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Dan Mullen has picked another hill to fight the media and fans, but this time he’s in danger of poisoning the lifeblood of his program all so he can continue to be a controversial, know-it-all contrarian.

After weeks of the back-and-forth at quarterback between veteran Emory Jones and freshman Anthony Richardson, the Florida coach tapped into the talking point he leaned on during his entire tenure as the brazen underdog at Mississippi State: recruiting.

Sigh.

I’ve poked Mullen enough this season, so we’ll keep this (relatively) short following a 34-7 loss against Georgia, the overwhelming No. 1 team in the country. Mullen is slippery, as I have mentioned before, but he’s also something of a genius while remaining inconsistent. It’s difficult pinning him to one single issue, whether it’s just an every-day topic or identifying the weaker roots within his program. The myriad troubles each week (penalties, defense, offense, quarterback rotation, etc.) for the Gators, now 4-4 this season, lead to one answer: the Florida coach has simply not performed as expected while leading the program, and while an 8-4 record was somewhat expected in the preseason, the way in which these Gators will get there was not.

Mullen is not on the hot seat, and while many are focusing on his 3-7 record against ranked teams since 2019, it’s best to provide some context. Eight of those 10 games were against teams ranked No. 8 or higher, including three No. 1 teams, and studying Florida’s Futures reveals fans shouldn’t expect much improvement on that mark in the coming years.

Florida’s problem is Mullen’s recruiting, which lags behind its direct competition, Georgia, and has long been one of Mullen’s weaknesses as a coach in the SEC. Smart may not have realized it during a press conference Saturday, but he took the opportunity to bury Mullen and his staff with a throw-away quote after demolishing the Gators on the field.

“If you don't recruit, there's no coach out there that can out-coach recruiting,” Smart sad, referencing his own philosophy. “I don't care who you are. The best coach to ever play the game better be a good recruiter because no coaching is going to out-coach players. Anybody will tell you that our defense is good because we have good players.”

There is no comparison to make between Georgia and Florida’s recruiting classes since Mullen took over the Gators in 2018. Georgia has signed eight 5-star prospects and has one committed in the 2022 class; Florida has signed two and does not have a 5-star prospect committed in the current class. Georgia’s average rating, including 2022, is 1.8; Florida is 13.2. Florida currently ranks No. 9 in the SEC recruiting rankings and No. 22 overall.

Mullen was provided an opportunity to discuss recruiting Monday and he handled it terribly. The moment "recruiting" was uttered by a reporter, Mullen's face twitched. "We're in the season now. We'll do recruiting after the season – when it gets to recruiting time we can talk about recruiting."

Mullen looked to a Florida employee off screen, practically begging for help out of the scene as the reporter attempted to ask an unrelated question.

"Next question," Mullen interrupted.

Recruiting matters in the SEC, particularly as an elite program. Coaches should welcome the opportunity to sell their program to recruits at every turn. Mullen has never been one who likes to play that game.

There is also something deeper at work here. Mullen's behavior is that of a coach who believes he can dictate topics and questions in public settings. Mullen's act is not new, but it's only now scrutinized because he's on a bigger stage. Such responses were common at Mississippi State, where he poo-poo'd recruiting rankings, ignored uncomfortable inquiries and indirectly questioned fans and reporters' intelligence for nearly a decade. You can do that at MSU, especially when you're winning. You can't do that at Florida, where multiple Heisman and national championship trophies overshadow your agenda.

Consistent top-10 finishes in the 247Sports Composite have practically been a prerequisite for teams advancing to the playoff. Florida is on the edge of the elite, threatening to take the next step as a contender every other season, but has managed to only stumble before reaching the finish line.

“We were better last year, and they were better this year,” Mullen said Saturday when asked about the talent gap between Georgia and Florida. “What do you think? Last year, we were able to win. This year, we weren’t. That’s where it is.”

That’s not where Florida is today, coach. One only has to study the signing classes and follow your footprints on recruiting trail to see that.