He spent just under three hours to go through nine separate interviews. In total, Will Muschamp answered forty questions related to his job security last week at SEC Media Days.
It wasn’t unexpected, Muschamp knew that would be the topic du jour, and he addressed it his 1,938-word opening address before the media had a chance to hound him with their own questions.
“There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business. That’s part of it. The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we’re going to do,” he said. “I got a lot of confidence in this team and staff. This is probably the most complete team we’ve had since I’ve been at the University of Florida in all three phases.”
The questions were warranted. Jeremy Foley felt the need to hold an impromptu press conference the week after Florida fell to Georgia Southern. With media gathered around him in the press box at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Foley expressed his confidence in Muschamp and promised that the coach would be retained, while admitting that the 2013 season was unacceptable.
But what is acceptable at Florida? Steve Spurrier set an expectation of excellence during his tenure in Gainesville. It was a bar far too high for his successor, Ron Zook, to meet. “Urban Renewal” followed the Zook years and it was the most successful time in Florida football history.
It’s tough to follow that act; Zook found that out first hand, but Muschamp was up to the task. “They didn’t hold a gun to my head to take the job,” he said.
So here we sit. Florida fans are angry — and that’s good. If fans are angry that means they care, that they’re still invested and they haven’t given up on the team.
“That’s what happened to Lane Kiffin at USC, he lost the fan base,” Brett McMurphy of ESPN told Gator Country. “The fan base just stopped caring about the program. It’s one thing if they’re upset, it’s not good, but at least they care. If they stop caring, that’s the worst thing.”
McMurphy called the hire of Kurt Roper the biggest hire of the offseason. For any team in college football. He also believes that Florida will be vastly improved this season.
But is there a certain number of wins that will silence the lynch mob that gathered with pitchforks in their hands, demanding drastic measures be taken? Is it eight? Maybe nine wins or ten? Some fans won’t be satisfied unless Florida is playing for an SEC Championship.
There isn’t, however, a prescribed number of wins that will magically take Muschamp off of the hot seat. Jeremy Foley hasn’t set an ultimatum with a specific number of victories that Florida must attain this season.
The Gators will likely be underdogs in at least five of their 12 games this season. If you take the Vegas chalk, that’s a 7-5 season in Gainesville — a marked improvement from a year ago — but far from what most Gator fans expect from their football program.
McMurphy believes — and I agree with him — that the number of wins isn’t as important as the quality of those wins, competing rather than getting blown out in losses and an overall improvement offensively.
“I don’t know, I don’t think there’s a number that he needs to win to save his job. Foley supports him 1,000-percent,” said McMurphy. “I think the key for Muschamp is the losses; they’ve gotta be competitive losses. I mean, if they lose to Florida State, if they lose to Alabama, fans aren’t going to like that but you can kind of justify that.”
It goes back to keeping the fan base engaged. When fans go from angry to apathetic, coaches get fired. Gator fans were angry as hell after 2013 and that’s a good thing. It means you still care. You haven’t given up on Florida and even though you may think you have given up on him, you haven’t given up on Muschamp yet.
“The thing that would hurt Muschamp the most is if he loses the fan base,” McMurphy said. “If the fan base stops coming to games — the win numbers don’t matter — that would impact him more than if he doesn’t win eight, nine or ten games.”
The schedule won’t help in the endeavor to win double-digit games but the new offensive scheme should.
The thing that most impressed me about Roper was something he said in his first press conference with the local media. We asked the obvious question, “what will your offense look like here?”
He didn’t have an answer, saying he wasn’t sure what the offense would be. He needed to see the players on the roster perform in order to craft an offense and playbook around the talent on the roster.
Whew! That’s a breath of fresh air for fans that watched the previous two coordinators come to Gainesville with an offensive playbook written in stone.
The offense you’ll see this season in Gainesville wasn’t written at Duke. It wasn’t even written when Roper arrived in Gainesville. He waited to see what his new players’ strengths were before crafting his offensive playbook. Roper wants to put the ball in his playmakers hands — get them in space. He used the 15 spring practices to evaluate what players like Quinton Dunbar, Jeff Driskel, Kelvin Taylor, Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson could do best. He’ll design a new scheme to take advantage of those playmakers and put them in positions to be successful.
“It’s very simple; the three years under Muschamp the Gators have had the nation’s fourth best defense — combined in those three years. They’ve also had the 112th ranked offense out of 120 schools,” McMuprhy noted. “Now, you’ve got a guy that knows offense; they hope to stretch the field, they have wide receivers that can stretch the field and a healthy Jeff Driskel. If Florida can have any kind of improvement on offense, which they should, the defense Is gonna be solid so I think they make a big improvement.”
Can they make an Auburn-esque, worst-to-first type of run? That may not be in the cards in 2014, but Muschamp doesn’t need to make a run at a national championship this season to save his job.
He just needs to put out a product that people want to watch. The past three seasons, Florida fans used offensive drives as the time to get up and use the restroom, grab some food or get a drink. They hurried back, because they knew the orange and blue defense would soon be back out on the field after a quick drive and a punt.
Will Muschamp is a genius defensively — for all of Florida’s shortcomings the past three seasons, he has unmistakably proved this as fact. Even with major losses on the defensive side of the ball, you better believe that Muschamp will have the defense ready to go in Gainesville.
The difference this year is it appears that Muschamp has found a coach equally adept as he is on the opposite side of the ball. If Roper can bring the kind of excitement to the offensive side of the ball that Muschamp has brought to the defense, the Gators will be all right in 2014.
It’s far-fetched to think this team is a national championship contender, but hey, everyone said the same thing about Auburn before the 2013 season.