Times have been tough for Gator Nation since the football program (and coincidentally, the men’s basketball program as well) was halfway through the decade. For a long time, beginning with Steve Spurrier’s arrival on the Swamp sideline and Billy Donovan’s tenure opposite the O’Connell Center, Florida fans were spoiled for choice by a plethora of hits.
And who can argue with a run that saw three national championships on the gridiron as well as a pair of back-to-back trophies on the floor? Not that it was all smooth sailing, as the Ron Zook era will always be there to haunt us, while Billy D also hit a few potholes on his road to great success. But over the past decade, it’s been a hard fall from the top for the two major sports, despite winning the College Baseball World Series in 2017.
It seems the Orange and Blue faithful had their expectations too high, or at least that’s the opinion of Florida football great Chris Doering, who recently aired his grievances with the fans in an interview with Jake Crain of the Crain and Co. Projection. Here’s what the legendary wide receiver had to say.
“I’ve been a lifelong Gator fan. Son of two students from Florida. I lived in Gainesville growing up so I feel like I can say that. Our fan base has become the worst. In terms of criticism and lack of patience. (Billy Napier) hasn’t even coached a game yet and his popularity has gone up and down mostly because of the criticism he received during recruiting. That’s ultimately what cost Dan Mullen his job.”
“I don’t think people understood the disarray in the program. The lack of elite SEC talent on this roster. I hope Florida fans understand where they are right now and how tough the schedule is. I think if they go 8-4 with the schedule they’re facing, it should be considered a successful season.”
As a Gainesville native who has spent over two decades in Hogtown, I mostly agree with his opinion, with a few caveats of course. After four generations of family attending the university, our belief has always been: “They will break your heart every time.” That success seen nearly two decades ago seems to have changed the paradigm prematurely as they returned to their disappointing ways after Meyer and Donovan left.
First, as mentioned earlier, Florida fans were used to the blue-blooded treatment their programs rightfully received, but unfortunately have not maintained. The transition from the late Jeremy Foley to Scott Stricklin’s first few administrations was anything but smooth, as the outgoing AD lost his lead while the earner never really had.
Also, at the risk of putting a yellow onion on my belt and trading bee nickels, it seems like the fan base just isn’t as patient as it was (for better or worse) in the past. There have been demands for a top class of recruits in the new staff’s first year, which is just ridiculous to a reasonable person, among other pie-in-the-sky wishes.
That leads to the other issue that not only is Napier entering college football’s top tier still wet behind the ears, but he’s also reviving a program that suffered a slump at the end of Mullen’s tenure. The fact that his army of executives has returned the team to near the top 10 — and still climbing — in the recruiting rankings is another reason to be optimistic.
However, I disagree with the suggestion that the fans drove Mullen out of the job. The former head coach was by all accounts an awkward figure on the recruiting trail, simply not cut out for what it takes to handle one of the top brands in college sports. Not everyone is cut out for this grind, and if it couldn’t handle the heat then it didn’t belong in the kitchen.
The big story here is that Doering is right – Gator Nation needs to slow down when it comes to criticizing the new regime and let things play out. UF isn’t the only program to shake things up and try new things, especially with the Miami Hurricanes causing trouble from the south end of the peninsula, so it won’t be the linear path to success we’re all hoping for.
In the meantime, Gator fans, keep calm and carry on.
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The story originally appeared on Gators Wire