Florida Gators head football coach Dan Mullen had plenty of explaining to do on Monday in his first in-person press conference with the Florida football press corps since prior to the 2020 season’s coronavirus-related restrictions.
And to his credit, he did a lot of explaining — and was honest about what he couldn’t explain, either — in a half-hour session that ranks with his most forthcoming and unvarnished since coming to Gainesville.
After a preamble in which he made Florida’s game against Samford sound like a showdown when it’s most important because of how the Gators will honor veterans and military personnel as part of a “Salute to Service” program timed to the game’s proximity to Veterans Day, Mullen responded to questions about what compelled him to fire Todd Grantham and John Hevesy and what Florida needs to do to right its trajectory with the sort of plain-spoken honesty that fans have recently craved from him.
And there were several admissions of fault and failure.
“We’re not better than we were earlier in the year,” Mullen said, referencing how Florida has fallen short not just of its unstated and obvious goal of winning championships but also his oft-stated goal of improving as seasons wear on. “In fact, we’re worse than we were earlier in the year.”
He explained that he spoke to players this morning and told them that the status quo was unacceptable — noting in passing that he had to explain what “status quo” meant — and that he came to the difficult decisions to fire Grantham and Hevesy because he felt he would have to do so at season’s end.
He spoke at length about how the Gators’ practices last week were strong, yielding no evidence that they were going to play what he admitted was a bad game at South Carolina, and laid the responsibility for translating practice effort to game success on himself and his coaches.
And while he did not quite concede the possibility that he is actually the problem for Florida when asked that question in almost those exact words, Mullen did offer an answer that suggested he knows well that introspection is going to be necessary going forward — and one that, as or more importantly, focused on the need to find solutions.
Of course, what Mullen says in a press conference like this can only mean so much, just like what he has said in other press conferences to make headlines has really only meant so much. What he does on practice fields, in film rooms, in locker rooms, on the recruiting trail, and in finding replacements for Grantham and Hevesy will all collectively — and maybe even individually — mean more than his demeanor or answers in this setting.
But press conferences are windows into a coach’s psyche — and this one provided a view of a version of Dan Mullen who seems up to all of those tasks. At the very least, that would seem better than Mullen looking sullen, sunken, or defeated.