had to tighten up and buy into what they were saying.

Wells: I’d pick coach Mac because all he had to do was get new staff. That was it, that could’ve fixed the problem. But he was like a people person, and he didn’t want to do his people like that. So, he said he was all or none.

When the dust settled how did the 2021 season feel?

Wells: I was kind of sad to be honest. I felt like I didn’t get a fair shot to ball how I was practicing. I feel like I was doing everything possible in my power.

They say we got to get down in practice, know all your plays. I felt like I knew everything. I feel like if you were to sit in a meeting with me, with the receiving coach — you would’ve been like “Alright this dude knows his sh*t.” There were people in that room that didn’t know their sh*t and still played. Who still played in front of people that knew their sh*t and were working hard.

It’s crazy. When you try to force sh*t, it doesn’t work out like that how it’s supposed to and that sh*t showed.

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