In sports, coaches are generally expected to be the voice of reason and the example of restraint to keep tensions from descending into complete anarchy.
It seems those lessons were lost on Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason and Florida coach Dan Mullen Saturday, as the two men sparked an old-fashioned donnybrook during the second quarter of Florida’s 37-27 victory over the Commodores.
At issue was a targeting call against Florida linebacker James Houston during a punt shortly before halftime.
Houston leveled Dare Odeyingbo with a blindside hit that would’ve been a KO in a combat sport; Odeyingbo was down a lot longer than a ten-count.
Mason came over to check on his player, and it was at that point when he got into it with Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and coach Mullen, starting a heated verbal exchange.
Dan Mullen and Todd Grantham in a shouting match with Derek Mason. pic.twitter.com/xfIxyUtiNJ
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) October 13, 2018
And just like that, it was all hands on deck.
After the dust settled, Houston was ejected for the initial targeting call, while linebacker Vosean Joseph also got sent off for the Gators.
Things were far from over, however, as Joseph initially refused to leave the sideline. As Florida assistants tried to shepherd Joseph off the field, he aggressively resisted their efforts.
Mullen, asked about the incident by ESPN reporters at the half, refused comment, directing the network to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and director of officials Steve Shaw.
Mason, meanwhile, said he would talk about the issue after the game.
After the game, it seems that peace had been concluded between the coaches. The two men exchanged a hug after the hard-fought contest and rewarded the patience of the halftime inquisitors by speaking in conciliatory tones.
“Derek and I are really close friends,” Mullen said. “He’s great. He knows that. He’s doing an amazing job here. You just look at what he’s been able to accomplish going to bowl games, coaching this team, how they play, how they compete. He does an amazing job. He and I are really close friends.
“We’re not gonna get into that publicly at all — Derek is a really close friend of mine — we gotta make sure our sideline is cleaner in that situation. I’m sure he probably thinks the same thing. There’s nothing carrying over from that. Nothing to get into publicly.”
Mason, meanwhile, had similar words.
“I talked to Dan at the end of that ball game, and that was just a matter of players down, and their player on the sideline had said something directed at me, and I said something back, and Dan gets mad — that’s how it started,” Mason said. “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to make sure we can play the game the right way. Keep the game safe, and make sure everybody walks out of this. It’s a referee’s job to referee. Not ours. I got a lot of respect for Dan. He respects the process. So do I.”
When asked about his initial outburst, Mason was gracious but held his ground on refusing to apologize for having his player’s back.
“Nah, what’s the regret in being emotional?” Mason said. “Football is an emotional game — If you don’t play football emotionally, what are we doing? You see emotions from coaches all the time. That just happened to be one instance.”
While there is still no word whether the SEC will impose additional discipline, it seems like this was mainly a case of a heat-of-the-moment reaction to a hard-fought game getting a little too aggressive. Much like brawls in other sports, once everyone got it out of their system, it turned into “OK guys, show’s over, play ball.”
Florida moved to 6-1 (4-1 SEC) with the win. Vanderbilt is 3-4 overall and winless (0-3) in conference.
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