The Will Muschamp era finally came to a close on Saturday, as the Gators once again squandered numerous opportunities to win a game and lost to FSU 24-19.
That would be the generic way to start such an article, anyway. The truth is that Will Muschamp’s tenure at Florida was far from generic, usually in a bad way, and it went by painfully slowly. Every game promised more turnovers, more silly penalties, and more coaching blunders. Saturday was no exception, so one last time, let’s delve into it.
Three Jameis Winston interceptions in the first quarter resulted in a net of one FSU point. That’s right, the Gators cashed two of the picks in for field goals, and the third gift was returned with an even bigger gift- a ball Treon Harris threw way too hard, but a ball that a scholarship player at the University of Florida has to catch nonetheless, that turned into a pick six. Florida gained six points off Winston’s errors, but lost seven. As Verne Lundquist would say, how about that?
Consider this: for the second time in Muschamp’s four years, the Gators could have beaten FSU if they had literally taken knees on every single offensive snap, except for fourth downs to punt or kick field goals. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. 7 of FSU’s 24 points were on a pick six, and 14 more came after the Gators had given them all the momentum following it; the Noles’ offense was absolutely listless before it. On the flip side, the Gators were given the ball in field goal range on three of Winston’s four picks, and that would have given Florida nine points. Again, without the momentum of the pick six, FSU’s offense probably would have remained dormant for quite some time, possibly until it was too late.
Muschamp was loved by his players and fans (at first, anyway) because of his intensity on the field and his human skills off the field. He took his players paint balling on numerous occasions, went to bat for them with refs whenever the situation warranted it (for example, his famous profanity laced rant following Chris Rainey’s fumbled punt against Auburn) and made fans and alumni feel important whenever he spoke to them. So I’ll stress this again: my feelings for wanting him out of Gainesville are mixed with a touch of sadness that the school will not have this representation anymore. But the bottom line is that Muschamp was simply not an adequate head coach, so parting ways with him, while tough, was an absolute necessity. He left us with one more irrefutable example on Saturday.
Facing a 4th and 8 on his own 35 with 2:16 to go with all three timeouts, Muschamp- who has ridden his star punter and great defense throughout his Florida tenure- elected to ignore both those strengths and instead make his offense, his team’s chronic weakness, pick up eight yards in one play. Are you kidding me? Why would you not punt the ball away and play defense deep in FSU’s end, use up your timeouts, and get the ball back with one final shot? Muschamp then compounded the error by burning a timeout before the 4th and 8 play, which wound up being successful due to a pass interference on FSU, but of course the offense again went nowhere, leading to a 4th and 10… and again Muschamp elected to go for it. But not before deciding to again burn a timeout. Naturally, Florida didn’t get it, so instead of playing defense deep in FSU territory with about 2:10 to go and all three timeouts, Florida was forced to play defense at midfield with 1:41 left and one timeout. Great coaching, Muschamp. Golf clap for you. See this? As much as I like him personally, I get frustrated all over again just thinking about this sequence. Of course, I’d rather have the offense to feel confident in converting a 4th and 8, but since Florida’s MO was clearly their defense, punting was a no-brainer.
In any case, the Will Muschamp days are done, and we can begin to put it behind us and try to pretend like it never happened. Muschamp’s tenure wraps up with a sorry 28-21 overall record, including a woeful 2-6 against Georgia and FSU. I will always appreciate how Muschamp cleaned up the mess that Urban Meyer started, but unfortunately, that’s not what’s most important in college football, or he would have been rewarded with a gigantic extension instead of being cut loose. I have never, and will never, question Muschamp’s knowledge of the defensive side of the ball, his ability to recruit, or him as a human being, and anybody who does is downright foolish. Again, though, those things are not what constitutes a winning head coach in college football. Winning games on the field is, and losing to Georgia Southern last year was as clear a sign as any that he was incapable of doing this at the level that is expected at Florida. And so this move is long overdue, but that doesn’t make it easy to dismiss somebody with such a likable personality.
Looking back one more time, it wasn’t a bad idea to give the nation’s hottest assistant coaching commodity a shot as head coach. But it failed, and now Jeremy Foley can ill afford another experiment. He needs to go get a proven winner at the highest level, and he can afford to; this is Florida, one of the top five head coaching jobs in college football.
That’s the last time I will discuss Muschamp in detail. It’s over. So let’s move forward.
There’s a big dead period in recruiting that starts on December 15th; I’d like to get the next head coach in before then if possible. But at the same time, I am NOT willing to rush the head coach hiring just to save one recruiting class. It probably won’t be this black and white, but hypothetically, if it comes down to this: I’d rather ignore this recruiting class and take my time with the hire to make sure I get it right. Yes, I realize that Byron Cowart, Adonis Thomas and Cece Jefferson could have huge impacts on Florida, and losing them would be a shame. Trust me, I get that. But I’m willing to spend less focus on them to get the right head coach to ensure that future recruiting classes don’t wind up tanking because the on field performance is so bad.
For example, Muschamp was recognized as a top recruiter, but he missed on Dalvin Cook, Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph, Adoree’ Jackson, Nelson Agholor, Tracy Howard, Denzel Perryman, Tyriq McCord, and many, many more because Florida just wasn’t performing well on the field. That’s what is most important. Win games- and Florida has the talent to do it next year with the right coaching- and the place will, to a degree, recruit itself. Sunshine state. Beaches in two directions a couple hours away. Warm weather. SEC. Three national championships. Great facilities. Plus, half the kids Florida recruits on a yearly basis grew up Gator fans anyway. You don’t need to be the world’s best recruiter to win championships at Florida. You just need to be good, and have good enough assistants to help you.
As for who the next head coach will be, at this point, your guess is as good as mine. Bob Stoops was the favorite a week ago, but now he is no longer being considered. Things change. Right now, Hugh Freeze is rumored to be considering his options, but that has negligible value as well; he’s coming off a big Egg Bowl win and will have a big time bowl game to prepare his team for. So we really don’t know.
There’s MUCH more about both the next head coach, the bowl game, and the incoming recruiting class coming soon. So stay tuned and keep checking for updates.
I’ll leave you with this. Florida was down before Spurrier. They came back up with Spurrier, they were down with Zook, they were up with Meyer and they were down with Muschamp. Things will get better, and possibly quite soon. Florida has a lot of talent coming back next year, and who knows? Coaches have won national championships in their first year before; Larry Coker did it at Miami in 2001, and Gus Malzahn came close last year at Auburn. So just because Florida was down with Muschamp doesn’t mean they won’t suddenly explode back up next year.
In all kinds of weather, right?