The First Law of Holes states: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
Dan Mullen tried to dig out of one Wednesday. Before anyone asked a question at his weekly SEC teleconference, Mullen tried to clarify the Gators’ approach to recruiting.
“I’d like to touch on something for all the Gator Nation and all our great fans, something that was taken out of context in Monday’s press conference,” he said. “As it pertains to recruiting — our staff recruits nonstop. We grind at recruiting all day, every day. We’re always recruiting and working the best to get great players that fit the Gator Standard and bring them here to our program.”
So, the good news for fans is Mullen and his staff are doing their best to recruit football talent.
And the bad news is Mullen and his staff are doing their best to recruit football talent.
The results have not been up to the Gator Standard, at least if that’s the standard Urban Meyer set. At this point, fans would take the Will Muschamp Standard.
But I’m not here to lament Mullen’s recruiting prowess. What strikes me is his knack for making a bad situation worse.
Kirby Smart showed he gets the recruiting game
In this case, everybody knows Florida’s had problems luring top-rated talent. After Georgia whomped the Gators last Saturday, the talent gap was such that Kirby Smart was asked about recruiting.
Georgia’s coach went into a dissertation on how recruiting is the end-all be-all. How it must be a relentless pursuit. How you can’t consistently out-scheme teams with superior players.
Whether Smart meant to or not (ahem), it turned the spotlight on his coaching counterpart in the other locker room. Mullen shooed the talent-gap question away, noting that the Gators beat Smart’s collection of 5-stars last year.
His dismissiveness made it more of an issue, so it came up again in his Monday news conference. Mullen blew it off again.
“We’re in the season right now,” he said. “We’ll do recruiting after the season. When it gets to recruiting time, we can talk about recruiting. Next question.”
The next question should be, “Do you know the First Law of Holes?”
Dan Mullen has done this before
All Mullen really did was turn up the heat on himself, which has become his go-to move.
We saw it last year when he refused to back down from his “Pack the Swamp” rant as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on. He minimized the Cotton Bowl as an early spring practice scrimmage.
This year, Mullen scoffed at suggestions he’d been out-schemed at Kentucky, noting the Gators had more total yards. When a touch of humility and self-reflection is called for, he gets defensive.
This isn’t Mullen’s first rodeo. After 13 years as a head coach, he should know how to handle prickly questions even if he hates them.
He’d caught a lot of grief for Saturday’s post-game media performance. He couldn’t have been surprised when the recruiting question popped back up Monday.
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Mullen could have used it as an opportunity to sell the program. Talk about how UF is a top-five academic school. Gush about the $85 million football facility that’s opening next spring.
Instead, he went all “Next Question,” which is a sure way of keeping the question alive. National media weighed in.
“Florida is stuck in the mud, and Dan Mullen is doubling down,” was ESPN’s headline.
The Athletic rounded up comments from anonymous coaches and staffers at other schools. This one from a “Power Five recruiting staffer” was a doozy:
“Mullen is an embarrassment to the recruiting profession. Mullen has shown a propensity to be clueless with why recruiting is so important, and this just adds to what is already known out there: He doesn’t get it. By ‘it,’ I mean he doesn’t understand what it takes to be an elite program. Kirby was 100 percent correct.”
Those observations came from people who fully understood the context of Mullen’s Monday comments. But he was right, some people misinterpreted what he meant.
“Dan Mullen Says He Doesn’t Recruit During Football Season, Which May Explain Why Florida Sucks,” was the headline at Barstool Sports.
The fact so many people are talking about Florida’s recruiting problems only makes Florida’s recruiting problems worse. The issue obviously isn’t going away, but this latest flare-up should have lasted one news cycle.
Instead, Mullen was still dealing with it Wednesday. No matter how he tried to clarify things, they’ve gotten needlessly worse in the past few days.
That’s what happens when you don’t learn the First Law of Holes.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun’s sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley