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Florida Football

Mullen Monday: Overcoming adversity

April 27, 2020
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When Dan Mullen last spoke with the media in March, it was in the press box of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium one week before spring practice was supposed to begin.

On Monday, he met with the media for the first time since then via Zoom, a sign of the challenging times created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, spring practice never happened, the players and coaches are on their own, and when and if the 2020 season will begin is in doubt.

Mullen discussed how his program is handling the adversity created by the pandemic, the seven Gators that were drafted over the weekend, the role sports play in American culture and more.

Here are the highlights.

He said he gets a workout in early in the mornings, does a 9 a.m. staff meeting several times per week, helps his son with math, does a "whole lot of recruiting" and spends the rest of his days with his family. He added that he always makes sure his coaching staff spends a lot of quality time with their families, so this is different more than it is nice.

He pointed out that they had more wide receivers drafted than any other school in the country (three). He thinks it's a huge deal to get three receivers drafted. The players bought in to splitting snaps with each other and sacrificing huge statistics, and now they get to reap the reward of it. He thinks having three guys drafted will be a huge selling point for recruits and their younger receivers. If they buy-in to doing their jobs, they'll have a chance to play in the NFL too someday. "I think that's something that is really special and unique."

Some guys might have made poor decisions by leaving early last year, Mullen said. He thinks the fact that the only player who left early this year went in the first round is a good sign that the program is growing and the players are trusting their coaches’ advice. He thinks CJ Henderson handled his situation well.

He said he's more "hopeful" than optimistic that there will be a season this fall, but it's hard to project where the world will be four months from now.

One of the benefits of the lockdown is that Mullen gets to watch all of the different position meetings because they're not all at the same time anymore, he said

On what he wants his team’s mindset to be amid all of the uncertainty: "The big thing is when this is all over, are we going to be the team that's prepared to go?"

He said they have high expectations within the program, but he doesn't know if the lockdown will necessarily give them an advantage over other teams just because they return all but one assistant coach and their starting quarterback. He's been pleased with how his players are learning and the feedback he's gotten from them. "I think our guys are handling it as well as possible."

Mullen thinks the consensus among coaches is that they would prefer to have eight weeks to prepare their players for the season, but he thinks everybody would be comfortable with six weeks if needed. He said he wouldn’t mind only having four weeks of practice before the season if they’re able to get the players in the weight room a few weeks in advance.

There are setbacks with the pandemic for everybody on the team, but the key is to maximize the opportunities they have now and not dwell on what they’re missing out on, he said. For example, early-enrollee quarterback Anthony Richardson has more time available to hit the field and throw now than he would normally have during this time with classes and strength and conditioning workouts.

Mullen said it was great to see some of his former players at Mississippi State get drafted. He's happy to see that program still having success, and he couldn't be happier to see them get the chance to live out their dreams.

He said having seven players drafted helps the program in recruiting because the players know if they buy-in to what the coaches are telling them, they'll have a chance to play at the next level. He thinks his staff has proven that they know how to get the most out of players.

He's proud of how everybody in the state is handling this adversity, and he hopes that allows them to get back to normal soon.

He said Henderson obviously had the talent to leave early, but there’s more to being a pro than just being physically gifted. He told all of the NFL coaches who called him that Henderson handles himself like a pro and would be a good addition to their organizations.

"When football gets back, it's going to make everybody feel really good,” Mullen said. He credits Athletic Director Scott Stricklin for his leadership. To be fiscally responsible, they haven't filled some of their empty positions or added staff members unless they're essential.

"I think sports in America are such a large part of our culture," he said. He points out that sports bring people back together after tragedies, such as President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch after 9/11. He thinks even a delayed or shortened college football season "would bring normalcy back to people."

On Monday morning, UF announced that former Gators Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and Brandon James would be part of the 2020 UF Athletic Hall of Fame class. Mullen said each of them made a huge impact on the university and college football as a whole. He said Brandon Spikes was an amazing player because of the emotion and toughness he played with. He said they didn't even know what position Brandon James could play when they were recruiting him because of his diminutive size, but they knew he was a guy they wanted on their team, which is something special.

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