Whitley: Mullen needs a miracle to keep his job
After his team beat Florida Saturday night, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz evoked “Star Wars” in his news conference. With all due respect to the plastic lightsaber Drinkwitz pulled out, the night reminded more of “Forrest Gump.”
To paraphrase Forrest, “Life with the Gators is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”
One week the offense runs like a new Ferrari. The next it’s a 1993 Chevy Cavalier.
One week the defense is dependable. The next it disappears.
One punt is shanked for 11 yards Saturday night. Another one rocketed 67.
The only thing you can count on with the Gators is you can’t count on much of anything, other than they won’t make a winning play when they absolutely, positively need one.
That is why, in all likelihood, Mullen will be coaching his last game when Florida State comes to town. If Scott Stricklin was undecided before Saturday in Columbia, Missouri, the 24-23 overtime loss to the Tigers should have convinced him to start collecting donations for Mullens’ $12 million buyout.
The November schedule was a perfect salvage scenario for a season gone bad. But instead of thumping South Carolina, Samford and Missouri, the Gators went 1-2.
If Mullen couldn’t turn this season around, it’s hard to see how he can turn an entire program around.
I wish he had. Watching him Saturday, I couldn’t help feeling some sympathy for Mullen as he struggled to explain the latest pie in the face.
“It’s just… it’s pretty unfortunate,” he said. “It’s a play here or there.”
It’s a blown assignment. It’s a bad quarterback read. It’s a bonehead penalty. Against the Tigers, it was supposed to be the defenses.
“A lot of people were questioning us, questioning our desire, our willingness to play,” tackle Antonio Valentino said.
That’s what happens when you give up 52 points to Samford. But Florida’s defense found some answers against Missouri.
This time, an offense that put up 70 points a week ago reverted to its erratic ways. Why is Gator life such a box of chocolates?
“I mean, we’re out there trying,” Mullen said. “We’re giving it everything we have, every single week. We go in there, try to coach our guys up, try to put them in position. Try to motivate them.”
Whatever they’re trying, it’s simply not working. That realization seemed to finally hit Mullen on Saturday night. He’s tried everything. There aren’t any more buttons to push.
He talked about losing seven consecutive one-possession games, and how different life would be if the Gators had made one or two more plays in those games. That’s long been the lament of losers.
You are what your record says you are. And the record shows Florida’s been a hefty favorite in its past three close losses. The Gators shouldn’t have been in positions to lose late, like they did Saturday night.
Florida got a reprieve when Missouri’s Harrison Mevis, who’d made 24 of his previous 25 field goals, missed a 46-yarder with 1:04 left. That ushered in overtime, where the Tigers answered Florida’s TD with a TD and a two-point conversion.
After a magical 29-6 start in Gainesville, Mullen has now lost nine of the last 11 games against Power 5 opponents. The Gators finished 0-4 in their SEC road games. Their only road win this year was in Tampa against USF, which shouldn’t even count.
Florida’s 2-6 overall SEC record is the worst in 42 years. The only thing keeping the Gators out of the conference cellar is Vanderbilt.
If that didn’t trigger snickering around the league, Drinkwitz’s post-game troll certainly did. Last year’s game in Gainesville was on Halloween, and Mullen showed up at his post-game news conference dressed as Darth Vader.
When Drinkwitz finished his remarks Saturday, he pulled his hoodie over his head, took out a lightsaber from behind the podium and said, “May the force be with you.”
Revenge of the Eli.
A Gator coach may pay Drinkwitz back some day, but it probably won’t be Mullen. He won’t be fired this week, because he gives UF the best chance to beat FSU and make it to a bowl.
Think about that, Gator Nation. Game No. 12 and Florida is just hoping to qualify for the Birmingham Bowl.
On second thought, don’t think about it. It’ll just depress you more.
My guess is the only thing that could save Mullen now would be a blowout win over the Seminoles and a half-dozen 5-star recruits committing to Florida after the game. Even then, Stricklin would have to look at Mullen and see a box of chocolates.
If he keeps him around, what will he get?
Like this year’s team, you just don’t know. But one thing has become obvious.
The force is no longer with Mullen, and it’s hard to see how he'll get it back.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley