After a three-touchdown loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Florida head coach Will Muschamp's seat has gotten even hotter than it did during and after a 4-8 season in 2013. For many Gators fans, that loss — featuring the most yardage a Florida defense has ever conceded — was the final straw in their ongoing and internal tug of war between liking Muschamp and loathing the product he's put on the field, and the calls for his dismissal have grown louder.
Unfortunately for those fans, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley isn't about to give in to mob rule. Foley tells the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi (I know, I'm sorry) that Muschamp will get the full 2014 season to prove his mettle — or lack thereof:
It's no secret Muschamp needs to have a vastly improved season this year to save his job; everybody knows that. If his team stinks again, he deserves to get fired. What I don't get are the fans who want him gone right now. Why? It serves absolutely no purpose because it's not going to happen. Foley is not going to fire Muschamp four, five or six games into the season. He told me just the other day that Muschamp will get the entire season to prove the program is moving in the right direction.
"You never judge or evaluate a program based on one game or one season," Foley said. "That's just not how we do things here. We're going to evaluate where we're headed – where the players are, how is recruiting going, what type of staff we have — are we a better (program)? That's going to be plain for all of us to see, but it's also going to be played out over the course of 11 games and we'll see where we are when we get to the end of the season."
Foley's logic is sound, I think: We will absolutely know, at the end of Florida's regular season, whether Muschamp should be retained or fired. There won't be much uncertainty. And evaluating a program in totality based on one game or one season leaves us all prone to overreaction — something that's happened after all three Florida games this year, and something that even happened after the game that Florida didn't end up playing.
But Bianchi — whose work, some of you may know, is on a link-only-if-necessary basis here, and whose work is linked here because Bianchi really does talk to Foley on occasion — also correctly points out that Florida's situation in 2014 is much different from its situation in 2004. Then, Ron Zook was muddling through a third straight uninspiring season, and Florida — along with Notre Dame — had its eyes on hotshot Utah coach Urban Meyer. When Zook was fired effective at the end of the regular season after a loss to Mississippi State, the path was clear for Foley to poach Meyer from Florida president Bernie Machen's old employer. (And Notre Dame ended up with Charlie Weis.)
In 2014, there's no such favorite son to neatly install at Florida, and no clear candidate for a nearly lateral transition. Jim Harbaugh's name has been popular among fans, but he's very capable of leaving the San Francisco 49ers for another NFL job, or the top job at Michigan, his alma mater. Dan Mullen, who Bianchi dismisses for his losing SEC record, has all of two or three impressive wins at Mississippi State. Mike Gundy seems happily entrenched in Stillwater, and Kliff Kingsbury equally so in Lubbock — where his Red Raiders have lost seven of their last 10 games, and where he's already making more per season than Muschamp is.
To find coaches who would almost certainly jump at the chance to come to Florida, we must dig down to names like former Florida assistant Doc Holliday, who's excelled at Marshall after a slow start, or East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill, whose best draw is the Pirates' pyrotechnic offense, coordinated by wunderkind Lincoln Riley. And those aren't names that would excite fans as midseason hirings — except in the respect that they aren't Will Muschamp.
Foley's patience with Muschamp is a reaction both to what I've been told is lingering regret about how quickly he pulled the trigger on Zook — despite that decision ultimately netting Florida its most successful period of football ever — and to his long and storied career in athletics administration. Foley has made changes when necessary, too, notably with the firings of Zook, baseball coach Andy Lopez, and women's basketball coach Carolyn Peck, and his firings have generally been revealed as good decisions.
So, even if I'm trending toward not giving Muschamp the benefit of the doubt, Foley still has mine, and Bianchi has a point — as distressing as that is to write — about the futility of grabbing pitchforks now.
Florida will either keep or fire Will Muschamp after this season. We know that now; we've known that for months. Does not knowing which way the Gators will go for two more months really matter that much?