On this Election Day, Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen has become like one of those frustrating, filibustering politicians who says and does inexplicable things that make you question his honesty and judgment.
He’s like President Donald Trump saying we’ve “turned the corner” on the pandemic when really we haven’t. He’s like Joe Biden saying he was once arrested in South Africa while trying to visit Nelson Mandela when really he wasn’t.
The latest Mullen misstep came Saturday night at the end of the first half of a resounding 41-17 victory over Missouri. After Florida quarterback Kyle Trask was hit late after he released a Hail Mary, officials mistakenly did not throw a flag and an enraged Mullen charged across the field toward the Missouri sideline to scream at officials. Mullen (not wearing a face mask, by the way) had to be held back by coaches and law enforcement, escalating a situation that turned into a melee, with multiple players from both teams exchanging blows.
To make matters worse, Mullen actually had the audacity to say that he didn’t think his actions were inappropriate. Fittingly dressed in a Darth Vader costume at his postgame Halloween night news conference, Mullen told reporters, “I was trying to get our players off the field to make sure we didn’t have issues and have a whole bunch of guys suspended.”
Uh, Dan, I don’t know if you realize this, but the game was on television and there were actually cameras recording you and video showing you losing your mind. Why are you simply making up a story that is obviously untrue? It would have been much more acceptable if you had just simply said, “I got emotional and lost my cool momentarily after seeing our quarterback get hit with a cheap shot. I need to do a better job of keeping my composure.”
Mullen got off easy Monday when SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey reprimanded him and fined him a scant $25,000 — the same amount Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin was fined recently for simply retweeting a critical comment about SEC officials. What Mullen did was much worse and should have merited a much heavier fine; if not a suspension. Of course, with the monumental Florida-Georgia game coming up this weekend, the SEC simply didn’t have the stomach to issue a suspension of UF’s head coach.
Said Mullen in a statement released by the team on Monday: “I respect the decision from the conference office. As the head coach, it is my responsibility to diffuse these types of situations, and I didn’t live up to that standard.”
Why couldn’t Mullen have come out with that statement after the game on Saturday instead of acting as if he did nothing wrong? This is just another recent blunder for Mullen, who has been an excellent football coach for the Gators, but he is quickly turning into a PR nightmare.
This isn’t the first time Mullen has had to backtrack after saying or doing something stupid in recent weeks. After the loss to Texas A&M, Mullen credited the Aggies crowd with having an effect on the game and then inexplicably said UF officials should take Gov. Ron DeSantis’s recommendation and “pack the Swamp” with 90,000 fans during a pandemic.
A few days later, Mullen became a punchline when the UF program had to shut down after the coach and dozens of football players tested positive for COVID-19. Four days after his “pack the Swamp” remarks, after much public ridicule, Mullen backtracked, issued an apology “if I offended anyone” and said the Gators should only admit the number of fans recommended by “local health officials” — which is what the school had been doing all along.
Mullen again found himself in the public cross hairs last week when he complained about the NCAA mandate that prohibits colleges from any sports-related activities on Election Day. Mullen actually said this mandate made it harder for players to take part in the electoral process because it also prohibited team-organized voting events. Of course, this is not true. The NCAA rule only constrains teams from practicing football together on Election Day; it does not constrain them from voting together.
“His last four or five weeks have been dangerously unpredictable and downright difficult to watch,” said influential ESPN and SEC Network commentator Paul Finebaum Monday during a radio interview on WJOX in Birmingham. “I just think you have to use good judgement, and he has used terrible judgement.”
It seems more and more appropriate that Mullen decided to slip into his Darth Vader costume after the Halloween night victory over Missouri.
He has, after all, gone to the Dark Side.
It wasn’t that long ago that he was Anakin Skywalker.
But in the span of a month, he’s morphed into the uneven, unpredictable, unlikeable villain of college football.
This column first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email me at [email protected] Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.
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