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Will Muschamp came to Florida and promised to do things the "Florida Way." So far, that's working out for him ... and the Gators.
Will Muschamp told the world in his first press conference as Florida's head coach that he wanted to institute something he called the "Florida Way."
"There’s a certain thing that I’m going to refer to as the Florida Way, and that’s the way (players) need to act and that’s the way they need to represent our university," Muschamp said at his introductory press conference.
"I’m going to demand that, and I think that you’ll understand in time that that’s something that’s very important to me."
Observers thought then that Muschamp was talking about how players behaved, especially off the field, and drew the contrast with Urban Meyer's "top one percent of the one percent" comment immediately. And when a rash of transfers came in the summer of 2011, with arrests following that fall, it felt like another hollow term used by a coach as shorthand for "I want my guys."
The Florida Way doesn't feel like a joke anymore.
The striking thing about last week's postgame comments in the Florida locker room, as heard on postgame radio coverage, was how businesslike and focused the Gators interviewed seemed. The "We've got to work on Florida" comment that Muschamp and his coaches love to use was on the lips of more than a few players, and it's clear that Muschamp and coaches want to throw players who will toe that party line to the media — The Gainesville Sun's Kevin Brockway vented about UF providing Frankie Hammond, who is well-spoken, and not touchdown-scorer Quinton Dunbar, who is a bit rougher, to the media after Saturday's game, throwing #Incompetent into a tweet he has since deleted.
Muschamp, like his former boss and eternal mentor Nick Saban, likes things boring off the field, and close to boring on it; he's got to be pleased with the relatively unspectacular 2012 season to date. Florida has gotten through the first four games of what could have been a tumultuous season with very little rocking of the S.S. Gators. The last big piece of news that got reported before Muschamp told it to the media was Jeff Driskel winning the starting job, and Florida's so successfully marginalized David Pingalore (to be fair, he does it to himself, too) that the report seemed insane at the time and turned out to be dead-on.
Florida players spent the entire summer fending off questions about whether Driskel or Jacoby Brissett would be the starting quarterback for the Gators this fall, occasionally lying and often conveniently forgetting or misremembering details that would have tipped the media off to one player taking a lead. A.C. Leonard's domestic violence arrest, the only non-drug possession and non-traffic arrest for a Florida player in 2012, was handled quietly and privately, with Leonard's transfer getting announced at SEC Media Days. The two players with the most reason to be disgruntled this fall, Brissett and Andre Debose, have been mum about their lack of playing time.
Florida has internalized the Saban/Muschamp ethos of family, and has matured under the paternal Muschamp and a newly-unified coaching staff. It's also gotten better on the field by playing more disciplined football: the win over Bowling Green was marred by a yellow storm of penalty flags, but Florida has outscored all four of its opponents in the second half, when composure, adjustments, and stamina are essential, and showed impressive maturity by rallying on the road against two good SEC teams.
Most of the talk about Florida on this quiet bye week has been about how this 4-0 is different from the 2011 4-0; I think the Florida Way explains a lot of it. That team was winning games over overmatched foes (none of the four teams Florida beat in September 2011 finished with a winning record) based on flukes like offensive home runs from Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps and an injury to Tennessee's Justin Hunter that torpedoed the Vols' chances of winning in Gainesville. This year, Florida is winning by doing what Muschamp wants his Gators to do: running the ball repeatedly, passing smartly, eliminating mistakes, forcing turnovers, and never wilting. The only thing that has been truly flashy for Florida this season was Trey Burton's performance against Tennessee — and even that seems like a reinforcement of the importance of practice, given that Burton is routinely praised for his diligence as a practice player.
If there's a Florida Way on the field, it sure seems as though we've gotten a long look at it this September.
All of this is easy to say while Florida has a goose egg in the loss column, and it's possible that LSU will overwhelm the Gators in Gainesville next Saturday, providing the first bump in the road for a Florida team that is closer to fully operational than it has been since the Sugar Bowl demolition of Cincinnati in January 2010.
But I wouldn't expect this season to be ruined if Florida does lose to LSU, even badly. Panicking doesn't seem to fit the Florida Way.