GAINESVILLE — Dan Mullen’s first season at Florida was a success by any measure.
His Gators earned six more wins than they did in 2017, trounced Michigan in the Peach Bowl and finished No. 7 in the Associated Press poll.
“I know we had a good year last year,” Mullen said Monday, the day before UF opens spring practice. “But obviously we want to be better.”
And history suggests he will make it happen.
His teams have improved from Year 1 to Year 2 in six of Mullen’s seven previous coaching stops.
Mississippi State went from 5-7 in Mullen’s first season as head coach to 9-4 the next fall. Even more importantly for UF, Year 2 is when his teams have made the leap from good to great. The Gators went from 9-3 and the Outback Bowl to 13-1 and a national title in his second season as offensive coordinator. Before that, he helped Urban Meyer’s Utes rise from 10-2 to 12-0.
Add in his other multi-year stops in all positions and all levels, and Mullen is 51-27 in his first year and 64-19 in his second. The only exception to Mullen’s second-year boost hardly seems applicable; Columbia lost four more games in 1997 than it did in his first year as the team’s receivers coach.
“I don’t know about the jumps from one year to the next,” Mullen said. “We’ll take a jump if we work harder. If we do what we did last year, then we can’t expect to be better than we were last year.”
That’s standard coach speak, but it’s also true.
Mullen’s success at Mississippi State happened by getting the most out of his less talented rosters through scheme and effort. And there were times last season when Mullen wasn’t happy with how physical or hard his players performed (another indictment of the Jim McElwain era).
“I think they were learning how to play hard…” Mullen said. “It wasn’t that they were being defiant and not doing it last year. They just didn’t realize how hard they could actually go. And as the year went on, we learned.”
They also learned Mullen’s system better, which is the most obvious reason why his teams have made the sophomore jump.
Feleipe Franks has had a year to master Mullen’s offense. Mullen hopes that means his quarterback will be able to make faster decisions and improve a completion percentage (58.4) that ranked No. 76 nationally.
More familiarity elsewhere — even on an offense that loses four starters on the line — should allow Mullen to dive deeper into the playbook to expose opponents’ weaknesses.
“There’s more you can do, but we’re going to do what our guys do well,” Mullen said. “It’s a brand-new team this year, so we’ve still got to learn what this team is going to be about.”
If it’s anything like his previous ones, here’s one thing we already know: It should be better than his last one.
Linebacker Kylan Johnson intends to leave the program as a grad transfer. … The only three players unlikely to play this spring due to injuries are defensive lineman Marlon Dunlap, linebacker Jeremiah Moon and offensive lineman Griffin McDowell. That means running back Malik Davis (Jesuit High) and receiver Tyrie Cleveland will at least see limited action. … Mullen said moving up UF’s opener against Miami up a week to Aug. 24 won’t affect how the team plans its preseason camp.