GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — New Florida coach Dan Mullen crisscrossed the state the last two months, telling anyone and everyone his plan for returning the Gators to national prominence.
It’s been all talk so far.
Now it’s time to start implementing his plan.
The Gators open spring practice Friday with hopes of finally fixing an offense that has been dormant for nearly a decade. Mullen hasn’t made any promises for Year 1 and has a depth chart filled with uncertainty. In fact, there are only a few things he can count on as they take the practice field for the first time in 2018.
“I know they’re going to play hard because they’re not going to have an option,” Mullen said Tuesday. “I know that they’re going to learn to go hard. I know that we’re going to be physical. I feel comfortable with that with the team by seeing the lack of resistance in what we’ve asked them to do.”
There’s sure to be a transition period and some growing pains, especially considering coach Jim McElwain didn’t leave Mullen nearly as much talent as former Florida coaches Ron Zook and Will Muschamp left their replacements.
“Everything else I want to see,” Mullen said. “I try not to judge too much. I’ll try even in spring. I don’t want to get too excited. I don’t want to get too worried because it’s probably never as good or never as bad as it seems. …
“I’m optimistic. I’m excited to see the guys. I see not just the hunger from our fan base, but the hunger for the guys. These guys came to Florida to play for championships. That’s why they came to school here and compete on one of the premier teams in America. I think they’re excited to do that.”
The Gators parted ways with McElwain last October, following a 42-7 loss to Georgia that came on the heels of McElwain’s unfounded allegations of death threats to his family.
McElwain’s tenure had other issues, like a floundering strength and conditioning program and, more obviously, a lackluster offense that failed to make much, if any, progress in three seasons.
Mullen believes he can turn the Gators around, much like he and Urban Meyer did in the mid-1990s.
“To me, it starts with your effort and how you carry yourself as a player,” Mullen said. “I’d love us in the next four years go 60-0 with four national titles. … Sixty-and-0 is not the Gator standard. The Gator standard is: Did we push ourselves to be the absolute best we can be and take ourselves to become the absolute best we could be? If we do that then you’re going to have the opportunity to go win the championships that we expect as part of this program.”
Here are a few other notable items from Tuesday:
Quarterback Feleipe Franks spoke for the first time since last season, saying he had a “reflection period” after the 4-7 campaign and called the coaching change “a fresh start.”
“Just get a sigh of relief through the building and then to know we have a new start so that we’re not dreading on last season,” said Franks, who is expected to compete for the job with freshman Emory Jones. “I’ve never been afraid of competition. It’s nothing new to me.”
Franks doesn’t seem to be an ideal fit in Mullen’s spread offense, but he insists he can run if needed.
“If I have to, I can tote that rock,” he said. “I think it’s just another aspect of coach Mullen’s game that I’m going to have to adapt to. I’ve always been a pocket passer, but I can always adapt if something breaks down or something like that. It’s just something I have to adapt to. I’ve never been afraid to run the ball, and never will be. If I have to, I can put that head down and get rolling.”
Mullen said running back Malik Davis (knee) and guard Brett Heggie (knee), two starters injured late last season, won’t be available during spring practice. Both are expected to be ready for fall camp.
Florida defensive lineman Keivonnis Davis has been reinstated. Davis was one of nine players suspended all of last season amid felony credit card fraud charges. Davis also is recovering from injuries sustained in a scooter accident in September.
“He’s been very, very, very limited,” Mullen said. “He’s just started getting back even around the team activities because there’s a limit of what he can do. But he’s back. We had the team run (Monday). He can’t run with the team, but he was back after workouts.”