When he was coaching Florida, Steve Spurrier was the pit in Georgia’s peach. He was the intractable tick behind the Bulldogs ear. He also beat them 11 out of 12 times from 1990 to 2001 and let them know about it.
One famous Spurrier quote leaps to mind (insert tinny, nasal, really irritating pitch here): “Why is it that during recruiting season (the Bulldogs) sign all the great players, but when it comes time to play the game we have all the great players? I don’t understand that. What happens to them?”
There are times you may weigh what comes out of the mouth of current Florida coach Dan Mullen — to be weighed by the 10-pound bag, like any other fertilizer – and wonder if he isn’t the next coming of Spurrier.
Well, he isn’t. Not yet, not by a country mile. But he does try, bless his heart.
On the week of a most consequential Georgia-Florida game, this is a fine time to consider just what Mullen is in his third season in Gainesville and how serious a threat he might be to the Bulldogs position atop the SEC East.
He is, of course, somewhat renowned as a quarterback sensei and brings to Saturday’s game the better player at the most important position. He has helped elevate Kyle Trask, who was a backup his last three years in high school, to a position of esteem in the SEC. That the Gators have the clear advantage at quarterback Saturday is a testament to Mullen and draws a sharp distinction between his offensive mindset and Kirby Smart’s.
At the same time, Mullen is irresponsible on a sometimes-grand scale. As when he said it was time for Florida to pack the stands with fans in the midst of a pandemic – just before he and his team was caught up in a coronavirus wave.
Or as last weekend when he appeared as more agitator than peacemaker during a half-time skirmish with Missouri. Wondered ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, “What was that? What was going on with that, with big-time wrestling with Dan Mullen coming off the top rope, like a heel? What in the world was that?”
And then, on that Halloween night, when answering questions about the incident in his post-game video press conference, Mullen showed up in a Darth Vader costume when it was really most important for him to come dressed as a grown-up, big-time college coach. It made for one uncomfortably ridiculous, incongruous scene, like Star Wars meets The Longest Yard.
Yet dismiss Mullen as an oaf at your own peril. In his two seasons he has brought the Gators back to the level of serious Cocktail Party guest. The year before he arrived, Jim McElwain’s Florida team was overrun by Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs on the rise, 42-7. Last year, when asked the difference between his program and Georgia’s, Mullen curtly responded, “seven points.” Just seven points, as in Georgia’s 24-17 victory in 2019.
Florida never led in that one. Ah, but if it had. . .
“You want to play with the lead against [Georgia]. They don’t play very well from behind, I don’t think,” Mullen said after that game, as if delivering one last shot even after the scoreboard lights had been turned off. “We weren’t able to do that early.”
Mullen well knows the Bulldogs are the class of his neighborhood, the bully on the block he must overcome to get Florida back to where it belongs. Just as he knows how well the occasional Georgia jab plays with his constituency.
So, a year back when Georgia announced it was adding a home-and-away with Florida State in the future, Mullen couldn’t resist pointing out the Gators play the Seminoles annually. “People make a big deal, Georgia is playing them. They are trying to catch up to us, I guess,” he said.
Then there was the fictitious attendance at the 2019 Florida spring game, concocted by Mullen to be 39,476. It took some serious code-breaking to come up with this, but it was decided that the number referenced the 39 years and 476 games Georgia had played at that point since its last national championship.
Still nothing on a Spurrier scale. OK, one more Spurrier blast from the past, this one from when he had gone on to coach at South Carolina. After some moving of the furniture on the schedule had the Gamecocks playing Georgia later in the season than usual, Spurrier offered this priceless take: “I don’t know. I sort of always like playing (Georgia) that second game (of the season) because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”
There’s a smirking, wise-guy, Spurrier-wannabe coach – right down to the Gator-adorned visor – lurking within Mullen. The whole package aches to emerge to the torment of everything Georgia.
All that’s holding that version back is Mullen’s 0-3 record against the Bulldogs (one of those losses coming when he was at Mississippi State). It remains up to Georgia to somehow keep beating him and keep stacking sandbags on the levee holding back Mullen’s rising fortunes.