The chants began slowly but by the time the Missouri Tigers had built a 42-0 lead over the Florida Gators, the homecoming crowd grew restless.
“Fire Muschamp!” could be heard so audibly in the stands that even television cameras picked it up and fans watching at home were treated to it as well. The chant resonated from an unlikely place. It wasn’t the student section — which was clearing out of the stands and making their way to the bars across the street — but from the alumni section. Thousands of alumni had made their way to Gainesville for homecoming and for a second consecutive year were treated to a drubbing of their alma mater.
Following the game — and in the moment — Will Muschamp maintained that he wasn’t aware of the chants coming down from the alumni section of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. He thanked the fans for their showing at Gator Growl the night before and, like so many times before, promised to get things fixed.
“Our fans have been great. I really appreciate the support. Last night the Gator Growl was outstanding. Our fans to start the game were outstanding,” he said. “We need to play better. Just keep hanging with us. We need to go to Jacksonville to get this thing fixed. That’s what we plan on doing.”
Muschamp’s relationship with Florida fans has been tumultuous, to say the least. They loved him when he came to the program as a young coach who was the head coach in waiting at Texas. His defensive style and the defenses that he put on the field allowed fans to puff their chest and point towards something to brag about in the office and to friends. They loved his passion when Florida went 11-2 in 2012 but then things turned. As the losses started piling up Muschamp told some fans they “need to get a grip” and even got into a shouting match with a fan as he left EverBank Field following a third-consecutive loss to Georgia.
Following a triple-overtime win against Kentucky and less than inspiring performances against Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and Kentucky the fans have come for blood. They want change and don’t want to wait for it to “get fixed.”
On Monday, following a bye week, Muschamp acknowledged that he has heard the disappointment of the fans being expressed. He understands that his football team is not performing on the field, that they haven’t done so in two seasons and that the product he’s putting on the field is no longer fun to watch — if watchable at all.
He’s a man and he can take the fans on social media calling for his job. He’s seen the websites pop up already talking about who will replace him. He knows how you feel but it isn’t affecting him and how he goes about his day-to-day.
“Every week is the same during the season. It’s groundhog day as far as hours, time, time spent watching film,” he said. “I’m hardly ever in my office, I’m in the staff room constantly you know constantly helping them get ready for a game. Complete bunker mentality during the season. As far as what we need to do to be successful.”
Muschamp signed up for this. He knew the expectations of the fan base. The expectations that were conceived in the 90’s when Steve Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun changed the way football was played in the SEC. The expectations that Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow raised by winning two BCS National Championships in three seasons. He signed on the dotted line knowing full well that if he didn’t live up to those lofty expectations that this visceral reaction would rain down on him.
He explained to his team after their loss to Missouri that fans but tickets and have a right to boo; that’s their choice.
“They buy the ticket they can come boo and chant and holler and scream and start a website and all that stuff.’ If that’s what they want to do, that’s certainly their prerogative,” he said. “As a coach or a player when you come to the University of Florida or a place like this, that’s something you’ve got to accept. That’s part of it.”
It doesn’t, however, help having to go home to your family, who hears all of those things as well. Muschamp’s wife Carol and his two sons, Jackson and Whit also hear the negativity focused at their husband and father. As the wife of a coach, Carol knows that this is part of the territory. Fans will love you when you’re winning but when you’re not; they’re going to let you hear about it. His sons, however, didn’t sign up for it and going home and explaining the things that they’re hearing about their dad may be the toughest part of the job.
“Well, you’ve got to get home and explain to your 9-year-old why they’re chanting to fire your dad,” Muschamp said.
Many believe that the writing is on the wall for Muschamp, that his fate is sealed. He’s not focusing on that, he doesn’t have the time to.
Muschamp was 0-4 as a Georgia player against Florida and he’s 0-3 against Georgia as the head coach at Florida. This week he’s trying to help his senior class — his first recruiting class at Florida — to stave off the same fate he suffered, going winless in the Florida Georgia rivalry.
A win may not quiet the fans that want him gone but a loss would be catastrophic to the team and the program. He may never be beloved in Gainesville like many thought he would be when he was announced as the head coach four years ago but he always knew that was a possibility.
“There’s some great things that come along with this job and there’s some tough deals you’ve got to deal with,” Muschamp said. “I don’t complain about any of that stuff. That’s part of the job when you come here.”
“It is what it is.”