We have all been through something in our lives be it a friendship, professional acquaintance, or relationship where for whatever reason just wasn’t working. After some time, the tension builds and finally some event occurs that alters or destroys the relationship. Finally, after the event, we sit down for the “talk”.
For Gator fans locked in a long-term dysfunctional relationship with Will Muschamp, the event that changed things was when Dylan Thompson crossed the goal line in overtime on Saturday. The “talk” finally came on Sunday afternoon.
Over the last few days I have been checking the message boards on Gator Country and following the rumors on Twitter regarding the speculation of the next person that will coach the Gators football team. The next few weeks will provide lots of excitement and hope to a resigned and apathetic fan base. However, part of me feels dirty and ashamed at the firing of Will Muschamp; I feel like a shallow hypocrite.
Over the years, Seinfeld and many other shows have made their living on exploiting the shallowness of our culture. However, Seinfeld delivered us the now-seemingly ubiquitous, “it’s not you, it’s me” mantra. With Jeremy Foley as our mouthpiece, Gator fans told this Muschamp, “Sorry, but, it’s not you, it’s me.” As a collective, we were unhappy with the amount of wins and style of football produced at Florida in the Muschamp era. Well, in the case of Will Muschamp’s departure, maybe it was us and not him.
By all accounts, Will Muschamp is respected and revered by his own players. If you ever go on Twitter it has been a non-stop love-fest pouring from his players since Sunday afternoon. They clearly love and respect Muschamp.
The coaching fraternity also seems to adore and respect Muschamp. The Godfather of Gator football, Stephen Orr Spurrier, openly sympathized with Will Muschamp, after he beat him on Saturday. Additionally, most commentators and pundits feel he will have no problem finding work after the FSU game. In fact, many feel there will be no shortage of programs that may line up for his services as a defensive coordinator.
Moreover, one of the latent fears embedded in the Gator fan base was that Muschamp might go to a rival and light up our offenses on an annual basis. No one likes to coach against a coach with a chip on his shoulder. Since he is very close to both Jimbo Fisher and Steve Spurrier, it is a very distinct possibility. Those fears may very well become a nightmare scenario for Gator fans.
Many fans on the Gator Country message boards espouse how much they want a high character coach to lead the Gators. In fact, many go so far as to negate the candidacies of many coaches based on real or perceived character flaws. Will Muschamp came to Florida without the slightest hint of a character issue. More importantly, he leaves this program without the hint of any impropriety.
Gator fans want a clean program. Will Muschamp gave Gator fans a clean program without the character issues that had become common place under Urban Meyer. When Urban Meyer phoned in the 2010 season and mounting problems within the locker room led him resign to “spend more time with his family”, someone had to clean up the mess. Someone had to come in and address the entitlement issues and take responsibility of the player conduct issues.
However, Gator fans wanted explosive offenses that ran up and down the field on opponents and won by 30-point margins with stifling defense. Moreover, we wanted a seamless transition from the Meyer regime to the Muschamp era.
In short, Gator fans want perfection. We want it all and we want it now! We are Veruca Salt. We are not the first football fan or the last football fans to become Veruca Salt, but we are the most current visible ones and that perception may or may not shade the next coach’s decision to come to Florida.
No one argues or contends that Will Muschamp lacked character or many other important factors desired as a head coach. In fact, no one really seems to argue that he is a bad coach; it is that he wasn’t a great head coach. The sole reason for Muschamp’s dismissal, which Muschamp and Foley agreed on, was Muschamp did not win enough football games. However, if that is the single issue that ended Muschamp’s time at Florida, shouldn’t we ask ourselves some important questions?
The Gator fan base needs to accept that the Spurrier years, when we won conference championships seemingly at will without the taint of controversy, was a black swan event; a rare high-profile event, beyond the normal expectations, which we have rationalized as if it could be expected. That was a rare and precious time to be a Florida Gator and even Meyer with his two National Championships could not duplicate what it felt like to be a Gator during the 1990s. Those championships, while wonderful, will never hold the cache of the 1996 National Championship with Spurrier, the prodigal son, who against long odds led us to the Promised Land.
Sure, we had success in the 1980s, but we also were placed on probation multiple times and narrowly escaped the dreaded NCAA death penalty in 1990. In retrospect, when Spurrier took over in 1990, success wasn’t guaranteed, assured or assumed. He was taking over a “dirty” program mired in NCAA penalties. That is part of Florida’s past that we rarely talk about, but is something we should always keep in mind.
Additionally, we need to look no further than Meyer’s tenure to confirm that winning in the ultra-competitive SEC comes at a price. Meyer’s teams, while talented, had many festering issues under the surface regarding player entitlement, covering up positive drug-tests, the “Circle of Trust”, and other issues regarding player conduct. In fact, when Janoris Jenkins was kicked off the team by Will Muschamp he said openly, that if Meyer had still been the coach he would still be playing for the Gators. The hard truth is that the success during Meyer’s time with the Gators came at a price. Maybe the price was our current football purgatory and the sacrifice of another coach at the altar of the football gods.
In short, I am saying that we can’t have it all without balance and patience. Even the head ball coach hasn’t duplicated his magical success at Florida in the NFL or at South Carolina. The expectations at Florida seem to be unattainable because even the man, who attained them, can’t match them.
So what do Gator fans want?
One needs to look no farther than FSU to see what a program run without principles looks like. No one wants that. Do we want Bama? No we tried that with Muschamp, no one can do what Bama does without the endless stream of five-star recruits they rack up every year. Additionally, rational people could argue that Bama has actually underachieved in regards to the talent stockpiled in Tuscaloosa. Besides, Gator fans didn’t like the Saban brand of football in 2012 when the Gators successfully ran it.
So we look towards the football heavens with stars in our eyes, for the home-run hire; this fictional coach that is a top-notch recruiter, an offensive genius, will turn the program around in a season or two, a high-character guy, runs a clean program, isn’t older than 45, has head coaching experience at a successful high-profile big 5 school, and will stay at the program for 30 years. It is odd to me that no one seems to understand why this might be a down year for coaching candidates. In any year, the candidate pool for a coach like that is virtually non-existent.
Therefore, we are chasing a black swan. The success of Meyer only solidified the mentality; it was only after his success that we realized that the program was not what some had perceived it to be. However, the problem is that no one has scaled back their expectations despite the revelations.
Now before all the trolls come out telling me that I have a loser’s mentality; I am not saying that Muschamp’s tenure was successful on the field. You can’t lose games like Mizzou and South Carolina anywhere. Muschamp needed more time to grow into the role of a head coach. The anti-Muschamp crowd was right about that; Florida is not a place where you get to learn to be a head coach. The mistake Foley made with Muschamp happened four years ago, not last year or this year.
I am also not claiming Florida is a terrible place to coach or that we cannot duplicate past success, what I am saying is that we should have a focus on balancing our interests in winning and the other aspects of the program. When the sole focus becomes championships, then we need to examine the role that football plays in our lives. If winning is all that matters then we are Penn State, Bama, and Florida State. I like to think that the University of Florida’s mission is broader than simply winning football games.
Moreover, I am not willing to label Muschamp’s time a Florida a failure. Muschamp did a lot of heavy lifting for the next coach. If you don’t think Florida’s program was a mess when Meyer, then left you are kidding yourself. Whoever comes in will benefit from Muschamp’s hard work in cleaning up the image of the program and creating a cohesive locker room. Finally, there is talent on this team; it may not be Bama talent; but it’s good enough talent to win the SEC East.
Regardless of who we hire, the Gator Nation needs to take a hard look at itself and its expectations for its football program. We all want success, but no one wants a program with a win at all costs mentality. Building a program requires patience and balance; something that has been in short supply because of our past successes. However, in addition to past successes, we need to look at as past failures as a guide to how we want to run the program as well.
Success takes time and I am sure anyone that comes to Florida will want to make some changes. In that vein, the new hire needs the permission to fail a few times before success because the process to rebuild this team may take a couple of seasons depending on what new offensive and defensive systems, if any, are installed in the spring. Changing things over and over again could lead to a vicious cycle; we need to be careful
Moreover, a reassessment of our core values as fans may be in order. When a person like Will Muschamp is vilified so deeply for the simple matter of not winning football games, perhaps a deeper philosophical examination of what is, or what is not, important in the larger game of life may be in order. Perhaps, in a few years as Muschamp strides off the sideline as a victorious opposing coach Gator fans will be wishing that we never told him that, “it’s not you, it’s me.”