It was a big day in Athens, as former five-stars Derion Kendrick and Arik Gilbert transferred to UGA. Those additions will help Georgia’s immediate future. But a different piece of news from Tuesday should have positive effects on the UGA program long after Kendrick and Gilbert are gone.
When ranking the factors that have helped contributed to UGA’s rise under Kirby Smart, the lack of another true powerhouse in the SEC East has to be high on the list. Fortunately for Georgia fans, it looks like things are going to stay that way through at least 2027. That’s right folks, the University of Florida is happy with Dan Mullen.
Sure, Mullen’s Gators beat Smart’s Bulldogs in Jacksonville last year. The fact it occurred with a handful of UGA starters out and a 4th-string QB under center doesn’t seem to bother Florida fans. If you’re a Georgia Bulldog, you should be thrilled that meeting the once heralded “Gator Standard” is apparently not nearly as hard as it was in the days of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.
The dynamics of the Georgia-Florida rivalry have changed dramatically in the last few years. Florida is now not just willing to employ the Donnan to Smart’s Spurrier, but is happy to extend his contract and make him the third-highest paid coach in the SEC.
Dan Mullen’s salary now ranks two spots higher in the conference than any of his recruiting classes ever has. If nothing else, this moment should serve as a reminder that Jimmy Sexton remains undefeated. Sexton floated Dan’s desire to be an NFL head coach to Adam Schefter as the coaching carousel was turning. The NFL said “no thanks,” but the Gators paid big time anyways.
There is comedy, there is high comedy, and then there is the irony of an extension and raise being announced for a man that some have labeled ‘The Portal Master’ on the same day that Kirby Smart secured two massive additions to his roster through the same avenue that Mullen once relied on to put band-aids on his biggest deficiencies as a head coach.
All off-season Georgia fans have sat and watched media members fawn over Mullen. Today the punchline arrived to what has felt like a long running joke.
The college football media has worked as hard as possible to ignore the fact that Florida’s roster is even further away from Georgia’s than it was when Mullen arrived in Gainesville three-and-a-half years ago.
They have called him “a better gameday coach than Smart,” but ignored the fact that we have never seen Smart have an organizational gaffe anywhere close to the one that occurred when Mullen’s Gators came out for the 2019 WLOCP. They were forced to call two timeouts on the first drive of the game due to the offense having mismatched wristbands. It’s hard to believe that the program he oversees would ever have that type of error, especially coming off of a bye week.
Kirby Smart seems to get slammed at every turn. Even though he is one of only three coaches in college football with 50+ wins, a conference championship, and a national title appearance since his hiring in 2015, the pervasive narrative is that Smart wastes talent and can’t get out of his own way.
It’s hard to imagine how severe the commentary on Smart would be if he were ever to have field the best offense in UGA history and parlay it into an 8-4 record. Mullen did just that in 2020. Along the way he lost to a three-win LSU team because a senior lost his composure at a crucial juncture, started a fight at midfield because he disagreed with a no-call against Missouri, and called the players that lost by 35 points to Oklahoma in the bowl game “his 2021 team.” For bonus points, Mullen called for his school to fill the stadium at the height of a pandemic and wore a Darth Vader outfit to his press conference after appearing unhinged when sparking the fight against Missouri.
There are a lot of questions that could be asked about any of those incidents, but few if any in the media have chosen to. Instead of wondering why the first game Dan Mullen ever played with mostly his own recruits was a five touchdown blowout, the college football commentariat has spent the last six months heaping praise on Mullen.
Instead of asking why Mullen sat Kyle Trask behind Felipe Franks until an injury forced his hand, they have continued to rehash Fields versus Fromm. Instead of asking why Mullen continues to retain his old buddy Todd Grantham, they have wondered if Kirby Smart has a development problem.
(In case you’re wondering, every five-star player that Smart has recruited to Georgia that has finished their career has been an NFL Draft Pick. Two-thirds of those five-stars have gone in the first two rounds of the draft, which is 30% higher than the national average. Smart is putting 62.5% of his four-stars in the league. Impressive, considering the fact 75% of four-stars will never be drafted. What about the three-stars you say? He’s turning them into NFL draft picks at a rate five times better than the national average.)
With today’s transfer news, the narratives around Smart were sadly predictable.
“Anything short of a national title is a massive failure for Kirby now! Another five-star talent for Smart to waste!”
Smart has made plenty of mistakes in his tenure, but so far he seems to learned from all of them. Arguably his biggest error was promoting James Coley to offensive coordinator after the 2018 season. He brought in Todd Monken and handed over the offense to him. Once Monken got to call a game with one of the quarterbacks he had planned on playing, Georgia’s passing attack flourished to the tune of 400 yards.
Smart’s job is to turn the talent he has acquired into championships. We have seen that the media will hold him accountable for that responsibility at every turn.
What a gig it must be to coach Florida in the year 2021. You’re not responsible for recruiting anywhere better than in the middle tier of the conference. You can embarrass the university a few times a year without any real consequence. You don’t have to be any closer to dethroning your biggest rival than the program was when you arrived. You get a job with some of the best facilities in the sport, you get to sit on one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country, and you don’t have to turn any of those considerable advantages into a national title contender.
In the end, all indicators point to Mullen’s win over Georgia in 2020 being much the same as Donnan’s over Spurrier in 1997. A weird victory in a weird year, that didn’t change the trajectories of either program. Much like Dawg fans in 1997, Gator fans have allowed the outlier to distract them from the information in the entire sample.
When it comes both to the media and his own fanbase, Dan Mullen has pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. If you’re a Georgia fan, you should hope they never notice.