I have always respected Will Muschamp.
Ever since his Auburn defense wreaked havoc on Florida's offense in 2006 (the only loss during that championship year), and he BOOM'D his way in to our hearts, I've seen him as a tough, fiery, no-nonsense coach who could get the most out of his players.
But I had my doubts when Florida hired him to replace Urban Meyer. The Gators' hadn't fared well in their previous attempt at hiring a guy with no head coaching experience, and I was cautious. I was impressed with Muschamp's defenses, his coaching pedigree (Nick Saban, Mack Brown, Tommy Tuberville), and his attitude. I quickly learned about his Gainesville roots, excitement over the job, and his commitment to turning around the Gator program, and quickly. At his opening press conference, Muschamp made his intentions clear:
"I expect to win. We're not on a five-year plan here."
I was still hesitant. The Gators were on an emotional roller coaster the past 3 seasons!
- 2008: Urban Meyer leads the Gators to a championship!
- 2009: 11-0! Urban loses to 'Bama, resigns... Urban returns! Gators crush Cincy in the Sugar Bowl!
- 2010: Urban's back right!? Well, sort of, and the team kinda sucks... Urban resigns again, and at his resignation presser, drops this bomb:
"(Florida football) has to be fixed. It's broke a little bit right now. But the way you fix it is hard work."
Obviously, Urban was not going to be doing the hard work: He had to rest up for his next job at Ohio State. And here the Gator Nation sat, getting to know our new Head Ball Coach. Jeremy Foley though, had no reservations about his new hire:
"(Muschamp) has a great plan to win. He wants to be here. He is ready to be a head coach, in our opinion. And then you talk face to face... it's impressive... I have obviously hired some coaches who have been successful and some who haven’t been, but I do know the culture at Florida, I know what I think is a fit here, I do know what I think will work here. And obviously Will fits all those."
Muschamp challenged his team to get stronger, tougher, nasty in the trenches. He understood the SEC is a line-of-scrimmage league, and has taken players he didn't recruit and molded them in to the NFL picks. Last season, after the FSU loss, he called the team "soft", and used his first full offseason to change the culture. We've all heard the rumors and read the reports that Urban ran a loose ship at Florida, allowing players to bend or break rules and arrests to pile up as long as the wins kept coming with them.
Before his first spring practice, Muschamp had booted the Gators' best player (Janoris Jenkins), and set the tone for a new regime that wasn't going to take any crap, from his players or anyone else. Defections happened. Muschamp endured.
When compared to the almost robotic efficiency and demeanor of his predecessor, Muschamp's intensity (albeit a bit much at times) and overt desire to win is refreshing. And hell, the guy has a great sense of humor, once you soften him up with four wins against top 10 teams. A reporter asked him about the Gators' tendency to win ugly, and if the lack of sexiness would hurt the team in the polls. Muschamp responded,
"I think it was a really sexy win," Muschamp said with a smile. "I was going to come in with my shirt off, but my players didn't want me to."
I don't think Muschamp's going to replace Les Miles as a random quote machine, but that was pretty good.
All is well in Gator Nation these days, and we have Coach Boom to thank for that. It's not easy to turn around a program that had been ravaged by injuries, transfers, and attrition. The program is still playing under the 85-scholarship cap, but the future is bright. Jeff Driskel is only a sophomore, and has shown the potential to blossom into a star next season. Matt Jones has been a terror for the last two weeks, and don't forget Kelvin Taylor (yes, that Taylor) dons the Orange and Blue next season. The defense will always be nasty as long as he roams the sidelines, and in this league, that counts for a lot.
Muschamp has also instilled a mantra (developed by Jeff Dillman) this season, something that will bear repeating an remembering for as long as he is Florida's coach:
It has shown in the resilience of a team that started the season outside of the top 25, one that has come back to win huge games three times this year. When the chips are down, the Gators rise up.
You could certainly say that Muschamp is modeling his program after Nick Saban's "process" at LSU and Alabama; he has said as much himself. And though there have been some verbal barbs between Saban and Muschamp this week, the similarities in the program's rise is striking.
Both coaches went 7-6 in their first season, enduring four-game losing streaks. Both went 11-1 in the regular season of Year 2, and will play in the Sugar Bowl (though, hopefully the Gators won't lay an egg like Alabama did). Is a SEC and BCS Championship in the cards for Florida in 2013 like it was for Alabama in 2009?
Now that Florida has Will Muschamp at the helm, I wouldn't bet against it.