FOOTBALL: Mullen Speaks To Jax Beaches Club

University of Florida Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen spoke to a sold out Jacksonville Beaches Gator Club at Angie's Subs on Wednesday night. The crowd stuck around for about an hour long speech and question answering session that had multiple applause moments and fed a football hungry crowd with anecdotes on Gator football. Mullen talked about all facets of Gator football and two things that will be very important to make this Gator team click this year in the eyes of Gator fans.

Mullen said that accountability is the first and most important block in how Coach Urban Meyer builds a team. Each player is expected to be accountable to himself, his teammates and the coaches. He said that the players attitude both on and off the field will be a reflection of the system that Coach Urban Meyer is implementing at Florida.

"We are a very discipline-oriented coaching staff and we demand accountability," Mullen said. "In today's society, one thing we find with a lot of young men is there is not a lot of accountability. With parents, or teachers or whatever the case may be, a lot of the players come to us and nothing has ever been their fault. The first thing that we try and do and first thing we teach is accountability. We make sure that they know that they are not only accountable to themselves and their actions, but they are accountable to 85 other people on the team and the coaches and their families.

"The first thing we did (when we arrived at UF) was work on academics. We just finished a semester where the entire football team's GPA was a 2.6. Some people may not think that is very high, but the highest ever before that was 2.45. We have noticed the accountability in that aspect. We have noticed the accountability in training and in leadership has improved. That is all part of the accountability.

"In the fourth quarter when we are playing a game, and it is down to crunch time and the ball is on the two yard line, and our guys look to the right and look to the left, they are confident they are going to do their job and so is everyone else around them. They develop that team chemistry and they develop that accountability."

An important step for the Florida coaching staff is to adjust attitudes so that the team takes the field knowing that there is no way they are going to lose the football game.

"It's certainly not the scheme," Mullen said. "When I was on teams that won championships they had a certain attitude. It's not a scheme. USC runs totally different plays than we did last year but their kids walked around with hopefully the same attitude our kids will have … the attitude that our offense is the best one out there and our defense is the best one out there. We work harder than everyone else and nothing is going to stop us. Urban will say that the most invested team wins and that's what happens. How do you become the most invested team? You work at it as a team and bring the least invested guy up to the level of the most invested guy and you believe it. When you walk out of that tunnel on Saturday and look across that field, you know 'I have worked harder than that guy, and there is no way he is going to take something away from me.' I think that more than anything else has made us win."

In Meyer's two previous head coaching stops, first at Bowling Green and then at Utah, once accountability and positive attitude changes have been implemented, winning follows. Inevitably, players simply have to take the field and play the game.

"People think that we have all the answers, that Urban has all the answers, and sometimes we do, but people win games with players," Mullen said. "When we arrived at Utah, we had a bunch of guys that had been arrested, 20 of them had less than a 2.0 GPA, and we didn't know how much talent we had. When we got out there we installed our style of discipline in those guys and they bought into it and we turned things around and people could see we had the talent. I remember going out to another school and the other coaches were real nervous because they knew that (Utah) always had the best talent, but were undisciplined. They said they were scared to death because they heard we were real disciplined and we might get that talent in line. As it turned out we had a lot of talent.

"We are in a very similar situation here where we have a lot of talent. They are highly recruited players, guys that came to Florida to win championships and haven't. They come in now and we say this is how we have done things in the past, we have a little bit of credibility now, and they have bought into that. We are excited about that."

Mullen praised both his fellow coaches on the Florida staff and the players for building a solid relationship. There is a cohesive working relationship with Florida's staff.

"We are blessed … we have a great staff," he said. "I have been with Urban for seven years. Our offensive line coach (John Hevesy) and wide receiver coach (Billy Gonzalez) have been with us since the beginning. One thing that makes our job easy is that we are in charge. A lot of successful teams have coaches that have stuck together for a long time. We have been able to do that. Even though we have jumped around schools our base set of coaches is still there. Every coach on our staff has coached with someone else at some point in time.

"The staff is real excited and there is an awful lot of talent. I know at quarterback we have some great young men. Cornelius Ingram … I haven't gotten to spend a great deal of time with him because he was playing basketball. Gavin Dickey is the same … we didn't get to spend a lot of time with him, because he made the championship games in baseball. Both are phenomenal people and great kids. They work as hard as they can to attain their goals. Josh Portis I have known for a quite a while, he and his family. Chris (Leak) … I have developed a great relationship with him. I have never had that many quarterbacks going into a season so I am very excited about that. Last year (at Utah) we had two.

"Chris Leak is a guy that was put into a very tough situation (as a freshman). He was 18-years old and a college freshman. He was on the field in front of 90,000 people and doing interviews about why did you do this and why did you do that. The whole Gator nation put pressure on him and he was an 18-year old college kid. He shouldn't have been asked to play quarterback in the SEC as a freshman. There is something not right about that and it is really tough to do. Plus he is on his third offensive coordinator. He has worked really hard at it. I think the improvements you will see this year are improvements from things you saw last year. I know with my style of coaching I am not an easy guy to play for. My players at first don't usually like me very much because I am not going to sugarcoat anything. I am going to tell them exactly how it is. Chris has responded real well to that kind of coaching and I don't know if he has ever been coached that way before. I am hoping that that will turn the corner for him and allow him to relax and settle into an offense that is suited to go along with his skills.

"Everyone is worried about the style of offense. Chris is probably the best quarterback for our offense that we have ever had in our career. When we look around to see what we want in a quarterback, we say okay we want someone who is accurate, a good leader that makes decisions well, and is a real good athlete. We had Josh Harris, a tremendous athlete but average passer. We had Alex Smith who was an average athlete but the best passer I have ever seen. Now we have a guy that has the whole package as well as the other guys. Josh Portis is one of the best athletes on the team and I would be hard pressed to question the athletic ability of the other kids that both play other varsity sports.

Coach Dan Mullen works with QB Josh Portis

"We have some great wide receivers but we are not deep at the receiver position. You might see some other guys can go down there from quarterback. Our strength coach came up to me the other day and said 'I'm not maybe the smartest coach in the world, but if you have all those phenomenal athletes sitting on the sideline, and not in the game, I think you are doing something wrong.' We have to find a way to get them on the field and get the ball in their hands.

"We have never been around guys with this tremendous ability. We had some guys that really over-achieved but never approached the ability that this group has. They just performed at a higher level. Coach Meyer is a receiver's coach so he spends an awful lot of time with those guys. One thing you will see with those guys is a disciplined group. We don't grade by (highlights), we grade by who runs disciplined routes and blocks.

Responding to a question about wide receiver Dallas Baker, Mullen said, "He did a great job this spring. I hope we see a lot of it. The discipline aspect of things and the consistent play is what we demand. There are certain things that we look for and we aren't going to put up with. If he drops the ball, keeps jumping off-sides, if he is not performing, then he won't play. That is what we have done in the past, no matter what the potential they possess. I know I saw him today. He said he worked hard. I have talked to the quarterbacks and he is probably our best route runner. He is a fundamental wide receiver.

"Our offensive line is a great group. We have some experienced guys led by Mike Degory and Randy Hand coming back. They have played a bunch of football. We look pretty good at all those positions.

"Running back is our question mark and we are excited to see them once camp starts. There is nothing better to improve football players than competition. That competition will come from the thought that they know that there is an open spot. They are all on the same level on the depth chart, and we are waiting for someone to go up and grab that spot. There is no running back number one on the depth chart right now. DeShawn Wynn and Skyler Thornton have played some. Obviously, no one has jumped up and grabbed the reigns, said 'I am going to be the starter' and won the job. Markus Manson has been a champion in every aspect of his life. He put on 10 pounds of muscle and had a 4.0 last semester. He may be a tough guy to keep out of the game."

Mullen went into more detail during his speech and in the question and answering session about the offense. There are quite a few eye catching things involved in game day procedures with this staff.

"I call all the plays but we have been around so long it is kind of a group effort," Mullen said. "Every time our offense comes off, we will get with our guys and go over what they are seeing there. Then we will step away on the headphones and I am going to get everybody's (the coaches) input. I'll ask Billy (Gonzalez) what pass he likes? Then I will say John (Hevesy) tell me what you want? I'll say Steve Addazio, how do we run the option on the edge? I'll ask Stan Drayton, when we get down in the red-zone, what do you want to do? Coach Meyer will jump in and say he wants to run this play and this play in this series. Then I will write down all the notes and put together a plan of 6-8 plays that we can run. I will flip back on the headsets and say here is what we want. Then everybody goes over to their guys and goes over the plays. Usually I can tell the first two plays that we will run, so I can say okay, when we step on the field, these are the first two plays, these are the other six plays we will run, and this is why we are going to run it. I explain it so they are prepared when they go on the field and there are no surprises.

"Trust me, the players are going to have a lot of input, too. The first thing I did as a quarterback coach over the last couple of years, when I have that list, the first thing I will do is ask Chris Leak what he likes. You are the one that has to make that quick decision, not me. I have a whole different view over here on the sidelines. Usually a quarterback as they grow in confidence, they get comfortable in the offense. I hope we get where the players come over and the players come over and say this is what we need to run."

He doesn't anticipate letting the quarterbacks audible at the line of scrimmage. This staff's philosophy is to take the coaching or play calling out of the hands of the players.

"We try to be very sound in what we do," he said. "I am not big into checking. If they have to think too much at the line of scrimmage we've made a mistake with our game planning. As a coach, our job is to coach and put our players in good situations. We want to go fast sped and not have our guys thinking. I want Chris to come up and say, 'we know what we are doing, and we are going to do it faster than anybody in the country.' "

One thing Mullen touched on a lot was spreading the ball around. They want to have fresh players at the end of the game and they want to make the opposition work to figure out how to defend everyone on the field.

"We have what is called a 'Get It To' board," he said. "We have ways to get every guy on the field the ball and how we want to do it. One of the great motivators is that they know I have the 'Get It To' sheet. So make sure they are one of the guys that has four plays on that sheet instead of one. Every one of them comes into my office every day and says, 'you know coach, we can be very good if you get me the ball a bunch.'

"Offensively we are real excited. A lot of people are talking that we don't have a lot of guys on the preseason All-conference team. Well, we probably won't have a lot on the post-season team. We spread the ball around. We don't have a single go-to guy. We don't count on one guy. We count on everybody as a team. Ideally after the game, I would love to look down at the stat sheet and see six different guys get the ball ten times. Then the next big team we run into, they won't know who to stop."

Although he didn't speak long about the defense and special teams, he was equally impressive.

"Defensively, they got after us in the spring. A lot of people saw the spring game and we had a whole bunch of points. Coach Mattison told everyone that they were only allowed to run two defenses in the game so they were handicapped. But, they did a great job. In the spring I thought either we aren't going to be good on offense or we are going to have a very good defense. On September 3, we will find out which one it is."

"Our head coach coaches special teams. We start on special teams before offense and defense. He gets the first pick, so we always had special teams. That is one thing you will see, we play sound football. We want to win the kicking game every time. If our best returner is Chris Leak then he will play. Our best guys will play on special teams."

The passion Florida fans have for their Gators was quite an awakening for Mullen when he arrived in Gainesville. After getting a taste for the fans and their expectations, he's excited about the season.

"We are really excited for the season to get going and we are really excited to be here," he said. "It is great to be somewhere where (what you do) is so important to so many people … it makes it worth it. I know when we as coaches make our sacrifices and the players make their sacrifices and they see the support group of the Gator nation, it makes it all worth while."

Dan Mullen is a breath of fresh air during interview or at speaking engagements. He is easy to talk to and certainly expresses what he means to say very well. He is very intelligent and comes off as very appreciative of being where he is. Gator fans have themselves a winner.

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