There are a few things I feel I should clear up, before I start this post:
-Alabama is really, really good. It’s tough to beat them. It’s even tougher to beat them on their home field. That’s not why I’m writing this. It’s vastly unfair to call for a coach’s firing using a loss at Alabama as your reason.
-Jeff Driskel is obviously not the second coming of Tim Tebow the way we once thought he was, and the offense was bad on Saturday. Really bad.
-Believe it or not, the Gators have several other, more chronic big-picture problems than Jeff Driskel and the offense.
-Those problems that are more chronic and big-picture than Jeff Driskel and the offense are the fuel behind this article.
-This article is intended for any Gator fan. But regardless of whether you’ve called me out in the past or not, if you agree even somewhat with me right now, the shots I take at fans in this article are- and this requires bold italics- not directed at you. They’re solely intended for those fans who still vehemently defend Will Muschamp and still believe he’ll be Florida’s next great coach (which is admittedly a rapidly shrinking number).
-To sum up and restate all that: I acknowledge that Jeff Driskel was not very good Saturday, and I acknowledge that Florida lost to a very good team on the road. Neither of those are why I’m writing what I am.
Lots of fans love Will Muschamp because of his mix of good ole southern boy personality, and ability to light a fire under his team. Neither of those are necessarily incorrect, make no mistake. But in the aftermath of Florida’s 42-21 loss to Alabama on Saturday, Paul Finebaum sent this tweet:
Consensus of Florida fans at Birmingham airport: They love Will Muschamp. And very few believe he will survive.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 21, 2014
There it is. The consensus among the few supporters Muschamp has left has spoken. They’ve admitted that he’s a dead man walking. I know, it was Alabama. They’re good. I want to reiterate: I’m not writing this because we lost; I’m writing this because of the way we lost. The self inflicted issues in a game that was far more lopsided than the score suggests has me convinced of one big thing: this job isn’t for him. Things that you’d expect to see from a first year coach’s team are happening in Muschamp’s fourth year, and worse, new problems that are even more disturbing- like a porous defense that surrendered the most yards in school history- are beginning to appear. He’s not done yet, but he should be- and will be- with the next Gator loss outside of a possible SEC Championship Game or high profile bowl. And unfortunately for him, the chances of avoiding that loss are less than slim. Go look at the Gators’ schedule.
Hence the title of his article. His job security is on life support. We all know my opinion on this topic. I first began to develop suspicions when his team played dead in the Sugar Bowl two years ago. Those suspicions intensified when he couldn’t get his team ready to play the final game of the dying Florida-Miami rivalry. Then I officially wanted him gone after Florida lost to Georgia for the third straight time (more on that later in the article), and lost any shyness about publicizing these feelings after losing to Georgia Southern.
Why, you may ask? Seems you called for his head a bit too early, you may claim. No. I saw wide spread issues of self destruction and told you that if they weren’t fixed by now, they never would be. And guess what happened on Saturday? Florida’s self destruction cost them a football game. You know, kind of, sort of, EXACTLY like I said it would last year. Guess what happened last Saturday? Florida was about .01 seconds away from their self destruction costing them that game, too. Muschamp isn’t getting this stuff fixed. Who are we trying to fool?
Don’t get me wrong. I like Muschamp. I think he’s a good dude off the field who ultimately cares about his program’s welfare, and when not overloaded with the responsibilities of being a head coach, I think he’d be an excellent defensive coordinator for Florida. Unfortunately, his decision making has proven to be less than stellar, the most obvious examples of which are his coaching hires (his first two offensive coordinators) and now his QB selection. And because he has an ego (what coach doesn’t?) and is way too slow in making changes, he’s ultimately going to lose his job unless the Gators either go undefeated in the regular season, or lose once to a really good team (not Georgia, though) in a much less infuriating manner.
I won’t even go into the defensive and QB issues. I know that Muschamp is a defense first coach, and his defense surrendered the most yards in program history. But generally speaking, his defenses at Florida have been very, very good. So citing one bad performance from his defense as a reason to fire him isn’t really fair. And his QB selection isn’t always the main factor in Florida losing games (though I’ll be honest, Driskel did not play well at all against Alabama, and the defense suddenly sucking is a legitimate cause for concern). I’m looking for trends here. I’m looking for things his teams have done since the day he got to UF that have killed them. Not sporadic issues, one time deals, or even occasional but repeated problems. I’m looking for patterns of botchery that have no place in a winning football program.
So what are they?
For one, his team has got to cut the costly penalties out of their repertoire. And I’m not talking about late hits, pass interferences or anything else that stems from hustle. I’m talking about delay of games, false starts, offsides, grabbing face masks when you’re right there and have plenty of other (better) options to go about tackling the runner. These types of penalties drive me absolutely insane. I don’t doubt that Darious Cummings gives 100% effort every day in practice and on game day, but he averages about one unnecessary face mask penalty per game. Against Kentucky last week, the Gators were called for delay of game penalties twice when they were about to punt and pin the Cats as far back as they could. Getting snaps off in time didn’t cost Florida the game, per se, but it almost did: Jeff Driskel’s touchdown pass in the first overtime came after taking the snap with maybe a hundredth of a second left on the play clock.
Then there are the turnovers. The Gators committed three really bad ones against Alabama, including Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones forgetting that when you let go of a solid object, like a football, for example, it tends to fall to the ground a lot of the time. Thanks to the great field position, Alabama was in the end zone six plays later, and Florida never had the lead again. Driskel also overshot his receiver by about 20 feet once (well, several times, but more on that later) and was picked off by JaBriel Washington deep in Alabama territory. You cannot commit these kinds of turnovers if you want to win. You just can’t.
But again. This is nothing new. It’s not a surprise. I’ve been saying the same thing since 2011, when the Gators messed around against FAU to the tune of nine penalties and three turnovers. At the time, I ultimately gave Muschamp a pass for it because Florida crushed FAU (and it was the first game), but did warn people that these issues could not continue if Florida wanted to win. Well, guess what? They’ve continued, and gotten worse. It’s year four now. Again, who are we kidding? These things aren’t going away.
To all those who still criticize me (and my viewpoint): go ahead, bring up Alabama. They turned it over more times and were penalized more times on Saturday than Florida. Let’s fire Saban, say my smartass critics. OK, I’ll play along. You know why Saban won’t get fired? Because his teams do something that you, my critics, are not familiar with. It’s called… ready? …WINNING BIG GAMES.
Let’s tick off Muschamp’s stats: 0-3 against Georgia, 1-2 against FSU, 0-1 against Miami and Auburn each (two of Florida’s dead rivalries- since they’re never played anymore, you’d think a coach would get his team up and ready to play their best game), 0-1 in BCS Bowl games, and 4-12 against ranked teams. Muschamp couldn’t care less who the opponent is; he treats all games the same. By contrast, Urban Meyer treated games that meant more differently. His 17-2 record against Florida’s four biggest rivals (Georgia, Miami, FSU and a Tennessee program that was far better than the one Muschamp has beat up on is), 3-0 BCS bowl record and 19-10 record against ranked teams are proof of that. Hell, even Ron Zook did better than Muschamp in big games. Zook went 2-1 against Georgia and beat Auburn in the final game of that yearly rivalry. He also went 6-11 against ranked teams- not fantastic, but certainly better than 4-12, and exponentially more so when you realize that five of those wins were against top ten teams.
But let’s go deeper. I invite those of you who do not believe me to do some research. Go year by year through Florida football, and combine the coaches’ records against Florida’s rivals, big bowl games and against ranked teams. Use whatever source you want. Hell, you can use Wikipedia for all I care. Done? Good. So let’s agree that Will Muschamp is the worst coach since Raymond Wolf- who coached in the 40’s- at winning big games. Each coach since Wolf (Bob Woodruff, Ray Graves, Doug Dickey, Charlie Pell, Galen Hall, and then you know the rest- Spurrier, Zook and Meyer) all did at least one of those things significantly better than Muschamp. Woodruff was 6-4 against Georgia, Graves was 6-3-1 against Georgia and 7-2-1 against FSU, Dickey was 7-2 against FSU and 7-2 against Miami (the Canes were Florida’s big in state rivalry at the time), Pell was 6-9 against ranked teams, and Hall was 11-13 against ranked teams.
You can’t please fans, and your school’s AD, if you don’t win games that they want to win most. Muschamp’s failure to understand that some games mean more than others will ultimately be what dooms him.
Which leads me right to the thesis of this article. Florida’s got a big game, really big, against Tennessee in two weeks. I have not hesitated to let him- and everybody else who may still be wondering- know that:
I'll be the first to say it. Will Muschamp, you are officially coaching for your job in two weeks. You better beat Tennessee, or you're gone
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) September 20, 2014
Thus, the phrase “life support”. You don’t get off life support with one break, or one win. But the plug can- and will- be unceremoniously yanked out of the wall with the next loss (again, unless the nest loss is in the SEC Championship or a big stage bowl game, or MAYBE to FSU if they turn out to be really good in the end. But they have not been impressive in their first three games). That loss could be next Saturday to Tennessee, it could be at home to an LSU team that’s been exposed as one of Les Miles’ weakest teams with a 34-29 loss that was far worse than the score indicated to an unranked Mississippi State team at home, or it could be to Georgia in Jacksonville for the fourth straight time.
You also don’t just wind up on college football coaching life support in a split second. It has to be a gradual decline over a long enough period of time to determine that things will never get better. I’d say that the slow deterioration from a yearly SEC East contender under Urban Meyer to a 4-8 team that lost at home to a Georgia Southern team that was even more banged up than we were qualifies as that “gradual decline”.
And I’ll say it again to beat it into my critics’ heads: on a personal level, I like Muschamp. I really do. He knows defense, despite what happened on Saturday, and I think he’s a fantastic personality to have as the face of your team’s program. But once we lost to Georgia Southern, I knew he was done. I wasn’t sure if it would get rid of him immediately or if it was the introduction to a longer, slower death to his coaching career at UF. But since he wasn’t fired on the spot, he’s been put in the position of having to do more than he’s capable of doing. He’s been forced to make the Gators a national title contender with one of the most brutal schedules in the nation.
I said before the year that Florida had to either go 10-2 with a win over Georgia or 11-1 with a loss to keep his job. Sound unreasonably tough? Sure it is. But guess what? That’s the mess that 4-8 causes. Welcome to the University of Florida, where losing more games than winning is not acceptable.
I’ll save the official calls to fire Muschamp until Florida actually loses another game. Let’s be fair here, his team only has one loss so far. But one more loss to a team that’s not ranked in the top 10 or so, and he should be gone.
The time for fixing the turnover/penalty issue is now. More importantly, the time for winning is now. At this point, the Gators can play a completely clean game and still lose to Tennessee, and it’s going to cost Muschamp his job. I’ve long cited weekly self destruction as my reason for wanting Muschamp gone, and of course, there were some people who (almost smugly) pointed out after losing to Georgia Southern that Florida didn’t turn it over once and only committed two penalties. But in a way, that’s even worse. You’re telling me that a banged up FCS team was simply better than us? On the same note, if we lose to Tennessee without self destructing, that’s going to imply that Tennessee is better than Florida. With the way we’ve recruited over the last decade or so, is that something you’re willing to accept?
But then again, the time for delving into the X’s and O’s to explain why Florida loses games is over. I don’t particularly care about how it happens, he’s one loss away from being done.
Muschamp has dug his grave and written his epitaph. The next loss will pull the plug from the wall.