The Vols Will Be Happy to Give Florida That Second “L”

Stop what you’re doing. Take a sniff of the wind. Smell that?

Dang. That’s nasty.

Along with the normal, day-to-day aromas that waft through our world, there’s a new smell attacking the sinuses of Vol Nation this week. This scent brings with it a sense of brackish water, clogged with rotting plants; the dry, dusty smell of lizard scales dragging along the turf at an upscale retirement golf club; a whiff of absolute crazy that validates the #FloridaMan hashtag and mythology; and then a combination of snowbirds rubbing on sunscreen and Absorbine Junior followed by a lethal wave of red-algae tainted salt water littered with fish who’ve been dead for a few weeks…so dead that even the pelicans won’t fly near them.

Yep. You’re being tortured by the stench of…Florida.

It’s Florida Hate Week, which in Vol Nation is just like the other 51 weeks of the year but a little more intense. This is the week that the Florida Gators come to town. We don’t like Gators. We’ve never liked Gators. That hasn’t changed and it won’t anytime soon.

But this Florida game is going to be different. For one thing, the Gators have a new head coach. Dan Mullen’s definitely making waves in Gainesville. He inadvertently quoted the latest entrant into the Nick Saban bad coaching rehab center (Alabama intern Butch Jones) in a preseason presser, was somehow involved in a bizarre costume party with his team, and tried to engage his players on a few occasions to dance with him.

He didn’t really have any takers.

Mullen has surprisingly become a figure of fun for the rest of the SEC, but not so much for Florida fans. In fact, the Gator following is apparently apathetic enough that they reportedly returned a slew of their allotted visitor tickets to UT on Monday.

That’s okay by me. That just means there will be more Volunteers packing into Neyland for all the festivities. But you have to wonder–what’s the deal in Gainesville? Florida fans–who have always traveled well–don’t seem to want to be at this year’s game.

This is a year where the Tennessee-Florida rivalry is impossible to decipher before the game. Both teams have first-year coaches. Both teams have depth issues, especially on the line. Both teams have extremely talented players. Neither team has figured itself out yet.

So for me, at least, this game is kind of a tossup. Except for one thing…

Head coaches.

There’s a world of difference between Jeremy Pruitt and Dan Mullen. For one thing, I get the feeling Pruitt ain’t dancin’ for nobody and certainly not on the sidelines. But Mullen seems to thrive on it whether his players do or not.

It’s kind of odd, actually, how hard Mullen works to get his players engaged and how unengaged they remain. I mean…we all know how Pruitt gets his players to engage with him.

For some reason, Mullen seems to be in a world of his own and that makes me really curious–if his team isn’t really engaged in what he’s doing, then are they listening to what he says? Are those coaching moments that are so necessary to develop young talents into their full potential actually being created?

Before the season, I thought that Dan Mullen’s return to Florida would bring things that former coach Jim McElwain had not–especially regarding team discipline, player development, and a meticulous attention to detail. The first two are up in the air, but the last one was addressed before a single down of football had been played.

Relentess effort? Keep in mind that in order for Mullen to post this to all his followers, that typo in “relentless” wasn’t spotted by the graphic artist who created the image, the graphics department at Florida, the PR folks in the Sports Information Department, Mullen’s staff and, finally Dan Mullen himself. Yep. You heard that right. A blatant spelling error likely passed through all kinds of different hands and no one had a relentess effort when it came to proofreading. It’s almost like Florida was waiting for something to bring them that second “L”.

Hmm…

I’ll admit it–I’ve been having fun with this typo. I was going to write this entire column without any L’s but just couldn’t bring myself to do that to OWR editor Charlie Burris.

That being said, this game has generated a different kind of excitement than usual. Which first-year coach is going to triumph on Saturday? Will it be the no-nonsense, you-will-listen-when-I’m-talking-to-you, hard-nosed Jeremy Pruitt? Or will it be the disco-dancing, sideline-prancing, Butch-Jones-cliche-romancing Dan Mullen? Which young squad will overcome all the obstacles Saturday night at Neyland, under the lights, as we celebrate the 1998 BCS championship team? I’m excited to have these questions answered, especially since I’ll actually be there in person to see the game.

So, take another whiff of that rancid swampy breeze wandering up here from Gainesville. Notice anything different?

I do.

Every other year, Florida oozes like Swamp slime into Neyland, broadcasting all the mystique they earned under Steve Spurrier–all those heartbreaking losses, all the snarky quips. Two years ago, with their little “duck pulling a truck” punch line, the Vols shut them up. Last year, the nails started to go into the Bama intern’s coffin with horrible play-calling and a porous defense. Then this year comes along, and we see this:

Yeah. I recognize that stench too. I caught the first whiff when Kentucky upset the Gators and ended a 31-year losing streak. As the cheesy little dance videos started to show up, the stench grew stronger. Now it’s almost unbearable, like Tim Tebow’s high-pitched, grating voice on SEC Nation, and all that Gator mystique has dissipated into the putrid wave nearing Knoxville. Why, you ask?

Because we’re not getting the old Florida Gators football team. No. This version of Florida isn’t as intimidating and doesn’t share in that old mystique. Dan Mullen may want his team to be the Incredible Hulk but that’s not the Florida Gators we’ve been seeing. We’ve been seeing the ABBA version of Florida football, like this:

The only thing left for Mullen to do is to adopt a lonely turnover trash can and give it a loving home. Because you see–if you’re going to tell the world that your team is about “relentess effort” you haven’t displayed that effort yourself as a coach.

Whoops. Wait a second. Let me translate that for Gators: if you’re going to te the word that your team is about “relentess effort”, you haven’t dispayed that effort yoursef as a coach.

Gator-English is really hard for me to write…

But seriously–a coach needs to pay attention to details, to develop his players properly, to ensure their conditioning is safe and healthy, and to get them focused on the GAME and not a bunch of cute stuff that doesn’t have squat to do with their common purpose. And so Vols fans, who’ve dreaded the Florida game every year for about thirty years, aren’t seeing that cocky, arrogant Florida squad coming to Neyland. They’re seeing guys in masks dancing around their practice facility and guys with air guns and frying pans getting into fights on campus with a bookie that’s still furious about last year, coached by a man who seems to have adopted all the annoying habits of an Alabama intern while pontificating about “relentess effort”.

Ahhh…there we go. All of a sudden, that breeze smells really sweet. You know why, of course. Instead of hating or dreading the Gators this year, we should reward them for their relentess effort. We should give them that “L” they’re missing, and then we should sing about it.

Once those Gators climbed ol’ Rocky Top
Lookin’ for their second L
Gators won’t stay long on Rocky Top
Reckon they’ll find their L
Don’t like lizards on ol’ Rocky Top
Their Swamp’s too stinky by far
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Smell Gator teams from afar.

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Killin’ Gators for me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Vols will win by three…

Good thing Dan Mullen thinks it’s a catchy tune, isn’t it? This Saturday, we’ll be able to watch him dance to it while he whistles along with the Pride of the Southland Band. But all good things come to those who wait.

If nothing else, at least he’ll find that second “L”