Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Muschamp vs. The World!

Standing in the back of the “media lounge” (a euphemism for the eating room) behind the Norm Carlson Press Box at Florida Field two years ago, Will Muschamp was introduced to the Gator Nation as their next head football coach. The anticipation was thick and exciting.

Muschamp had been the “coach in waiting” at Texas and was long considered the next great head coach ever since he took his first assistants job. Everybody knew he was intense and demanding. He wanted to win, knew winning from his days as a player at Georgia and as an assistant under Mack Brown.

Gator fans seemed to be anxious to move on from the Urban Meyer era as well. Meyer won, but did it ungraciously and he never embraced being a “Gator.” The fact that he quit the year before only to be talked out of it seemed to wring any enthusiasm out of his final season.

The media was upbeat about the Muschamp hiring as well. After years of Steve Spurrier’s entertaining relationship with those covering Gator football, Ron Zook was fine but no fun and Meyer was so condescending and imperial that the scribes and radio/tv types were ready for him to leave town.

Florida athletics has always had a difficult relationship with the media in general. For years the football program underperformed and was always considered a “sleeping giant” in Bear Bryant’s words. It gave those close to the program a little bit of a complex. Saying the program was under more scrutiny than any other because of the number of newspapers, radio and TV stations, access was fairly limited. While a bit of hyperbole, there’s no question that interest in Florida football was (and is) high in all four corners of the state.

Muschamp was introduced and took the podium as the young, energetic up and coming coach that he was. Fans wanted to embrace him. Heck, the media wanted to like him. (On a side note, covering a big-time college football team is different than covering just about anything else. Most of the “reporters” are either school graduates or fans. Mostly young and eager, sometimes coaches take advantage of that and run roughshod over the ones just trying to do their job.) So as Muschamp began his nearly 19 minute opening statement (the joke was he didn’t take a breath) we heard a lot of the high-minded, motivational things that made him the premier candidate for a big college football job.

Then he said something like, “No matter what you all think here, we’re going to do it our way.”


It was such an upbeat occasion that it didn’t quite register that Muschamp was outlining his idea of what the media’s role would be surrounding his program. He was throwing down the hackneyed gauntlet that they were the team and you’re not. OK, no problem. It’s not going to be the backslapping Charley Pell relationship or the Spurrier show we could look forward to every week. Muschamp’s closing of practices and cut-off of training camp followed his model to the chagrin of reporters and fans alike.

There’s no question there’s a learning curve for assistants who are elevated to the top job in that environment. And give Muschamp credit for adapting a bit, creating a laugh or two during the season and starting to sort out how this coach/media relationship works. That’s why it was almost amusing when after a big win over FSU and the conclusion of a fantastic one-loss season nobody outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium expected, Muschamp said, “We didn’t prepare any differently. I know it disappoints you all but we didn’t put this one on the mantle and stare at it for 364 days.”


Disappoints us?

I don’t know of any vendetta somebody has for the Gators head coach. Maybe he uses some imaginary slight or perception of what people think he’s doing as motivation. A lot of people do that to fuel their intensity. Muschamp’s intensity is already legendary. His ability to transform Florida into a contender in one year will be studied by other coaches looking for his secret. He’s a fabulous coach, no question. A bit of work on his public persona and “legendary” is probably in his future.

Nobody’s out to get you Coach. In fact, most of ’em are rooting for you.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Win #2: Validation

Toward the end of the game with the Titans, even after Josh Scobee hit a field goal to give the Jaguars a 5-point lead I sent a Tweet with the hashtag #noleadfeelssafe. Perhaps a bit cynical, but honestly a comment not necessarily on how the Jaguars have played this year but how hard it is to learn how to win in the NFL.

That’s right learn how to win.

They’re a young team without much success this year so winning games is as much a learned art as it is something that could come naturally. Twice the Jaguars have had 14-point leads on the road only to see them go away late. Even in their opener in Minnesota (which seems like a lifetime ago) the team had a lead that they easily could have held on to but let slip away.

“We have to learn how to get out of our own way,” Jeremy Mincey said in the post-win locker room. “We didn’t play as well as we can but we found a way and that’s important.”

Head Coach Mike Mularkey agreed, “We just made plays at the right time. Little things, getting to third and short. Good special teams play. All three phases doing their part.”

The Jaguars got solid if unspectacular play across the board but they didn’t make a critical mistake at the wrong time. They didn’t have a critical penalty negate a good play. On the other side of the equation, they made the routine catch and occasionally came up with something special.

Cecil Shorts became the first Jaguars receiver to have 4 50-yard or more receptions for TD’s. Not Jimmy. Not Keenan (they both have three). Cecil Shorts. Remember, this is a guy who had two catches last year and looked like one of those busts of a reach from a small school (Mount Union). Instead, he looks like a guy who is progressing into a bona fide NFL receiver.

Justin Blackmon came in with the credentials but up until last week, nothing of note on his professional resume. Last week he racked up yards, this week he made the critical catches that kept the Jaguars in control.

“It’s us coming together as a unit,” Blackmon said in front of his locker. “It’s not really about me. Chad played well, Cecil played well, Marcedes made plays. When that happens, things go well.”

While that’s true, Mularkey has seen Blackmon’s progress.

“I’ve seen it every week. He’s taking it from the practice field to the games and I credit Jerry Sullivan (Blackmon’s position coach). The first step, crisp cuts. Those things I’ve see in practice that he’s now doing on Sunday.”

“I’ve never been on a team like this,” Montel Owens said when asked about the Jaguars ability to stick together. “This team works hard. We practice hard. We’ve practiced hard after the losses and we’ll keep it up. Don’t flinch.”

With that, Rashad Jennings in the next locker chuckled and chimed in with “Why.” And he’s right of course. Why flinch at 1-9 or even 2-9? Go out, do your job and try to get better each day, good things might happen.

“I’m pleased for those guys in the locker room,” Mularkey said at the podium. “The way they work, how they approach it every day. There are a lot of quality people in there and to see it pay off with a win is great.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: 1st Half Disaster, 2nd Half Hope

For the first time in his tenure as the Jaguars Head Coach, Mike Mularkey got a little testy in his post-game press conference. His team had just lost 31-14, and trailed 24-0 at one point. The first half, by Mularkey’s description was “pathetic” when it came to offensive production. “three and outs don’t get the job done,” Mularkey said in his opening statement.

“Was there a lack of effort,” one reporter asked. “Absolutely not,” Mularkey quickly responded. “That wasn’t it and it wouldn’t be acceptable here at any time. The execution just wasn’t there.”

After answering a question on a different part of the game, Mularkey was again queried by a scribe about his team’s effort. “So let me be clear, you’re saying it wasn’t a lack of effort,” a scribe intoned all-knowingly. “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Mularkey alertly answered with a wave of the hand and an edge in his voice. “And don’t ask me that again,” he finished.

I’m sure it’s frustrating and disappointing to put the time and effort into coaching and not get the results that can be expected. And I’m sure when Mularkey took this job he knew it would be tough. And maybe it’s even tougher than he thought. But I’ll give him credit through this stretch of the process, he’s always been honest. When you ask him a question, he gives you an answer. He doesn’t fudge, he doesn’t give any kind of platitude, and he gives an honest answer. So to challenge him on an answer is silly, and overblown. He said it’s not a lack of effort, so since he’s never lied before, take him at his word.

So where’s that leave us?

Obviously the execution isn’t there with any consistency. The Jaguars are trying to overcome the opponent and sometimes that opponent includes themselves. Dropped passes, blown coverages, bad tackling, wrong reads. All of those factor into getting you beat seven times in eight games.

It’s not hard to envision Mularkey’s statement about the first half of the season in real terms. They’re one play away from being 0-8: They’re three plays away from being 4-4.

While the first half of the year has been a disaster on the scoreboard, the Jaguars have shown improvement and enough flash to get the job done. But it’s also easy to see that they’re undermanned and sometimes overwhelmed when they try to match their roster against the opposing team. They’re not in a position to make mistakes and beat the Bears, Lions, Texans, or Packers. But against Minnesota, Indy, Oakland and Cincinnati they had their chances.

So looking at the second half of the season, eight games, what’s realistic with the players on the roster, the injuries they’ve suffered and the flashes they’ve shown? Thursday’s game against Indy is certainly winnable. Two games vs. a depleted Tennessee team could be wins. Buffalo is struggling. The Jets aren’t tearing it up and although Miami has shown flashes, they’re beatable. Leaving New England and Houston as the only heavy favorites against the Jaguars.

Based on what we’ve seen the first half of the year, going 5-3 is probably unrealistic but not un-attainable. It’s something to shoot for, to turn it around and get respectable. Especially in your own eyes.