Carlson: Why Florida coach Dan Mullen enters Cotton Bowl against OU atop the rankings — for wackiness
Dan Mullen wore a Darth Vader costume for his postgame press conference on Halloween.
That might’ve been amusing under normal circumstances.
But nothing was normal that October afternoon in Gainesville.
Only a couple hours earlier, the Florida coach had incited a brawl. His quarterback, Kyle Trask, took a cheap shot from a Missouri defender right before halftime, but as Trask walked calmly to the locker room — no doubt heeding the advice from coaches just like Mullen to stay calm and not retaliate — Mullen charged toward the referees.
He did not keep calm, and his players followed his lead, mixing it up with Missouri players.
Punches were thrown.
Yes, punches plural.
It was ugly.
But Mullen, after calm was restored and teams were in the locker rooms, returned to the field. He waved his arms. He pumped his fists. It looked like a curtain call of a crazy man.
And then Mullen showed up to face serious questions about a fairly serious situation dressed as Darth Gator.
Close your eyes and try to imagine Lincoln Riley doing that. Any of it. The costume. The brawl. The curtain call.
Heck, it’s even hard to imagine such antics from Mike Gundy, who is much more of a live wire than the his Bedlam counterpart. The OSU coach has actually shown up for a press conference in costume, though his referee shirt to promote a stripe-the-stadium game seems mild in comparison to inciting an on-field brawl.
Mullen has had a career’s worth of bizarre moments just this season. His Gators have been splendid despite the wackiness, falling just short of an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Instead, they have a Heisman Trophy finalist and are making the program’s third consecutive appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl.
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Florida will face OU on Wednesday night in the Cotton Bowl.
The Gators have returned to national relevance, but whether they’ve been good or bad, the program has oft had interesting characters in the head coach’s office. Steve Spurrier. Ron Zook. Jim McElwain.
None of those hold a candle to Mullen.
Now, McElwain comes close. There was a photo of a naked man and a shark that went viral — if you Google it, you will find it, and I've been told to avoid it at all costs — and some internet sleuths believed it was McElwain. It was not, but the fact many thought it was tells you he was a bit of a character.
Still, he never sparked a brawl like Mullen did this season.
And that incident in the Missouri game wasn’t the only weirdness.
After allowing 41 points and losing at Texas A&M on Oct. 10, Mullen started whining unprovoked about the crowd size for Florida’s home games. He wanted Florida administrators to ignore their guidelines limiting capacity at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and allow the Gators to “Pack the Swamp” for their next game against LSU.
Never mind the pandemic, I guess.
Ignore the Gators’ bad defense, I suppose.
Look over here at this crazy idea about having 90,000 people together during COVID!
Florida administrators immediately dismissed the idea, but for several days, Mullen stuck by his wacky guns.
Then, he and about three dozen of his players tested positive for COVID, the game had to be postponed (more on the rescheduled game in a minute), and Mullen ultimately apologized sorta kinda in the if-I-offended-anyone-I’m-sorry way for his tone-deaf comments.
Then came the ugliness in the Missouri game. Mullen was ultimately fined, and a couple of his players were suspended.
Then there was an uncomfortable scene on the sideline during the first half of the Kentucky game. Mullen spent quite some time ripping into defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and while Grantham remained calm and continued doing his job, Mullen looked completely unhinged.
Then there was that postponed game against LSU. The Tigers scored a massive upset, but only after an LSU player lost a shoe and a Florida defender drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing it down field. That happened late in the game when mistakes are magnified and discipline is key.
Is it any surprise a Gator would do something that makes you scratch your head?
He was only following his head coach's example.
Listen, I’m not here to suggest Mullen is the only college football coach with a spot on the wacky meter. Gundy ranks. Ditto for Jim Harbaugh and Dabo Swinney, though the Clemson coach has become more insufferable than wacky. But Mullen has moved to the top.
When you’re in a conference with Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin and you out-bizzaro them, you know the air is rare where Dan Mullen is.
Maybe that Darth Vader costume can help him breathe.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.