“If the people I’ve been around are better people when I’ve left, then that’s what I value the most.”
Several years ago a young man said this in relation to the legacy he was leaving behind.
The young man was Tim Tebow, as he was getting ready to leave the University of Florida for the NFL. After two national championships, a Heisman trophy, countless other awards and four years worth of once in a lifetime memories for Gator fans, there were a list of things Tebow could have claimed as the legacy he was leaving behind. But the people, that’s what meant the most to him.
It’s been the people that have been the legacy for Will Muschamp as well.
WHAT HE’LL LEAVE BEHIND
As the now incumbent head coach, Muschamp will spend the next couple of weeks packing up his office inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, during which he’ll have time to reflect on the past four years in Gainesville.
He’ll most likely pack a picture from his introductory press conference way back on December 14, 2010 when he was the hotshot hire lured away from Texas to come home to Gainesville.
He’ll wrap up the bowl gift from the Gators improbable run to the Sugar Bowl after that exciting 2012 11-2 season. “One game away from the national championship” he’ll say to himself, as he always does when mentioning that season; then he’ll place it in the box and move on down the shelf.
All that’s left from 2013 has already gone into the recycling or lost in the bowels of the infirmary right next to the waste bin that holds the hopes and dreams that so many pinned on that season. He’ll quickly move on from there.
And then he’ll pick up a game ball.
As a defensive coordinator, Muschamp won a national championship while at LSU and coached for another at Texas (if only Colt hadn’t got hurt). But the game ball isn’t from either of those times. This is from November 1, 2014 and a product of the Worlds Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Muschamp saw the boys from his dream job defeat the boys from his alma mater and that is the game ball he’ll cherish. Not because winning that game gave him a couple of more weeks as the head coach at Florida. And not because it was his one and so far only win in the Florida-Georgia rivalry. But because his team, with their backs against the wall, took the field and played their hearts out for the coach that held it.
That is Muschamps legacy.
Or at least a snapshot of the larger picture.
He took a program that had essentially become a heartless factory that only churned out delinquent NFL players and gave it something else to be proud of. Unfortunately it was hardly ever wins and that’s ultimately what cost him his job. But he did give this program respectability and if the next coach can just simply build off the foundation that Muschamp toiled over, he’ll be in good shape.
This is more than just empty sentiment though. There are numbers to back up the claim.
CHANGING THE HEART OF A PROGRAM
As University President Bernie Machen said during Monday morning’s press conference, the football team’s [Academic Progress Rate] was 979 this past spring, which is 10 points above the national average for football.
*Editor’s Note: Florida football’s APR is actually more than 10 points above the national average. As of May 14, 2014 the national average for football is 951.
Machen also pointed out that Muschamp has had 68 players that are academic All-SEC, has graduated 44 players with degrees and helped bring all of that academic emphasis together by producing a team with the highest composite GPA in the history of University of Florida football.
There was one stat though that Machen didn’t touch on, and somewhat surprisingly so as it is perhaps the most telling.
When Urban Meyer was the head coach in The Swamp, he won two national championships…at the cost of having 31 players arrested. That does not include all of the other disciplinary problems that didn’t warrant arrest records.
4 SIMPLE RULES FOR PLAYING AT FLORIDA
Almost two years ago, I stumbled up on an easel outside of the Gators meeting room. It was a list of four rules that Muschamp was asking his guys to abide by.
- Don’t be out after midnight
- Go to class
- Be smart on social media
- Be on time
In Muschamps time at Florida, he had 15 arrested. Now granted the law of simple averages would tell us that Champ was on pace to match Meyer’s number, but if you look at the timeline, it tells a different story.
Three of those players were arrested in Muschamp’s first month on the job. Those were guys held over from the previous system.
In fact one of them, Janoris Jenkins whom Muschamp kicked off the team, made a parting shot on his way out.
“If [Meyer] was still the coach at Florida, I’d still be there.”
Three more arrested were all guys Meyer recruited.
Recruiting “quality young men” was always something Muschamp harped on, and it’s effect showed.
When freshman quarterback Treon Harris was accused of sexual assault in early October, Muschamp and staff immediately suspended him while the investigation pended. This was a huge contrast to the way other certain schools in this state are handling the same case.
Other than a citation received by a yet on campus freshman in May, it was also the first real discipline problem that Muschamp had had with his team in over 15 months.
Machen, who worked with Urban Meyer at Utah and essentially brought him to Florida, left his press conference with one final tip of the cap to Will Muschamp.
“Never have I worked with a coach in any sport over three different universities who has been more supportive of the university mission and what we’re trying to accomplish. In the end, can you say that someone who has to leave has made a positive contribution, and the answer for that is definitely yes, for Will Muschamp. In fact, I would love for my son or my grandson to have the opportunity to be coached by Will Muschamp. Thank you.”
PRACTICING WHAT HE PREACHED
I was sitting on the front row during this Monday press conference, with a room full of local and national media, sports and news alike crammed in. Everyone was focused at the time on Bernie Machen and then Jeremy Foley who followed. My attention was on the person sitting six inches to my right.
It was Will Muschamp, and he kept his attention focused forward as well, turning only to smile and ask how I was doing. He didn’t fidget or look down. He paid attention to the men speaking with a mellowed version of his infamous stare and his only distraction was when he quietly opened a cherry cough drop. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who heard the crinkle of the plastic wrapper. He wasn’t there to make a scene; he was just quietly waiting his turn to speak.
When he did, he opened with a joke, stating he was underdressed compared to Machen and Foley in suits. Then he proceeded with the same class and blue-collar attitude that has earned him the respect of so many in the football world. He took the time to stick up for his team, ever the player’s coach.
“We’ve got a deep and talented roster, so don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got no good players.”
A handful of those players were leaning up against the wall of the press conference room, watching as their coach handled his firing for all the world to see with a dignity that he had spent countless days and months instilling in them.
When Muschamp had done his time at the podium, he left to go game plan for the Gators next opponent, because he is still the coach for the next two weeks after all; then the players stepped forward and cemented his legacy.
Center Max Garcia credit’s Muschamp with helping him grow on the field, but more importantly off.
“I’ve grown so much as a man. When I got here I was just a boy, just a little kid,” Garcia says.“I didn’t know how I could play the game to this level that I’m playing at…so I’m just truly blessed to have met coach Muschamp and all the people he’s brought around me.”
For defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr., the past few days have shown him that Muschamp practices what he preaches and for that, Fowler will hold a little tighter to his lessons learned from Champ.
“I’m really impressed with him. You know Champ, one of the things he always taught us no matter what just always show class. And you know that’s something he really always taught us just be a class act person, be a blue-collar person, you know. So I respect Champ for that…The biggest lesson [I learned from him] just becoming a man, just learning the game, becoming a student of the game. A lot of people think it’s just going out there and playing football on Saturday, but there’s a lot of stuff in between that goes on in the facility and the program. A lot of things that he’s done. Taught us how to become young men, young grown adults and just being ready for the outside world when it’s time for us to leave.”
As they do leave, they’ll be carrying with them all that Will Muschamp taught them. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley hopes the vestiges of it stick around as well.
“The environment inside our building is the best it’s ever been because of Will,” Foley remarks.
A SOLID FOUNDATION; A LASTING LEGACY
Looking back on a dismal 2013 season, Foley remembers, “I never saw a guy lose control; I never saw a guy who was walking around with a deer-in-the-headlights look. I saw a guy who just kept grinding and was a leader,” he explained.
That leader will now move on, and Dante Fowler predicts he’ll only move upwards.
“He’s young, a lot of people don’t realize that but he has a bright future ahead of him and this really is just only the beginning you know for him and this is something he can say he did. I know it was a dream job for him and he’s just accomplishing a lot of things that he wanted to do and he has a really bright future ahead of him.”
That bright future will shine through countless players, as they move on to professional careers, some on the field, some not.
It will also be reflected in Gainesville.
The next coach may bring a championship and that would be much appreciated among fans.
He’ll do so with young boys that Will Muschamp molded into men; and he’ll be building a program on top of a solid foundation with a cornerstone of guys that represent class, respectability and hard work.
That is Will Muschamps legacy at Florida. He left it better than he found it, touching each life he came in contact with along the way, and as Tebow says, that’s what Gator Nation should value the most.