Coaching for pride (again): Muschamp gives it one more go against FSU

As I wrote a few weeks ago before the Georgia game, pride is a powerful incentive, maybe even more so than tangible objects, like paychecks or trophies. Everybody in the world wants money, and everybody who plays sports or competes in some way wants treasure to add beside their name.

But pride- wanting to win because you want to win- separates those who win the prizes and those who dream of winning them.

And now, with one final game to coach as the head Gator, Muschamp is going to be coaching for pride.

Pride carries people toward goals regardless of the stakes. Pride is what drives professional and college players to play their hardest. Pride is what drives a 6-4 team to victory over an 11-0 team. Pride is what gives the offensive line that big push on 4th and 1 in a game that has no real implications for them.

And believe it or not, it’s Will Muschamp who understands this most. Yes, his win/loss record is a sickly 28-20. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is a proud man.

Let’s go back in time a few decades to when Muschamp was a kid. As a junior in high school, he played left field for his high school baseball team. In the middle of his chase for a fly ball, Muschamp crashed into his shortstop and broke his leg, apparently ending his football career. A metal rod was inserted into his leg to hold the bones together- but it was only really intended for him to just walk around again. His various offers to play college football vanished, including any interest that then Gator coach Steve Spurrier had in him, which crushed Muschamp- Florida was his favorite school growing up, since he was raised in Gainesville. So without any scholarship offers, he walked on at Georgia.

Muschamp was well aware that the majority of his fellow Bulldog teammates were there on scholarship, and he wasn’t. They were all being paid their college tuition just to play football, while Muschamp was no different than any other non athlete who applied to UGA undergrad. If you play college football as a walk on, it means you’re a hard worker, and good for you… but it’s as certain a sign as there is that you’re not playing professional football. It means that college sports is the highest level you will ever compete in. The NFL is a tiny window, but everybody who gets a scholarship to play for an SEC school- even Vanderbilt- has at least the faintest glimmer of hope that his career will continue professionally.

Muschamp did not care that he would not play in the NFL. He knew his football career was about to end, but that didn’t stop him from playing with all he had. He played in every game at Georgia from 1991-1994 and was named a captain in his senior year. Quite a jump from being a walk on, but that’s what happens when you give it your all, literally every day, for years. And lots of people can read that and shrug and say, “good, he played with all he had. Big deal.” But anybody who has ever played football knows that it really is a big deal.

Playing with all the energy and effort you have when the door to an NFL future has been tauntingly closed on you is pride. Merely playing as a walk on is pride. Leading the secondary of a 6-4-1 Georgia team in tackles his senior year is pride. Finishing fifth on the team in interceptions is pride. Muschamp played his entire career at the University of Georgia for pride, bottom line.

Now it’s 17 years later. Muschamp accepted the head coaching job at Florida, and once he got settled into Gainesville, he set about decorating his office. One of the first things to go up, nicely concealed in a glass case, was that steel rod doctors inserted into his leg in the spring of 1990. It’s a reminder of adversity, Muschamp says. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, he continues. He’s faced adversity all his life, most recently the last two years of his coaching career. Sometimes, the adversity was too much to overcome, whether it be on the field like against South Carolina (kidding) or in real life off the field, like not getting any scholarship offers to play college football.

That’s one of the bad parts of life. Sometimes, the situations you are dealt cannot possibly be overcome in the way you’d like. It sucks, but it’s true. But if you are able to erase the original goal you were shooting for and just give it everything you’ve got without thinking about a tangible reward for your effort- i.e. do the best you can just because- good things may happen that you don’t expect.

Yes, he is a dead man walking. And unless Jimbo Fisher hires him as a defensive coordinator at FSU, he will never get another chance to participate in this rivalry.

But he has one more shot now.

Muschamp can’t think about the future, because short term, it’s not very bright for him. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for Muschamp as the Florida coach. There’s no SEC Championship he can still win, not even a trip to Atlanta to play for. There’s no contract extension awaiting him. Like everyday people playing a game of pickup, Muschamp has no tangible reward to hope for, no trophy or title to shoot for.

Once again, all Muschamp has left is his pride. And now, the proud native of Gainesville has to summon it, the way he did at Georgia to go from a walk on to a team captain, in order to save face and salvage something from a forgettable four year tenure at Florida.