Whether you agree or disagree, Jeremy Foley is going to stand by his man and it’s not like it took hours of reflection to arrive at this conclusion. In Foley’s mind Will Muschamp’s job never was in jeopardy so no decision was necessary. Three weeks ago Foley said that he had seen nothing to indicate that Muschamp shouldn’t coach the Florida Gators in 2014 and he reinforced it at an impromptu press conference just prior to Florida State taking the Gators out back and putting them down with a single shot to the head that ended the 2013 season.
So get used to the idea that Will Muschamp is the football coach now and for the foreseeable future. He was, is and is going to be Florida’s football coach at least for one more year. That Florida State treated the Gators like one of those chumps they play every week in the woeful Atlantic Coast Conference is immaterial. That the final score was 37-7 is also immaterial. It wouldn’t have mattered if FSU had lit the Gators up for 50.
Foley will stand by his man. It is either a visionary choice that will pay handsome dividends down the road or else it will go down as a colossal blunder. If Muschamp turns it around, Foley will have be seen as the calm, steady hand on the helm of the S.S. Gator. If Muschamp has another year like this one – 4-8 and the first losing season the Gators have endured since 1979 – or doesn’t make significant progress, then there will be more noise in the system than there is on #2 runway at Atlanta at 5 p.m. on Friday.
“We’ve got to get some things fixed” is how Foley put it before the game. The two key words are “we” and “fixed.”
“We” as in Foley and Muschamp. Now Foley is not known as an athletic director who interferes with the day-to-day decisions of his coaches, but he has to know that if he doesn’t offer every possible assistance to this head coach that things might not end well. There isn’t an athletic director in the country with a better finger on the bottom line, so Foley will know just how much of Florida’s resources that he can devote to Muschamp. Perhaps, best of all, Foley will be there to offer the assurance that comes with his position as one of the nation’s most highly respected athletic directors to that he stands by his coach and believes that he is the long term solution to any potential assistant coach or staff hires.
That’s a loaded question that almost begs where do we begin? But, since the Gators lost 15 players to season-ending injuries that’s something that has to be addressed.
There is absolutely nothing Muschamp can do about the horrendous string of injuries that gutted his roster this season – one more was added to the walking wounded list Saturday when Trey Burton went down with a shoulder injury on Florida’s most explosive play of the game – but any time you have this many injuries, there better be a full evaluation of your strength, conditioning, training and medical staffs.
Is it at all possible that some of these devastating injuries could have been avoided with a different approach to strength and conditioning? Are players too bulked up and not as flexible as they should be? Are players injured because they just aren’t strong enough? Did the training and medical staffs, in their zeal to get players back on the field, perhaps rush some guys back too quickly?
Perhaps the strength, training and medical staffs have done everything by the book and are beyond reproach, but the unprecedented number of serious injuries the Gators have suffered this year requires that Muschamp look long and hard at what these people are doing in the offseason.
The devastating injuries should also tell Muschamp that he and his staff have to do a better job of filling holes in the depth chart with quality athletes and more attention has to be given to player development. When one player goes down, the replacement can’t look like a lost ball in the tall grass when he’s thrown into the fray.
The tough fixes will have to do with offensive philosophy and the offensive staff. Three years of finishing outside the top 100 nationally in total offense has to resonate with Muschamp and tell him that (1) his ultra-conservative grind it out approach works well against Toledo and Kentucky but not so well against a big, strong team like FSU; (2) you can’t run grind it out, power football without a big, strong, physical, well-coached and disciplined offensive line; (3) if you are unhappy with defenses loading the box with eight and nine, then you better be prepared to throw the ball downfield and come up with a scheme that is far less predictable; (4) you can’t elect to sit on the ball and drain the clock every time you get a 10-point lead; and (5) as much as you like keeping your defense off the field, time of possession is sometimes overrated so some quick strike potential has to be added and not just in the running game.
As evident as the need for fixes might be to both fans and Muschamp alike, it won’t necessarily be an easy thing to do. It’s not like all Muschamp has to do is grab a new playbook off the shelf and say, “Okay, boys, this is what we’re going to run next year.” You can’t change for the sake of change. You have to have a plan in place that takes into account returning personnel, incoming recruits and the coaching staff.
The easiest part might be finding an offense that works for his personnel. The hard part will be hiring the right coaches to implement the changes. First off, hiring new assistants means firing coaches that Muschamp hired in good faith. Having worked his way up the assistant coach ladder, Muschamp is fully aware of how lives are disrupted. It would cost Jeremy Foley $8 million to fire Muschamp. Assistant coaches don’t have that kind of parachute. With few exceptions, there are few assistants on a multi-year contract. Their paychecks are typically assured through the following June 1 and that’s it.
Second, there is the dilemma of convincing some new coach with an offensive scheme that will work for Florida’s personnel and other assistants to take a chance that an offensive overhaul will get the Gators over the hump next year. Can Muschamp find quality assistant coaches who can blend in with the current staff or does he fire the entire offensive staff? If there is wholesale change to Muschamp’s Florida staff, who will take that leap of faith?
This is a task more daunting than the one Muschamp faced when he took over the Florida program in 2011. Change was easy then because he was armed with a five-year contract. Three years later, more change is necessary and this time it won’t be so easy.
Muschamp no longer has five years to get it done. He’s got one and the clock started ticking when the final whistle blew Saturday afternoon.