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Inside Florida football coach Dan Mullen’s two worlds: part Darth Vader, part Yoda

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dan Mullen arrives at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium one morning in August looking like death warmed over. Florida ‘s head football coach isn’t doing a bad Ed Orgeron impression as he croaks hello, sounding as if he has gravel lodged in his windpipe. He has strep throat.

He trudges upstairs to his office and downs a packet of Vitamin C before heading next door to lead the daily staff meeting. When an athletic trainer provides an injury report, Mullen’s eyes light up about a player who by all accounts should be back practicing but isn’t available. He smirks. "Players take after their coaches, I guess," he says.

Those in the room chortle, looking over to the player’s position coach, who takes the jab in stride. They’re used to this. Mullen might be under the weather, but he rarely misses an opportunity to needle others, whether it’s his staff, his players, opponents or the media. Weeks earlier, when he was asked about Georgia being the preseason favorite to win the SEC East, he couldn’t let it slide. He quipped, "Didn’t they say that last year?"

They did, and the Gators beat the Bulldogs 44-28 and won the East. If a late onside kick ricocheted differently, Florida may have upset Alabama and won the SEC. That team last season was loaded. It had a Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback, Kyle Trask , and the highest drafted tight end in NFL history, Kyle Pitts , who was selected fourth overall by the Atlanta Falcons . Kadarius Toney , a human joystick at receiver, was taken 16 picks later by the New York Giants . College Pick ‘Em

Pick the winner of 10 college football matchups each week. Play straight up or with confidence. Make Your Picks The season should have been viewed as an all-around success — a key step forward in Mullen’s rebuilding efforts. Four years after returning to Gainesville, he had led the program to within shouting distance of the College Football Playoff and had broken a drought of offensive skill players selected in the first round of the draft that dated back to Tim Tebow in 2010.

But Mullen’s national reputation took a hit. He was roundly panned for saying the crowd was a "major factor" in an October loss at Texas A&M and for calling on UF to "pack the Swamp” despite an ongoing pandemic. Two weeks later, he got into a shouting match with Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz after an apparent late hit on Trask led to a brawl at the end of the first half. When the field was cleared, Mullen returned to incite the crowd. Then, during his postgame news conference, he answered questions while wearing a Darth Vader costume . He was fined $25,000 for "violating SEC bylaws governing sportsmanship."

The bitter cherry on top came after a 35-point loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. While the loss itself was understandable — multiple starters, including Pitts and Toney, didn’t participate — Mullen’s postgame comments missed the […]

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