Imagine this scenario: It’s Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. The U.S. midterm elections have rocked the political world one way or the other. You’re probably still stuffed from that huge Thanksgiving feast, yet thankful that you’ve left your weird uncle’s house and returned to Gainesville. And the Gators football team, led by coach Dan Mullen, is floundering down the stretch of a once-promising season. Mullen decides to start Feleipe Franks at quarterback against Florida State after some rough outings from freshman Emory Jones. Mullen still has a shot at a bowl bid in his first season as head coach, but he needs to win against the Seminoles.
He loses. Badly.
UF misses out on a bowl game for two consecutive seasons for the first time since 1986.
How does the university respond? How does the fanbase respond? How do you respond?
Probably very poorly on all fronts.
The university, for all the PR work it has to accomplish, will laude the positives and diminish the negatives. Press releases will push glowing reviews on how Jones took his first steps to growing into a fine starter, or how running back Jordan Scarlett reformed his character in light of his previous legal issues. Nary a negative word will make its way out of the University Athletics Association.
Granted, that is exactly what is expected of the UAA. It isn’t there to push dirt out into the open, and I don’t begrudge it for doing its job. But at the same time, tough questions would need to be asked after a potentially terrible season such as the one Gators fans experienced in 2017. The university cannot ask those questions.
The fanbase can.
Folks have already called for basketball coach Mike White’s resignation/firing, and that’s coming off of an Elite Eight appearance last year and wins against No. 18 Kentucky and No. 12 Auburn. The expectations Florida fans have are notoriously unreasonable. Coach Urban Meyer, winner of two of UF’s three national championships, was admitted to a Gainesville hospital with chest pains because of the amount of stress he endured, presumably from overbearing fans.
Personally, I know how I would react to a less-than-average season from this team. Though the core of the staff has coached with each other for a long time, it has also had just one season — 12 games and a spring scrimmage — to move deck chairs around on this hypothetical Titanic. The fingerprints of this staff are hardly on the roster. But Mullen and Co. will have the entire offseason to recruit. This — as opposed to earlier this year when top prospect Trey Dean didn't know who UF’s new secondary coach was during his official visit — is the ideal scenario.
Self-reflection in individual fans is a rarity, but it’s even more scarce in collective fanbases. My advice would be to brace for failures and be pleasantly surprised at progress.
This is the University of Florida, however, where successful coaches are called out for not being successful enough. Yes, there are obvious faults to White’s late-game coaching. Sure, Meyer’s detractors griped about lagging efforts once coach Ron Zook’s recruits either graduated or were drafted. Fans and reporters alike share a common interest in the sense that we would all like questions answered in those cases.
So if Mullen’s offense looks like Sisyphus with a football, or if defensive coordinator Todd Grantham allows 300 yards to open the season against Charleston Southern, how will you react?
The real question is: If the 2018 Gators football team sucks, how explosive are the trash-can fires around midtown?