Florida played and lost a hard-fought game on the road at South Carolina on Saturday, one that made me and many other fans in attendance very, very proud of the Gators on the field. But Will Muschamp saying one thing that will be taken out of context repeatedly is going to be the lasting memory of this game for many.
Above is Muschamp's postgame press conference. At the 1:48 mark, Muschamp, responding to a question asking to elaborate on the Gators' "fight" despite missing linemen and Tyler Murphy, says this:
Yeah, I mean, you know, guys, it's ... I mean, it's not excuses. It's real. It really is. You know? You can say what you wanna say, you can write whatever the hell you wanna write: It's real. It's frustrating. It's frustrating for that locker room — to hell with me, I worry about the kids.
You know, these kids have fought their butts off. There's a lot of negativity out there, and some of our fans need to get a grip. They really do. They got a bunch of kids in that locker room fighting their butt off.
They can criticize me all you want, I'm great with that. They pay me enough money to deal with it. But those kids don't. They really don't. And they fought their butts off, and they continue to fight and play hard. Nobody's ever questioned their efforts.
And, I'm just, I'm just extremely proud of them, and the resolve, and the fight, and pulling together like ... like Florida Gators do. Extremely proud of them.
We just didn't get it done. That's on me. That's my fault. Nobody else's.
This is Muschamp at wit's end, after a slugfest on the road that slipped away from the Gators because a handful of big plays eroded a night's worth of honest, Herculean effort, and it's Muschamp getting a chance to defend his players and approve of their fight. It's Muschamp taking a shot at fans who want to make this about those players, instead of him; though Muschamp must know the players, not Muschamp, are the ones who make the plays and win or lose the games on the field, he's still going to do his damnedest to defend those players and take as much of the blame as possible. He's paid enough, certainly, to take the blame, and he's a fully-fledged adult.
Muschamp's done this repeatedly in his Florida career, rarely, if ever, throwing a player under the bus. (Austin Hardin and Kyle Christy, who have struggled this year, have gotten some veiled shots, but beyond those two, I'm hard-pressed to name other players who Muschamp has publicly criticized.) He's used the "they pay me enough" line repeatedly, too, and he's been as gracious, liberal, and self-abnegating with credit in the good times as he is judicious and self-flagellating in the bad.
And Muschamp absolutely has a point about fans who take shots at players. I've written this season about fans who rejoiced in Jeff Driskel's injury; I've noticed plenty of frustrations directed at players, from Hardin to Trey Burton to Tyler Moore to Antonio Morrison, that have gone beyond garden-variety criticism. I have hated those reactions for a number of reasons, but the primary one is their unfairness: It is tremendously easy for a fan on a couch, at a computer, or in the stands to yell about how a player sucks, but it is almost always harder to explain why.
I try to couch nearly all of my frustrations with players and coaches in specific, holistically-based critiques that go beyond "X didn't make Y play," and I think that helps me make a more complete judgment on a player, a game, or a scheme. And I always, always remember that players have families, and friends, and feelings. (Trey Burton noting a joke about him should be some proof of that.) Some fans don't, which leads to more specious and vitriolic criticism.
Muschamp's not talking to the many, many fans who criticize him and his staff. He's talking to the fans who take out their frustrations on players. He clarified this on Monday, responding to a question about his "get a grip" remarks with "We got great fans here, and it's a small percentage. I care about the kids. I'm talking to a small percentage of our fans."
And he used a phrase that made for a sound bite that decontextualizes his comments perfectly, and at a moment when the frustrations are at a peak: That choice, not the more important and valuable one to defend his players vociferously, is what fans are going to remember.
But that means those fans he was talking to are going to be criticizing Muschamp, not his players. There are Florida fans who probably ought to get a grip in a general sense not related to railing against players, too, and Muschamp just guaranteed most of their ire is coming his way, as well.
And, as he's said ad nauseam, he can take it.