UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2018
DAN MULLEN: As you know, signing day is always a fluid situation, but a good day for us today. Happy. I think our coaching staff did a great job, worked their tail off, you know, coming in and getting adjusted. Today kind of wraps up the 2018 recruiting class, but recruiting is a 24/7, 365 deal. I think I probably even spent more time on the phone with 2019s today than I did with 2018 guys. You know, it's a process that keeps going and never ends.
But excited about the guys that are coming to join our family. I think as I said, I think our coaches did a really good job of identifying guys that are going to fit what the Gator standard is and what our expectations are of guys coming to this program.
I'm excited about a lot of the guys that are here, and to be honest with you, I'm excited for this next phase right now that we get wrapping up recruiting and having the opportunity to be back around and getting to know our players. You know, one of the toughest things within how the calendar works in college football, when you take over a new program, is I've spent more time away from Gainesville and with recruits than I have with our current players, and now I'm really excited to be back here. We had mat drills this morning and had the opportunity to get around and really spend a lot more time with our current players on the roster and get to know them and push them and continue to develop them for the future.
I'll let you guys go ahead. I'll let you guys take over and ask questions. I don't want to take up all the time. I'll sit up here and talk for 45 minutes and say I'm go, and then you'll get all mad that I didn't let you ask any questions.
Q. How important was it for you guys to add some of those defensive end types to the roster?
DAN MULLEN: You know, it's huge. One of the things that is important, with the offensive line and defensive line to me, is one of the things I've learned as a head coach. You never want to fall behind in that position. I mean, you want to make sure you're going to succeed in this league, you have got to have depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage. And so, you know, one of the things that guys will see to and you'll see as we move forward, we play a lot of guys. So to be able to play a lot of guys, you've got to have a lot of guys. So it was important to get those guys. To have Malik Langham come on board is huge for us. You know, I mean, he's a guy that I've known about for a while, was kind of a guy that you're really excited about. He's a raw talent, great student, great worker, great size, great growth potential. I think has that unbelievable future ahead of him. Andrew chat field is kind of an outside linebacker guy that he came in -- I don't see where we listed him at, 6'2". He was almost 240 on his visit when he came in, so he's grown. He's put on that size. One of the things I love, you turn on that film and you talk to people at American Heritage last year, you say, describe him, and everyone will say he's the hardest playing guy on the field. The effort to me is what is so important and so impressive, having him come be a part of it.
Q. How much did you improve the wide receiver position today with the two pickups?
DAN MULLEN: Yeah, I mean, you're looking at playmakers, know what I mean? You look at Jacob Copeland who's one of the top receivers in America. Was obviously a top priority for us from the day we got hired here. I think he's a mismatch problem on the field. You can move him around. You can motion him in the backfield, give him the ball, throw him bubble screens or throw him vertically down the field or work over the middle of the field on option routes. You know, he's a complete player and is a great playmaker with the ball in his hands. You know, Justin Watkins is somebody that he's electric. He's an electric guy with the ball in his hands, and you watch this year, any time they go put him at corner, he's a lock-down cover corner. They put him at running back, makes things happen with the ball in his hand. Put the ball in his hand in the slot, in the kicking game, everything. He's the type of player we expect to have in our program.
You get down in East Ridge and just north of Orlando, that part of the state, those guys that Florida has won a lot of championships with guys and athletes like Justin.
Q. And were you guys as nervous today as the early signing period, or did you have a good idea what was going to happen today?
DAN MULLEN: Boy, I don't know. I'm trying to think. You know, signing day is a stressful day, and so now we have two of them. It was probably even more stressful today. Than the early signing? I don't know. I mean, you felt good about a lot of early signing things. Hard to say. Hard to say. I think I probably blocked that out of my mind and just started focusing on this one, so I don't know if it was more or less today.
Q. I was going to kind of ask about, a lot came down to the 11th hour here in just the last 90 minutes. How big was that push just to complete this class?
DAN MULLEN: It's been a crazy day. You know, it's been a crazy day. To me, even guys you feel comfortable with, until you get that -- we're at a new technological stage, so the picture on the phone instead of the fax -- it was annual national fax machine day. But until you get that picture of the fax, until you get it through and you have the official copy of it right there, even the guys you feel good and you know are coming you still feel worried about until it is official.
But our coaches, I mean, our coaches were grinding. They were working all day, they were working all day. They've been working since the day we got here to put this class together.
Q. How much is the competition in-state intensified since you were on staff here 12 years ago or whatever?
DAN MULLEN: I don't know if it's a whole lot different than it was to be honest with you. I mean, you're looking at the state of Florida, and you just -- the best players in the United States of America are here within this state, so everybody around the country tries to come recruit the players that are here. You know, this part of the country, they put up the board and you look at where a lot of the great players come, and a lot of them are either from Florida, from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and North and South Carolina and Tennessee, and kind of this part of the country right here, so everybody comes and recruits this area. But I think they always have.
What's important to us is we make sure that we understand that guys from this state, we've got to do a great job recruiting this state, and we have to -- in the future, and it always will be, have a great focus on making sure guys know they can stay here and get as good if not better education than anywhere in America, represent the University of Florida and represent people in their hometown and everyone in this state and make them proud, and that's always going to be a focus for us, and it will be even more so moving forward.
Q. Can you just talk about this class especially with, like you said, a four-month window, the abbreviated window, how important it was to have a nice class?
DAN MULLEN: Like I said, I'm excited about these guys. What I'm excited about, too, is the research we did on each of these guys, of making sure that it wasn't just a scramble, and hey, we just got hired and here's a name and just take whoever you can take. You know, with all the turnover that was here, and not just within the head coach, within the entire organization, with that turnover, you know, there can be issues, there can be problems, and I think in the short-term for our coaches, doing a great job of researching and knowing the background of each player and knowing how they fit our program.
You know, we're not going to be at 85 next fall, but that's partly by design, that you know what, now we're going to have a full year of this staff to go recruit and that we weren't going to go take players that we weren't sure would fit our program just to fill a roster spot.
I do think our coaches -- and it was important. I think we did a great job of identifying guys and getting the right guys that fit our program and will help continue to build a foundation for the future.
Q. Just how difficult is that in a transition year?
DAN MULLEN: You know what, it's always hard because of relationships. You know, one, the relationship to recruit and get the guys to come feel comfortable to come play with you, but also with your comfort level with the prospects of knowing exactly what type of young man you're getting within the program and to make sure that they fit here and they understand what the Gator standard is, and both on and off the field, in the classroom, in the community, and what we expect of them in the weight room and conditioning, all of those things to get the right people to fit the program.
Q. People talk about transition classes --
DAN MULLEN: Yeah.
Q. And everybody says that you have had one of the best.
DAN MULLEN: That's nice of them.
Q. If that's the case, how did you do it, and what does it take when you come in cold like that and running hitting the ground, and you did a lot of things right?
DAN MULLEN: Well, I think there's a couple things. One, we'll find out in about two to three years whether we did a good job or not with this class. You know, I'm always one, I don't jump up and down too much on the front end because, you know, right now -- these guys are all great high school players, okay, but to become a great college player, you have to go work and you have to develop and you have to put in the time and the effort to continue to develop yourself.
But I do think -- I'll be honest with you; this is the University of Florida. There's a standard. There's a tradition. There's expectations here. And I think our staff worked hard, but I'm also blessed being at a place that has impeccable academic reputation, one of the highest academic standards and one of the best educations you can get in America. It is a place where I walk into an office that already has three crystal ball National Championships in there. There's not a lot of places that have that many crystal balls in there. You go into the main lobby and there's three Heisman Trophy winners, three Campbell Trophy winners for academic Heismans, if you will.
You know, the history, the tradition of the University certainly helped us as a coaching staff be able to put this class together and hopefully help us continue to build to the level and expectations that I know I expect and I'm sure that everyone in the Gator Nation expects.
Q. One of your challenges is your offense. Talk about the nuances of recruiting Billy Gonzales, who has a great track record here, and working with players like Jacob Copeland. As I recall Copeland said something about Billy looking at his footwork, which apparently impressed him?
DAN MULLEN: I think it is. When you look, one of the great things, also, is the coaching staff we put together, when they have the ability to go sit down with these prospects, and as I said, they did a great job evaluating these guys. When they go sit and meet with them, the experience that we have as a coaching staff, four out of our five defensive coaches have been coordinators, so they know, can coach specifics of the position and how you fit into the big scheme, and it's not just Todd saying it, every coach can speak with that knowledge. And very similar on offense with a lot of coordinator experience, of guys being able to come in and -- I'm really excited about the coaching staff that we have, that we were able to put together here, and not just recruiting or going out and just selling kids, but their ability to coach and develop kids. And I think when they go and sit down and meet with them and you get into the specifics about how I'm going to develop you, and not, hey, we're going to develop you because we have a great weight room. When we get in and we say, we're going to develop you, here's things you do well, here's things you do poorly, here's things we're going to teach you and here's things we're going to change, here's how to read coverages, here's the different route combinations you're going to run, and you know what, they can see what they've done, they can see what they're going to do, and you actually can put on film of showing them people that have done it in the past at the highest of levels. And guys, the success that they've had in going on to play in the NFL and beyond college and win championships in college but then even go on and have the opportunity to go play in the NFL.
When the coaches can sit down and not just talk about it or try to just sell it to you, when they can show you the facts of this is how it's going to play out, here's how we see your development going, I do think that that helps with prospects in the home that are looking to become great players, and that's what they're interested in, that work ethic, that development of wanting to become a great player, not just maybe just some of the sales part of the recruiting.
Q. Just a final word on your receiving class, and now you've got the two transfers, as well. Talk about the transfer situation if you can and your receiving class.
DAN MULLEN: Well, those two guys came in here. We have to see with them. They're in. They're working out with the team. And so I want to see -- their adjustment is going to be maybe a little bit different than the high school guys coming in because you have Tre and Van, a little bit older, have been through it before, within the program, and so expect them to really kind of pick up as college players. You know, it's not all new with the introductory teaching. We'll see. I don't have any updates on where they are eligibility wise for us, but we're excited they're working their tail off with the rest of the team right now.
Q. You said you made Jacob a priority from the beginning. Talk about how the relationship developed between you and him and when he left here last week, how confident did you feel he was on board?
DAN MULLEN: Well, you know what, early on -- we had a great relationship. He called and said, hey, Coach, I'm going to decommit and take visits, and I appreciated that, and we had a great conversation. He said, I still love Florida, I can't wait to come visit Florida, get to know you, get to know everybody in the new staff. Everything was handled right. We've communicated with him the whole time. I think obviously there was comfort with the University, there was comfort in coming and representing his home state, there was comfort in he got to go to the Under Armour All-American game and go to go play with several of our commitments that are already enrolled in school. I think there was comfort when he showed up on his visit that he could sit down with those guys and say, hey, you've been here for three weeks, what's it like now. I know you just got here, what's it like to be new here.
So I think there was a great deal of comfort for him. You know, over the last 72 hours in talking to him every time, I think he's had a lot of stress put on him, a lot of people trying to pull him in different directions, and you know, the one thing I always told him is just say, hey, you know, you've got to block that out. You've got to see and know what's best for you and your future.
You know, and it was great to see even with his announcement today. When he sat down and he did a lot of soul searching and a lot of praying, and he found that he knew in his heart this is where he belonged, that's what you want out of this process. A lot of people look at recruiting as a game; it's not. You're talking about young people's lives and their futures, and when you have a young man that can sit down there and say with all of this stress and pressure and people telling me I need to do this or I need to do that or coaches saying this or saying that, when I can sit down and know in my heart I'm going to the place I belong, everybody in the country should be excited he came here to the University of Florida because that's a young man living his dream and doing what's in his heart, and I think that really is what this is all about.
Q. And as you go about fixing this offense, so to speak, how many of these guys, including the guys from December, do you see making an impact immediately next fall?
DAN MULLEN: Well, you know what, I can't say because we haven't even been on the field yet. I see our guys working. They're buying in. That's what's really exciting. I'm seeing the guys -- I haven't seen resistance from the guys -- not just the new guys, but guys that are even in the program. I haven't seen resistance, which is fantastic, because you know what, when they made a decision to come to the University of Florida, they came here for the tradition, they came here for the University, they came here for all of those things, but the program has changed a little bit, and maybe some of the ideals within the program and how we're running the program has changed a little bit.
And I'm really excited about their buy-in, that there was no resistance, the work ethic, and how they show up and the attitude they've had of working. I'm really excited about it.
Now, we've got to see hopefully -- hopefully these guys continue to develop, get a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster, a little better shape, and once we hit spring ball, we'll see what anybody can do. Everybody gets worried about the quarterbacks; I can't throw with them right now, know what I mean? I can't even be there with a football with them. You know, hopefully we can complete a pass on air or something like that. Last time I took over a head coaching job, that was a challenge. We didn't look real good on air, and that was without a defense. I can't imagine what it's going to look like once we put the defense in front of them.
These guys, I like the attitude they have, you know, and the new guys are really buying in. The nice thing the new guys have is they did, they signed on for this. Even the ones that enrolled mid-semester, they got the chance to sit down with me and know what my expectations are going to be, so they know what to expect walking in the door. But I'm really excited about the buy-in from the guys that were already here.
Q. And you mentioned the research that you guys did and how that kind of helped this class come together, and I wanted to ask you a little bit more about that and kind of the experience that comes with that research because when you guys came into this class and some of the recruits that you guys landed, you guys were not the favorites for probably a month, two months, or you guys had ground to make up. How did you guys go about identifying who you felt were the best guys to take your shot with, because it seemed like every trip that you guys had and guys that you brought in that it was very strategic.
DAN MULLEN: Well, it was, because we were looking at our roster spots, but also, like I said, it wasn't about, okay, we want to recruit this many guys at this position. Hey, there's a spot here, but we're not going to take somebody unless we feel they fit the program. And so when we made guys -- we kind of singled guys out of how important they are, that they fit our program, we identified, this is a guy that we want, we went, our coaches worked their tail off to have them come be part of our family and understand what it is to be a Florida Gator.
And so there was that strategy. I mean, there are guys that we didn't get today. I'm much more concerned about the guys we got. As I sit there, and I go to sleep tonight, I just hope every one of these kids made decisions for the right reasons, because if they did, they're going to have the opportunity wherever they want then to be successful in their lives. That's important. I'm excited about the guys we got and excited about the research we were able to do and the decisions we make. As you said, we're very strategic of how we planned it out, especially with this second signing day. You know, the first signing day, the benefit of having the two signing days, you actually can take a breath in between and look and say, okay, now we have these spots, but again, who's going to fit where and who are we going to take to fill those spots. You know, and try to put it all together.
Q. Just to have the success that you guys had closing well in the early signing period and now today, how confident do you feel moving forward that you guys were able to get this much traction early, and what can you do with a full recruiting cycle?
DAN MULLEN: Well, hopefully a lot. I have really high expectations for the program, and I know a lot of people do. Trust me, I'll put my expectations up there against anybody and what they expect with this program. And our coaching staff, they understand and they know that, that it is, that we want to build a program that's going to compete for championships on a yearly basis. And to do that, you need to do a great job recruiting. You've got to do a great job in every aspect of recruiting, whether it's the evaluation or the recruiting, and then when they get on campus, the development of the players to put them in a position to be successful.
That's really important for us, and hopefully we continue to grow and continue to build, and every year we have a better signing class than we had the year before.
Q. You mentioned being able to take a breath between the signing dates. Do you feel any -- do you have any different feelings about the early signing period now, and any tweaks you'd like to see going forward?
DAN MULLEN: No, you know, I liked it. I always like to see how things work before you just go tweak it right away. You know, I think it was pretty successful, the early signing day, and I think everybody learned. I'd love to see how it plays out over another year to two to three years, and then all of a sudden you say, okay, this is a way we could possibly improve it now that we've been through it a couple of years.
But I'm for it. I saw a lot of benefits. You know, one of the big benefits I saw within the early signing day is, you know, one, financially you're not taking trips to see every kid every single week even though they're committed to you. You have the opportunity, and especially me as the head coach, having the opportunity to get into high schools, okay, and sit down and talk to high school coaches and meet high school coaches, because as of Saturday, I'm not allowed to go on the road recruiting again until September to potentially go to high school games, which I'm not a huge fan of because I want to be here coaching the team here, so if you do that, it's really until after Thanksgiving of next year I don't go on the road again, for me to go talk and meet and sit and talk with high school coaches face-to-face. So I think the early signing day opened up a window for the opportunity to get out there and really just do some more recruiting as a head coach. Not even with the prospects, with the coaches and getting to know the coaches.
Q. I know everyone says commit to a school, not a coach, but your relationship with Griffin McDowell, dating back nearly half a year, how did that lead you to scout him to Florida, and a guy who wasn't on your radar two months ago?
DAN MULLEN: Well, I mean, he's a guy that -- I'm a big believer, we had him in multiple camps, and so when you have the opportunity to have him in camps and you're coaching and teaching him and seeing how he responds, then you get to watch him on film and his growth from his junior to his senior year, then you get to find out the competitive nature -- he's one of those guys, you do your homework and you know an awful lot about, both as a player, as a person, as a student, and you know an awful lot about him.
You know, one of the things I wanted to -- his recruiting maybe was a little different. I know he had been committed to Mississippi State. After we left, we kind of let a little gap go and let him digest and maybe talk and meet to the new coaches and figure out what his future is. But he's a player I always knew I wanted on my team. I mean, he wasn't going to wrestle because all the recruiting stuff, and then he's going to the state wrestling meet. He's got to compete. And those are the guys that I love.
And so after kind of the dust settled a little bit, gave him that opportunity, I said, hey, is there interest, and he said, absolutely. I mean, it's two and a half, three hours from his house, the opportunity to come here, stay close to home, be near his family and obviously come to the University of Florida, he was really excited about. I'm real excited about him because you know so much about him. One of the things -- one of the things I think you get in trouble as a coach sometimes, all of a sudden you know so much about one guy, and then you just see like a quick highlight film of somebody else and you get all excited about this new guy that you don't really know much about, and you know all the good and bad about somebody else, that you can fall for the new, quick, shiny five-minute highlight video. You've got to be really cautious as a coach that you do your proper research and you know exactly who you're getting as a player, and with Griffin we know exactly who we're getting.
Q. Where is the helicopter?
DAN MULLEN: I don't know. You know, I mean, they were saying that was a big deal. Like I've been doing that for years. I was kind of like -- everyone was like, wow, we're using a helicopter. I'm like -- even Steve is like, is that your first ride in a helicopter? No, I've been using that for years to get to high school games and cruise around --
Q. Go to work?
DAN MULLEN: The state of Mississippi. You know what I was thankful? I always want two pilots because I don't know how to fly it myself if one goes down. If they need to go to the bull pen, they can go to somebody else. But I've been in some different ones, too. I've been in the bulb, and I've been in the bulb with John Hevesy, and he moves to look out the window, and the whole thing tips. I'm like, don't move again, man. Just sit still. I've been up there with a little bulb one, one time, a guy is like, hey, we've got to put it down. I don't feel good about this right now. I'm like, get it down. I don't know who I was with, an assistant coach. He didn't get back on. I ended up going to the game. He's like, I'll meet you there or something, Coach. If I need to turn in my resignation, I do, but I'm not getting back in. I'm like, well, the pilot is not going to take off if he don't feel good about himself.
Q. What was the thinking? Is that just something you do? You don't think it makes a splash?
DAN MULLEN: I'm sure it makes a splash, but I mean, it's getting around recruiting. I mean, as you said, there's such a small window for me as a head coach to get around to see everybody, and you want to get from one place and jump around from place to place. You know, it's something I imagine in the future that we'll continue doing, probably do even more, especially you get into -- especially around the state. If you're in a metropolitan area, I'd rather be visiting with high school coaches than sitting in traffic, and I'd probably rather be visiting with high school coaches than driving 45 minutes to an hour through the country to get from one school to the next. You know, it's something that we'll continue to do. I mean, we use the plane -- we use planes and fly around from city to city to see guys, and it's something we'll continue to do in the future.
Q. You were here with the 2006-07 classes, which were pretty historic classes really in retrospect. Georgia today put together an amazing class. I don't know if you paid attention. Alabama has been doing this for a while. Just what is the challenge recruiting in the SEC?
DAN MULLEN: Well, that's what it is, you know. You know, I think the one thing is you've got to -- you want to win a championship, you've got to be in the top in recruiting. We have got to get ourselves to be one of the top classes in the country. I think we signed a great class today.
I don't always get overboard in rankings, and I always kind of remind myself, it's like Scott P. always got his thing about Tom Brady and how many guys he passed up on, that he was a genius for drafting Tom Brady in the sixth round, but he also drafted people in every round before that, too, that he could have taken him if he was that much of a genius. As a head coach, that experience -- and I get reminded, if I go back to it, I want to say it was like the 2011 or 2012 class in an article came out that said, hey, Dan Mullen will not be the head coach very much longer if he signs guys like Dak Prescott to play quarterback and Preston Smith to be a defensive end and Josh Robinson as a running back. They're the worst recruiting class they've ever had, the lowest ranking class they've had in 10 years, and those were the guys -- Benardrick McKinney, some linebacker that no one has heard of, and they're actually going to go down as one of the best recruiting classes in the history of that school because we didn't get caught up in the rankings part of it. The rankings is a big deal. What you've got to do is trust your evaluation on where those guys are and what they are.
Now, the ranking part of it is important. I mean, I remember, you go back to the -- was it the 2005 class, right? You go turn on Percy Harvin's highlight video right now, it doesn't take an expert to say, that boy can play. That's still probably the best high school film I've ever seen in my life. So that doesn't take a big challenge to realize that and evaluate that. So you've got to trust your rankings and what your feeling on the players are. But we also know the expectation here is to sign top recruiting classes, and we need to do that in the future.
Q. Is Percy involved with the program now?
DAN MULLEN: You know what, I haven't -- he was over in the office during the Christmas break, in the dead period I got to see him, and my wife sees him now because we just rented a house, and she sees him walking the dogs every morning after she brings the kids to school. My wife sees him more than I do, but he's back here in town and living in Gainesville, so it's great to have him back around. Hopefully we're going to get him back in school and finish his degree.
Q. Four more additions are the guys that were suspended when you took over. I'm wondering what went into your process in terms of allowing those guys back and making sure that they were a good fit for the program.
DAN MULLEN: Yeah, you know, I let a lot of -- there was a lot of different processes going on with that in every phase, and I did my research and studied with it, and we got through the semester. I wanted to see where everybody was academically and how seriously they took the responsibilities of being a member of this football program. And met with everybody that was involved.
You know, to me, one of the things I talked to them about is obviously you're going to be held to a slightly different standard because of what's happened in the past, but I'm not going to judge you for what you've done in the past. That all happened before I got here. I am going to judge you, though, on what happens in the future. And I will tell you that you're probably going to be held to a higher standard, not just in my office, but to other people outside within the process of, because of what's happened. But you know, to see those guys -- to have them come back, to have them sit down, and I know they were very -- they're thankful for the opportunity to show what they can do as part of our football program, not just on the field but as part of the football program and what it means to be a member of this program.
Q. You have a lot of guys listed as athletes on the roster right now. How much do you look into spring to see kind of where guys fit?
DAN MULLEN: I just like guys in that way because I don't like on a roster typecasting people into roles, especially guys that are going to potentially do multiple things for us. So you'll probably see that a lot in the future, that I list a lot of guys -- we like to list guys as athletes that have different roles. I mean, there will be guys that are on a roster that are going to be the starting shield on punt. If I put shield down right there, people are like, what's that. Athlete, that's good, you're an athlete. I mean, I don't know. Always go back, remember Riley Cooper, right, his big deal was I'm starting left missile. It made a big joke out of it, but that's a critical role to the team that might not get the glory in the media guy, so you list those guys as athletes.
Q. And you mentioned not wanting to get behind on either side of the line. Is there a number that you'd kind of like to get --
DAN MULLEN: Well, within the roster, we have our roster numbers that we keep with offensive and defensive linemen. You like to be at least 16 offensive and 16 defensive linemen just on the roster overall. To be able to roll the guys through and keep that depth going. But one of the things I know, it'll be a big deal because what you've got to watch is the years. If you have big years. I think we have a bunch of senior offensive linemen this coming season that you've got to make sure that -- I think you're always better balancing than trying to go sign five or six at any position in any recruiting class. To me you'd kind of like to have that balanced recruiting class. I mean, I'd love to sign 22 guys each year, one at every single position. Or maybe 23, and we'll throw in an athlete or two in there within each recruiting class.
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