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.”
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.