It's no secret that Will Muschamp's yet to win over the entirety of the Florida fan base. His teams have yet to make it to an SEC Championship Game, and have produced frustrating losses that dim the glow of their thrilling wins. His style runs counter to what Gators were raised on and spoiled by under his predecessors, and his program's still on its way up the mountain, not near the peak.
But Muschamp deserves your consideration and your votes for Liberty Mutual's Coach of the Year award both for what he's put on the field and what he puts into the Gainesville community.
I think it's actually sort of unfortunate that I have to defend Muschamp's football acumen, because understanding that he's a great — and I mean great — coach is easy if you look at Florida's numbers on defense, the unit he manages.
Will Muschamp's Defenses at Florida
National ranks in parentheses.
|Total defense (yards per game)||299.5 (8th)||286.7 (5th)||217.0 (2nd)|
|Scoring defense (points per game)||20.3 (20th)||14.5 (5th)||12.2 (T-4th)|
|Yards per play allowed||4.59 (8th)||4.35 (4th)||3.82 (2nd)|
|Pass efficiency defense||117.81 (28th)||95.48 (2nd)||81.17 (2nd)|
|Third down conversion percentage||27.12% (2nd)||31.02% (10th)||22.95% (2nd)|
Muschamp had a good defense in 2011, despite that defense being young and adjusting to his system; he's had two great defenses since, and you can make an argument that the 2013 defense is the nation's best. And Muschamp has full control over that defense, while he farms out offense largely to his offensive coordinators — if you blame him for meddling on offense, as you probably have some right to do, you should also give him credit for being fully involved with his superb defense.
Muschamp's 22-10 as a head coach, which strikes me as a very good mark, if not a great one. But four of those 22 wins came over 10-win teams in 2012, tying a school record for wins over 10-win teams, and Muschamp's Gators had to shut down Johnny Manziel, outslug LSU, rain turnovers on South Carolina, and dominate Florida State on the road to get them. It's entirely possible that Florida could have played for a national title in 2012 had USC beaten Notre Dame at the end of the year, and the Gators were underrated all season — and thanks to a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville and an early-season debacling in Miami that was only Muschamp's fault if you think he told his players to commit turnovers, it feels like what Muschamp and Florida did in 2012 is destined to be underrated for some years to come.
That's okay. Florida's recruiting and developing players well enough to be a perennial power in the SEC East, and getting to that level also makes the Gators perennial national title contenders, given how rugged the SEC is. If Muschamp hasn't gotten his due yet, he's set up to get it in the near future.
But what Muschamp does with players in his program and with his status in Gainesville is important, too. And he deserves praise for what he does.
It's almost inarguable that Muschamp's been a better disciplinarian than Urban Meyer was. He kicked Janoris Jenkins, likely to be that 2011 team's best player, off his roster; he's set the bar for rehabilitation high for the Florida players accused of serious crimes, like A.C. Leonard and Jessamen Dunker, accelerating their departures from Gainesville. And he's been hard on the players who earned suspensions for off-the-field issues — Antonio Morrison ran stadiums in full pads, remember — and eventually returned to eligibility, an example of his old-school mentality (a representative mantra: "I'm young, but I'm old-fashioned") when it comes to discipline.
Muschamp's spoken about how he tries to coach and teach his players like he would his sons, and he's done what any good, ambitious dad would do by publicly saying he's "100 percent responsible" for their actions — something I find noble, if factually incorrect. And, though this doesn't matter nearly as much to most fans as it does to me, he's stocked Florida's program with fine young men (who are good at football), so I respect Muschamp more when he makes blistering defenses of his players.
There are little things that I've heard, too, that make me like Muschamp as a Coach Eric Taylor-esque molder of men who teaches life through football, but I don't think Muschamp actually cares about getting press for doing good things: He's paid to win football games, and judged on whether he does, and the rest is ancillary.
That, not heartlessness, is why you have to dig to find mentions of Muschamp doing things for charity. (His wife, Carol, in 2012: "Will and I like to be selective. We are kind of private in our involvement in various charities and things like that.") And yet he's been active in raising money for fighting children's cancer...
...and continued a charity golf tournament that raises money for local youth groups.
Muschamp's certainly not the showiest coach in America when it comes to doing good things and producing good people, but I've seen more than enough in his three years at Florida to really respect him as both a football coach and a member of the community, and I'm happy to support him as a candidate for Liberty Mutual's Coach of the Year, which will reward its winner with $50,000 to give to charity.
And so I encourage you to vote for Muschamp for that honor, regardless of whether you love him as a coach for four hours on Saturday. How he conducts himself over the other 164 hours in a given week makes me sure that he deserves an honor like this, and would donate that money to a worthy cause.
Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.