Monday, December 10, 2007

One-on-one with Coach Dan Mullen

Larry Vettel
Dec 21, 2004

Sunday evening I had a chance to visit on the phone with one of the new members of the Gator coaching staff, quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen. After helping Alex Smith to a top four finish in the Heisman voting, Mullen will attempt to do the same with Gator junior-to-be Chris Leak. Here is a partial (edited) transcript.

Vettel: How tough has it been to prepare for the opportunity at Florida while still doing justice to Utah and the kids who got you to this point?
Mullen: It's been real tough, I mean Urban's put together a great plan. I have yet to make it to Gainesville even, which I can't wait to get down there. But I've been staying here trying to keep people focused on the bowl game in our own program. The great thing that's happened for us out here is that the University of Utah has hired a new head coach, Kyle Whittingham, the defensive coordinator who is already here. That alone has brought complete stability back to the program and allowed the kids breathe a sigh of relief and now get their focus back on football and winning this bowl game.

Vettel: Talk to me about this offense. It does a lot of similar things to what Florida does, but also mixes in some unique things with the quarterback running with the ball. How would you describe what you guys do out there?

Mullen: Really when the offensive was created what we wanted to do was spread people out and make them defend the entire field. When you talk to defensive coaches, what causes them the most issues, you know? One being a team that can throw the ball. If you want to be a successful passing team in college the best way you do that is by spreading the field out, getting into empty sets, spread it out and let the quarterback see what's really going on. When I was at Notre Dame with Bob Davie we'd be playing Tennessee and Michigan and those people. You know he'd be kinda worried but feeling okay with the defense. Then we'd go play Navy and he'd be in a cold sweat, so what we tried to is combine the option football with that spread passing attack to really cause defense problems and force them to stay in one defense.

Vettel: Most teams are either pass-oriented or run oriented. They are option teams or they're not. You're basically creating a three-style hybrid. My question is, how hard is that to teach, and thus how hard will it be for returning players to learn here in Gainesville?

Mullen: In all the offenses I've been involved with I think it's the easiest offense. Now, the tricky part is it takes a little while to get used to it. But once you have things down, very little changes. We don't change a whole lot of our plan from week to week. When you're coaching the quarterback and you can say, okay this is the defense they're running this week, he'll come in and say, I pretty much know the game plan already because I know how we attack this defense. Our goal obviously is by the end of spring and by the end of camp, to get everything cranked up and everybody on it for the opening game against Wyoming next year and we get a chance to let it go a little bit.

Vettel: One thing that Urban said in his press conference that really stuck with me was that, really there is no offense, per se. There is a scheme and a philosophy that is tailored to the personnel. You've had it with Josh Harris at Bowling Green and now Alex Smith at Utah, now you're inheriting a guy in Chris Leak who has had quite a bit of success. Give us a sense of how things can be tailored for the skills of the quarterback.

Mullen: What we'll do is in designing who is going to carry the ball, or who is going to touch the ball. What we can go is tweak little things on reads. We were at Bowling Green and we had Josh Harris, who was basically a 235-pound tailback who could throw the ball. We would just line up there and almost be a single-wing team and let him pound away at people. When we came out here to Utah, well, we had Alex, and the best way to make people defend was to find more ways to get the ball into the running backs hands and one way to do that was to make people back up and defend the pass. From everything I know about Chris (Leak) he's a great student of the game and he's obviously a great passer. From what I've seen so far he going to be much more in the mold of an Alex Smith; a smart, good decision maker who is a great passer. So we can kind of stay on the same path we've been on here. The thing I'm excited about is I hear there are great wide receivers and a lot of skill guys we can create matchups against and cause some issues for the defense that way.

Vettel: Yeah, you got some good toys to play with.

Mullen: I can't wait, I'm thrilled and I think it's going to be exciting, you know and I hope all the kids down there are excited to get to learn a new offense. Our offense is a lot of fun and kids enjoy playing in it because there are a lot of ways to spread the ball around. If you're a receiver you are going to get to run with the ball we're going to pitch it to you and you're gonna run. If you're a running back, we're going to throw the ball to you and move it that way. We're going to try and create matchups and get the ball into our playmakers hands as much as possible.

Vettel: Have you had a chance to talk with Chris Leak?

Mullen: I spoke with him briefly, just to introduce myself. He and I talked and his biggest focus right now, and Chris knows this, is to beat the Hurricanes. That'll be a great launching point for our season next year to come away from the Peach Bowl with a big victory.

Later this week I'll have more with Dan Mullen, including his personal scouting report on the Gators' new head coach. Plus he shares his thoughts on spending New Year's Eve watching the Gators and Hurricanes, and why it's important to all the coaches coming to Gainesville that Utah get the job done against Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

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