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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Counting stars: Dan Mullen, Kirby Smart and Florida football’s recruiting woes

The Gators and Bulldogs head coaches sang different tunes about recruiting this weekend

Florida football coach Dan Mullen refused to comment on recruiting Monday, but Georgia coach Kirby Smart said enough for both of them Saturday.
Florida football coach Dan Mullen refused to comment on recruiting Monday, but Georgia coach Kirby Smart said enough for both of them Saturday.

It took less than a minute for someone to ask Florida head coach Dan Mullen a question about the Gators’ recruiting during his Monday media availability, and he looked as if he would rather take a deep swig of expired milk.

“We’re in the season right now,” the fourth-year coach interjected. “We’ll do recruiting after the season and when it gets to recruiting time, we can talk about recruiting.”

The reporter attempted to follow up on Mullen’s comment, but the coach quickly asked for the next question.

Meanwhile, as rival Georgia head coach Kirby Smart basked in the glow of a 34-7 victory over Mullen and another week atop the college football world Saturday, he offered a near-clairvoyant counter days before Mullen took the podium.

“There’s no coach out there that can out-coach recruiting,” Smart said. “I don’t care who you are. The best coach to ever play the game better be a good recruiter.”

The two comments highlighted the difference between warring philosophies in the rival coaching rooms and offered a culprit for the wide berth Saturday’s game exposed between Mullen and Smart’s programs.

Since Mullen took over in 2017, Florida finished 14th, ninth, ninth and 12th in the country the past four recruiting classes, according to 247Sports. The Gators sit 22nd in the country in the upcoming 2022 recruiting class after a pair of 4-stars, linebacker Shemar James and cornerback Julian Humphrey, each announced their respective decommitments. Humphrey has since received five expert predictions to commit to Georgia, according to 247Sports, and James visited the ‘Dawgs earlier this season.

Georgia currently sits atop in the 2022 recruiting rankings, a spot it has occupied two other times since 2018. The Bulldogs haven’t been ranked lower than fourth by 247Sports’ composite recruiting rankings since 2016, when they finished sixth. Mullen has lured two 5-star prospects to Gainesville according to 247Sports composite rankings, cornerback Jason Marshall in 2021 and defensive tackle Gervon Dexter in 2020, with three former 5-stars coming through the transfer portal over the past three offseasons. Smart brought home 20 5-star prospects across those same four recruiting classes with two more coming this cycle. 

Mullen’s even getting lapped in his own backyard. Of 247Sports’ 22 composite 5-star prospects from the state of Florida from 2018 to 2021, four chose to sign for Smart at Georgia. Six fled to Alabama and head coach Nick Saban, two apiece left for Clemson and Ohio State and three traveled south to Miami. Florida landed two.

Florida fans might recognize the name Nolan Smith, the Georgia linebacker who forced a fumble and picked off quarterback Anthony Richardson late in Saturday’s second quarter. The former 5-star prospect hails from Bradenton, Florida. Two of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns were scored by running back Zamir White and linebacker Nakobe Dean — also former 5-star talents.

On the field, Mullen took down Smart’s Bulldogs a single time in his four seasons at Florida. Georgia has outscored UF 122-85 across the four games, with more than half of the Gators’ points coming from their lone victory in 2020. 

In six seasons under Smart, the ‘Dawgs reached the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship game and clinched a fourth trip to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship in five years this weekend, more than anyone in the SEC. Georgia won 34 of its previous 39 SEC games, including all six this season, and took the conference title in 2017.

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Mullen finally vanquished his rival a year ago and made his first conference title game appearance in four years, but his singular appearance (and loss) pales to Smart’s resume. Florida has won 21 of 33 conference games under Mullen, and outside of his assumed breakout 2020 season, Mullen only walked away with a 13-9 record in the SEC.

Smart may be wrong about his philosophy that no coach can overcome recruiting. But as he seems poised to make a second effort for the national title and Mullen stews over a 4-4 record, it’s hard to question him.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.


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