HOOVER — When Dan Mullen is at the helm of a college football program, the second year is when things really start to click.
Looking back at his second season at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs improved by leaps and bounds, going from 5-4 to 9-7. In the world of college football, every game counts and improving by three wins at a program that didn’t have much success prior to his arrival is just about as important as winning an SEC championship.
Fast forward nine years later, Mullen is preparing for his second season as the head coach of Florida after previously being an assistant coach. Mullen is looking forward to trying to duplicate that performance with a program that is coming off of a ten-win season that included a thrashing of Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
“I think we made the same jump last year. I think we went from five to nine. That’s four. So if we can go from 10 to 14, that would be pretty good.” Mullen said during his time at the podium, “This year, I would take that. I think a lot of it I think comes from year one to year two. I think coming in now, everyone understands the program. So when you come in, last year when you show up in January and you’re going through the offseason, that’s the first time the guys have ever done it.”
One of the big keys to Florida’s success is going to hinge on the performance of Feleipe Franks, who is coming off of a breakout season and the senior quarterback knows what the expectations are at the University of Florida.
“Expectations are high. Putting up 10 wins is not easy to do,” Franks said to the media on Monday, “I don’t think anywhere. But, it is good when you do it. You get a lot of momentum. We are talking about a season where we worked extremely hard this offseason. We are ready for this upcoming season. There is a lot of momentum built up, and I think we have all prepared the right way. We have done everything the right way this summer, going into fall camp, to prepare us for next season. So I think it is all just preparation-based, and our team has done a great job.”
When you look at Mullen’s track record as a coach, he has been a quarterback whisperer. Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott are the two most notable examples of his expertise at making great quarterbacks. When it comes to Franks though, it was all about building his confidence after an underwhelming sophomore campaign that happened when Mullen was still at the helm of Mississippi State.
“I think as the year went on, he understood what his abilities were and he decided to use all of his talents. I think a light came on that I’m 6’6″, 245 pounds and pretty athletic. If they’re going to completely empty the middle of the field and I can run into the end zone from 20 yards away untouched, I can do that.”
“And I think when he bought into using all of his skill set to play, and not trying to limit himself or not trying to worry really about what everybody else thought, he was going to be a better player, and he did that. I think he started to block out all of the outside noise, all of the other opinions. I told him, I said: ‘if you know of all of these other opinions that are out there of how to play the quarterback position, if there’s someone better than Brian Johnson, let me know, I’ll hire them to be our quarterback coach. But I think he’s a pretty darn good quarterback coach. I have some pretty good experience developing quarterbacks as well. But, Feleipe, if you think everybody on Twitter is much better at that, to coach, just let us know, we’ll look at them as being the quarterback coach.’”
Franks also spoke to how his confidence changed since Mullen returned to Gainesville to take over a program that largely underwhelmed in the previous regime.
“I don’t know. I don’t think about, where you said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out.’ I’m the type of person where if something doesn’t go my way,” Franks said, “I was always taught you keep on working. You don’t just give up and turn your back. I never did that, where I said, ‘This isn’t going to work out.’ I worked harder and more diligently. Not just me, but with my teammates, and it just helps me. I know I have been saying it all day, but I have always been the type of person that works super hard. But when you want to meet that production and with my work ethic, and so it is kind of just what I have been waiting on, and that’s what happens.”
If there’s one thing a head coach wants, it is a confident quarterback because that’s a dangerous player for defenses to play against and that could make the Gators become a real force in the SEC East and give the Georgia Bulldogs a run for their money during “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party.”