Muschamp Era Over: Where Now?
It’s a tough job, Head Football Coach at the University of Florida.
Winning is important, but HOW you win is a factor in what the Gators fan base thinks about the job you’re doing. From the outset, Will Muschamp seemed like a paradoxical choice to lead the Florida program.
He is from Gainesville. But he went to Georgia.
He played defense for the Bulldogs and made his mark as a defensive coach. Gator fans had become used to high-flying offenses under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.
From his opening press conference (where we joked that he spoke for 19 minutes straight without taking a breath) Muschamp made it clear things were going to be done his way, and don’t question him about it. He threw down the gauntlet to the media, reminding them that he was in charge no matter how much they wanted to ask about what he was doing.
“We’re going to play power football at the University of Florida,” Muschamp declared as he set out to gather his first recruiting class. “Power Football” can be a loosely defined term, but it seemed strange that Muschamp was going to use players recruited under Meyer’s “Spread” offense to try and dominate teams up front.
Sort of like Alabama.
But without the kind of linemen Alabama reloads with every year, the Gators could never become that kind of team. Early on it was apparent they were trying to put round pegs in square holes.
Perhaps things would change as Muschamp attempted to load the Florida roster with players capable of doing the things he wanted, both on offense and defense.
Muschamp’s offenses ranked 71st, 78th, 113th and currently 62nd among the top tier NCAA schools. Gators fans don’t like that. Muschamp grew up in a culture at Georgia and other places where winning 10-9 was just fine. He was happy to win games 17-14. Florida fans had become accustomed to high scoring games, mostly one-sided. In their favor.
Although the 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina on Saturday might have been the last straw, eliminating them from SEC contention, it was also indicative of where the Gators are throughout their program. The Gamecocks were giving up an average of over 460 yards per game. Florida could muster only 278. Quarterback Treon Harris seemed to barely throw the football. The Florida defense was adept in holding South Carolina to only 17 points in regulation, but couldn’t get it done in crucial situations. And two special teams blunders, a blocked field goal and a blocked punt, kept Spurrier’s troops in the game.
At the very least, considering his defensive background, I expected Florida to have one of the most dominating defenses in the country. That didn’t happen either.
Will Muschamp’s intensity, his football knowledge, his relationship with the players and his consideration of everybody involved with the Florida football program should be lauded. He seems like a genuine, good and nice guy. But he remained a coordinator or a position coach at heart. When it’s your job to coach football, you can be very narrow focused and thrive occasionally on the emotion of the game. As the head coach, you’re not only the face of the program but you’re the CEO as well. Muschamp never was able to embrace that CEO role, displayed both times when Florida beat Texas A&M and Tennessee on the road. Instead of applauding his team for their tenacity and competitive spirit, all Muschamp could say on both occasions when interviewed on the field after the game was, “Isn’t it great to come in here and disappoint all these people.” The first time I heard it, I chalked it up to the learning curve of being a head coach and the emotion of beating the Aggies, a big rival for his previous employer, the University of Texas. But the second time it was obvious he hadn’t ever adapted to the role. By contrast, Steve Spurrier, a noted smart aleck in his early coaching days, was complimentary of his team and expressed some sympathy for Muschamp and the Gators after South Carolina’s overtime win in the Swamp. Regardless of his true feelings, although Spurrier seemed genuine in his remarks about Muschamp and the Gators, Spurrier was complimentary of his own team without a reference to the atmosphere in Gainesville.
Spurrier and Meyer, by the way, lost a combined 10 games at home in 18 seasons. Muschamp has 8 home losses, six of those coming in his last eight games at Florida Field.
Muschamp technically “resigned” from his position, possibly saving the Florida program some money. His assistants are owed about $2 million for the remainder of their contracts. The statements released by both Muschamp and Athletic Director Jeremy Foley both contained high praise for each other. Foley pointed out how popular Muschamp was among the staff and the workers in Gainesville, saying he’ll be missed. He simply didn’t win enough games.
So where now?
Foley always has a short list, and Muschamp’s hiring was somewhat of a surprise since he had been listed as the ‘coach in waiting” at Texas. A similar situation occurred at Maryland when James Franklin, the next Terps head coach, was hired to take over Vanderbilt.
This time around, Foley will look for somebody with head coaching experience and whose specialty is offense. While that list is large, David Cutcliffe at Duke, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss should be considered. Art Briles at Baylor, Gary Patterson at TCU or Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia also merit a phone call. Despite his success at Mississippi State and his connection to Florida, Dan Mullen doesn’t seem to be a candidate.
Foley will hold a press conference on Monday.