Danny Wuerffel: Dan Mullen will get Florida Gators back in the hunt

The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner also thinks Feleipe Franks can be an upper-echelon quarterback.
Florida Gators legend Danny Wuerffel is high on his former team. (Times 1997)
Florida Gators legend Danny Wuerffel is high on his former team. (Times 1997)
Published June 10

Florida Gators legend Danny Wuerffel was excited when his alma mater hired coach Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State.

The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner knew Mullen’s resume and thought he could turn things around in Gainesville over time.

He just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly with 10 wins and a top-10 finish in Year 1.

[ RELATED: Dan Mullen’s Florida Gators hope to make Year 2 jump ]

“I have to be honest: I was really impressed and surprised with how well he did last year,” Wuerffel said. “I just left with more respect for him as a coach and the things that he can do and the way that he does it on all fronts.

“I think he’s an outstanding football coach. I think as we develop the talent he’s looking for and give him a few years, I fully expect we’ll be back in the hunt…I definitely think he’ll get us back where we Gators feel like we need to be.”

The Gators were in that hunt every year Wuerffel played. He led UF to four SEC titles and the 1996 national championship over rival Florida State.

One of his top performances came against Alabama during his Heisman year, when he set an SEC title game record with 401 passing yards and six touchdown throws against one of the best defenses in the country.

Danny Wuerffel starred against Alabama in the 1996 SEC title game. (TIMES 1996)
Danny Wuerffel starred against Alabama in the 1996 SEC title game. (TIMES 1996)

When Wuerffel thinks back to that game years later, he remembers what happened the next day, when he was eating lunch with family friends.

“I got up to leave the table, and the mom of the family kind of hollered at me,” Wuerffel said. “You clear your dishes like everybody else. I don’t care if you threw six touchdown passes yesterday.”

The lesson: No matter how well you do on the field, you have to stay grounded off it.

Wuerffel spoke with the Tampa Bay Times as he prepares for this weekend’s American Flag Football League championships in New Jersey. His team, Florida Fury, includes former NFL quarterback Michael Vick and ex-NBA guard Nate Robinson.

“Super excited about the opportunity we have,” Wuerffel said.

He’s also excited about the opportunity ahead of the Gators’ current quarterback, Feleipe Franks.

“He’s a very talented athlete,” Wuerffel said. “I think he can be very accurate when he’s very confident he knows where he wants to throw it.”

Not surprisingly, Mullen and his staff are hopeful Franks’ expanded knowledge of the offense will help him make better decisions quicker to improve a completion percentage (58.4) that ranked No. 76 nationally.

[ READ MORE: Florida Gators’ Feleipe Franks one of nation’s most improved passers ]

Despite Franks’ improvements in 2018, Franks hasn’t yet won over all of the Gators’ fan base. That comes with playing at a school that’s produced legendary passers like Wuerffel.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of high expectations at that school for the quarterback position,” Wuerffel said. “I think people are optimistic (about Franks). He did struggle some that first year. To then come back and play like he did, I think people are looking forward to seeing him develop more and move up to the upper echelon of quarterbacks. I absolutely think he can.”

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