If there is one thing Florida head coach Dan Mullen has enjoyed doing since his arrival in Gainesville last year, it may be in stirring up the pot. Though he is certainly not going to be mistaken for Steve Spurrier when it comes to verbal jabs at conference and division rivals, Mullen is ready to take some subtle jabs at his foes from time to time. But Georgia head coach Kirby Smart isn’t about to get caught up in the fun in such a fashion.
In an interview with ESPN’s Paul Finebaum last week, Smart took the high road when asked about one of Mullen’s more recent troll jobs using the spring game attendance to remind everyone just how long it has been since Georgia won a national championship (it’s been 39 years, or 476 games for those keeping score at home, and at least one Florida fan was absolutely keeping score).
“If I go out and do that as a coach, how do I look to my players? It is not something that I enjoy doing or want to do,” Smart replied (as transcribed by Dawg Nation). “I just want to go work really hard and grind and play the game and may the best team win.”
Smart continued on this thought with more emphasis on wanting to let the play on the field do the talking.
“I just don’t think you need that. That is not going to make Georgia great,” Smart said. “We are not going to move up in the rankings by what I say. We are going to do it by how we play. We want to talk with our helmets. That is what we always talk about – we want to play a physical brand of football and not do it with our mouthpiece.”
It’s worth a reminder that Georgia has won the SEC East each of the past two seasons and the Bulldogs let their helmets do the talking last year against the Gators with a loud statement. But after Georgia got humbled by Texas in the Sugar Bowl and Florida thumped Michigan in the Peach Bowl, Mullen probably as a good reason to be feeling pretty good about where his program is heading.
Perhaps this is a demonstration of the two different approaches Mullen and Smart take to running their respective programs. Mullen is attempting to breathe life into the Florida program and bring back the kind of swagger once enjoyed by Spurrier on the sidelines, and he’s willing to have some fun with his statements in doing so. Smart is the polar opposite, a brand off the Nick Saban coaching tree. Like Saban, Smart is focusing his energy into simply having a team that will go out and beat you up on the line of scrimmage and wear you down on the field. There is no right or wrong way to go about running a program, and what works for Mullen may not work for Smart and vice-versa. Just take the last few national championship head coaches, Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. Both coaches run their programs differently with the same goals in mind, and both have been successful on the biggest stage in doing so.
But if this is just going to add fuel to the fire of the Florida-Georgia rivalry, keep it up. Watching this rivalry will continue to be fun watching unfold in the years to come as long as Smart and Mullen are in place.