Will Muschamp didn’t waste any time addressing the elephant in the room when he addressed media during his Sunday night teleconference.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of questions about us going back to Florida,” he began. “We had four great years at the University of Florida and I have tremendous respect for the university, for the program. You know, I grew up in Gainesville, I grew up a Gator.”
Muschamp was born in Rome, Georgia but spent most of his life in Gainesville and grew up a fan of the Florida Gators. He went to Oak Hall High School in town. He called the opportunity to be the head coach at Florida a dream job when he was hired. Muschamp started 18-8 (10-6) in the SEC in his first two seasons before a 10-13 (7-9 SEC) record led to his firing after four seasons.
“In this profession, if you don’t win enough games, you get fired,” Muschamp said. “And that’s part of it. There’s no hard feelings, there’s no animosity, there’s no grudge. It’s part of our profession.”
After just one season as the defensive coordinator at Auburn Muschamp took the head coaching job at South Carolina, which was vacated in the middle of the year by Steve Spurrier, who has since returned to Florida as an Ambassador and Consultant for the Florida Gators Athletic Department.
Florida fans that lived through the toxic end to the Muschamp era in Gainesville circled this date, November 12, before the ink was dry on Muschamp’s new contract with South Carolina. Muschamp says he holds no ill will towards Florida over the way things ended in 2014, but agreed that there is an interesting dynamic this Saturday.
“Seeing those guys on the field and having been in their living rooms and recruited them and all that Heck I didn’t realize it was going to be Senior Day on the day, it’s their last home game,” Muschamp said. “There’s some great young men on that football team. Guys I’ve got tremendous respect for that, I admire a lot of those guys. Recruited them to Florida and some really good football players.”
The players on the other hand, especially the ones that chose to come to Florida because of Muschamp, have mixed emotions.
“They treated me like family. Just the calls and how they included my family and the in-house visit, coming to my school a lot,” senior defensive lineman Joey Ivie said. “When you’re a kid and you build relationships with a coach like that and you’re a solid commit to a school like this, you build those solid relationships.”
Ivie recalled his in-home visit with Muschamp, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive line coach Bryant Young. The visit didn’t go as planned but Ivie recalled it fondly four years later.
“My mom was going to cook. But I guess something went wrong, I don’t remember exactly, but we ended up ordering and having Chinese take-out,” he said with a chuckle. “It was my family, Coach (Dan) Quinn, Coach (Bryant) Young and Muschamp eating Chinese take-out at the dinner table.”
Ivie isn’t alone. In total there are 30 players on scholarship at Florida that committed to Muschamp and his coaching staff. That numbers includes nine starters on defense, although Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone will miss the game with injury. It will be a strange sight to look across the field and see the man that they committed to coaching against them, especially for the seniors, who expected to run out of the tunnel one last time and hug Muschamp during Senior Day ceremonies at the end of their careers.
“It’s definitely going to be something special for us who played for Muschamp to play against him and from their standpoint,” Ivie said. “I know he’s going to want to come in here especially leaving Florida and try to get a win. It’s going to be a battle from both sides of the ball.”
It’s not just Muschamp either. South Carolina’s will bring five coaches and a coaching assistant with ties to Florida and the players. Coleman Hutzler (2010-2011), Mike Peterson (1995-1998 as a player, 2014-15 as a coach), Travaris Robinson (2011-14) and Kurt Roper (2014) will all be on the sideline as well.
It will be an emotional day for all of the players, their families, coaches and former coaches but the Gators will save that until after the clock ticks down to double zeroes. There’s a game to win and a potential SEC Championship berth on the line for both teams, as well as the chance for South Carolina to secure bowl eligibility. Muschamp isn’t going to come in to Gainesville and lay an egg just because it’s senior day for the guys he recruited to Florida.
Most likely for me, it’s going to be after the game,” Ivie said on when he would approach his old coaches. “You know, before the game, they’re your enemy. That’s how I approach it. Anyone who’s not a Gator to me is an enemy until the game is over.”