GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dan Mullen would love to see the Florida Gators playing football again in September, but recognizes it will take a lot for that to happen.
“I would say I’m much more hopeful than optimistic,” Mullen told reporters Monday via videoconference. “To say where we’ll be in four months is hard to do. But I’m certainly hopeful. I’m sure as everybody is out there.”
Mullen said four months ago he never would have imagined the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the nation, including a UF football program looking to build on an 11-win season and top-10 ranking.
The Gators canceled spring practices and shifted classes online. Players returned home to their families, but they have remained in contact with coaches so the program can keep progressing despite the trying circumstances.
“One of the things we talked about, the coaches and our players, was just worry about what we can control,” Mullen said. “And the big thing is, when this is over, are we gonna be the team that’s prepared? Are we the team that continued to stay in great physical shape. Are we the team that put in extra conditioning, extra training. Are we the team that spent extra time learning and maximizing what we can do and maximizing ourselves of what we can do so we’re a better football team when we get back together than we are when we left.”
Mullen said the consensus among SEC coaches is once teams are back together, eight weeks would be the ideal amount of time needed to prepare for a season, though six weeks would be workable.
“I think you’re pressing it, once you get down to four weeks,” Mullen concluded.
Whenever the Gators are able to get back on the field, Mullen said it will be uplifting for everyone.
“I think when football hopefully gets back, it’ll make everybody feel pretty good about life and getting back to some normalcy to see some football,” he said.
Mullen said the moment could be similar to the 2001 World Series after 9/11 when President George W. Bush threw at the first pitch at a Yankees game.
Mullen even seemed to choke up a bit at the memory.
“After you go through massive tragedies there’s so many things that sports bring back together,” he said. “Just the lasting memory of what sports are that are so special.”
For now, Mullen is glad to report no one involved with the program has been stricken by Covid-19.
“I think the effects are a lot more emotional, psychological of helping guys that way,” Mullen said. “We’ve dealt a lot more with that than any physical ailments of the disease.”
Mullen turned 48 Monday, but said every day lately seems pretty much the same while in quarantine.
“I try to get up and go for a run or get a workout in early in the morning,” he said. “Come home and we do like a 9 o’clock staff meeting a couple days a week. Take the dog for a walk, help (son) Canon with some math and his schoolwork. Spend a whole lot of time recruiting. And then get in and kind of hang with the family a little bit.”
The Mullens have enjoyed the extra family time.
During the videoconference, Mullen’s wife, Megan, appeared on screen and said, “There could never be enough, though. Never.”
Finding a rhythm to his days has not necessarily been easy for the hard-driving Mullen.
“I’m somebody that probably since I was 15 years old, I’ve gone to work every day,” he said. “Whether it was having a job when I was in high school, going to college and summer jobs and all that. Just kind of being thrown off in this way. Like, stay at home, don’t go to work.”
Mullen said he initially would spring up at 3 to 5 a.m. due to the sudden change to his routine.
“You’re just so out of your norm,” he said.
Mullen since has settled into a daily rhythm, including plenty of time enjoying spring in Gainesville with his family.
“I get outside a bunch every day,” he said. “I just can’t be inside all day long. We get outside. We go on bike rides, walk. I’ve played a little bit of golf.
“You name it, we get outside and do it.”
Mullen and his staff want to make sure the Gators’ push for a College Football Playoff semifinal spot will not be stalled by the pandemic.
In fact, Mullen has been able to do some things he would not under normal circumstances, like attending multiple meetings with individual position groups.
“I kinda just come in with no video, not audio,” he said. “I just sit, kinda like sitting in the back of the room. But I get to do it for, you know usually we’re all always meeting everybody at the same time. I can sit in during the day and I can sit in on three or four different position meetings every day.
“ … So that’s pretty good learning for me and learning what our players do and what’s going on with all of them. So that’s kinda exciting.”
Despite the loss of spring practices, Mullen said coaches been able to install schemes. The challenge has been teaching players who each pick up the system and fine tune fundamentals in different ways.
“I think the issue is, I mean everyone’s a different type of learner, so you know if you’re a kinetic learner, I mean it’s a very difficult time for you,” Mullen said. “If you’re a guy that needs reps on the field, it’s a difficult time for you. So you know, I think when you look at how guys learn that way, we’re limited in how we can teach.
“So we’re trying to maximize what we can do instead of worrying about what we can’t do.”
Like most football fans, Mullen was glued to the NFL draft.
When the three-day event wrapped up Saturday evening, Mullen had even more to sell future Gators.
Seven former UF players were drafted, led by cornerback CJ Henderson, who was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 9 overall pick. Receiver Van Jefferson and edge players Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga went on Day 2. When the seven-round draft ended, no school had more receivers drafted than UF, with Jefferson, Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland landing with teams.
“It just shows how our guys have bought in, the work that our guys have put in and the great job our coaches have done,” Mullen said. “So that was really exciting for us.”
Four other Gators quickly inked free agent deals.
Toss in four draft picks out of Mississippi State, Mullen’s former school, and the 2020 draft could have long-lasting impact on UF’s program.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Mullen said. “I think guys look.”
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