There is a line from a movie that goes, “There’s no crying in baseball!” I would like to add, “There’s no cowardice in football!” And, what I’ve been watching on Saturdays paraded out as Gator football is cowardice. You cannot be an elite team by being afraid to attack on offense. Week after week, I have watched Florida hide behind the line of scrimmage for as long as possible until the score forced them to make an effort to attack on offense. It is brutal to watch. It is like trying to coax a baby fox out of its den knowing how unprepared the little creature is going to be in a world it has refused to venture into before.
Saturday, in a game where even a beat up Florida should have been able to impose its will on offense, I saw it again. Fear!!! Fear that the third string quarterback would make mistakes. Fear that something would go wrong on offense and cost the Gators a game that would leave them embarrassed. Then, when Skylar Mornhinweg threw a couple of bad passes early, the coaching staff succumbed to their fears and reverted to “not to lose” offense. This approach kept the Eagles in the game and gave them confidence that they could win this game and it demoralized the defense. This is what happens when you are too afraid to put a lesser opponent away in the first half. Florida could have passed effectively this entire game, but the coaches lacked any faith that they had properly prepared their young quarterback to take advantage of a large edge in talent. So they coached scared, again. And Florida lost, again.
Yes, the defense gave up a mile and a half of rushing yardage but that could have been avoided by scoring early and often and taking the Eagles out of their game plan. Timidity on offense once again put the defense in a bad position. By the time the Gator linebackers started dropping like flies, the offense should have already had the game in the win column. An offensive philosophy of fear creates a kind of Catch-22. The offense, in an effort to avoid mistakes keeps the opponent in the game until something goes wrong either on offense, defense or special teams and the Gators find themselves trailing. Then the offense is forced take chances and since the quarterback has never been allowed to get into a rhythm, the offense makes mistakes and the game is lost. Also the defense inevitably loses its intensity after weeks and weeks of offensive ineptitude. Saturday against FSU I would rather lose by 50 because we came out slinging the ball and turned it over than lose by 30 because we managed to shorten the game by using up the play clock and running the ball non-stop. We have seen what a scheme based on fear creates.
Everyone is aware of the results. Everyone is aware of the debate created by those results. Is there any way that head coach Will Muschamp can survive this embarrassing loss? My initial feeling as time ran off of the clock and Georgia Southern began to celebrate their massive upset was a resounding “NO!” Now, it at least appears like Muschamp MAY get at least one more year albeit with perhaps a forced change at offensive coordinator and maybe a few other assistant coach fixes. Of course, that could change in either direction based on what happens in The Swamp on Saturday and how much pressure Foley feels to make a complete change. I don’t think anyone with any sense expects a Gator victory over FSU. A win might save Muschamp’s job if it is indeed in severe jeopardy and a crushing defeat might seal his fate and end his stint at Florida. Let’s look at the possibilities of either keeping him or replacing him.
If Muschamp is retained I simply do not see any way that Brent Pease can be retained as well. There is no way that offensive recruits can have any faith in or desire to play in what they have seen offensively at Florida recently. Only the prospect of a new offensive coordinator can change that perception. However, change simply for the sake of change seldom nets positive results. Pease must be replaced with a better option. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned option this week. It may be hard to convince a quality offensive mind to come take the coordinator’s position on a Gator staff that is at risk of being shown the door a year from now. This will also affect recruiting. Perhaps there is a way to guarantee two years for whatever staff starts the season next year, but that would be dangerous for other reasons. So I have to believe that if Muschamp stays and Pease is gone, the answer may have to be Kerwin Bell. First, I want to point out that I have never been among those who scream to hire Bell every time there is any sign of an opening. I’m not convinced about Bell one way or the other. However, many Gator fans believe he would make good use of the wealth of skill position talent in the state and return Florida’s offense to the high powered scoring machine fans have come to expect. Hiring Bell as OC would accomplish several things. It would immediately win a portion of the fan base back and garner some renewed support for a Muschamp staff. It will be hard for Muschamp to succeed in an environment of such negativity. Also, Florida recruits know who Kerwin Bell is and they can at least be shown what his offenses at Jacksonville look like. Whether he is capable or bringing his offense to the SEC successfully or not, offensive recruits would at least feel like there was a real likelihood that the Gator offense would be something they want to be a part of for the next few years. They cannot possible feel that way about what they have seen from Brent Pease regardless of whose fault that is.
As for other coaching changes, I do not see enough of day-to-day practice and game planning to know who should stay and who should go. I thought Joker Phillips would be a good hire as a wide receiver coach, but there was not a noticeable improvement in the receiver production. Likewise, Tim Davis has been a successful offensive line coach elsewhere but the Gator offensive line has been a liability for a couple of years now. Perhaps, Pease’s schemes make their jobs much more difficult to perform. Perhaps Muschamp’s philosophy has handcuffed them. I admittedly do not know. Thankfully, those decisions will be made by people with a lot more understanding of the situation than I possess. However, the bottom line is that unless the coaches who remain are capable of coaching offense from a position of confidence and aggression it isn’t going to matter much in the long run. Florida cannot continue an offensive scheme based on fear. What do we even call this offense? The Hope and Prayer?
Then there is the possibility that the entire staff is let go and Florida starts over from scratch. What does that mean for the near future? Who would or could the Gators hire as their next head coach? Is there somebody who can come in and turn things around quickly? In my opinion, all of those questions must be answered before any decision can be made to release Will Muschamp. Can this program be turned around quickly? I believe so. I believe that, if everyone is back healthy and if players who should come back next year do so, this team has plenty of talent available to be a contender again next season. Who can Florida hire that would accomplish that turnaround? I want to get rid of some names right off the bat. Forget about Bobby Petrino. I just can’t believe that Florida is going to bring his carnival side-show act to Gainesville and nor should they. Stop it with the Jon Gruden talk, too. He is not leaving his cushy television gig to coach college football. I’m not even that convinced he would be a good college coach. Baylor’s Art Briles probably isn’t leaving the state of Texas and it is unlikely that anyone is going to outbid T. Boone Pickens’ money for Mike Gundy. Are you starting to sense a theme here? There has been talk about Charlie Strong, and I think he would be a great hire, but I don’t think he is leaving Louisville right now and I’m not sure he is interested in coaching at Florida at all. I could be wrong. It has to happen sooner or later. There is James Franklin at Vanderbilt. While he doesn’t really have that signature win (sorry beating Florida and Georgia this year doesn’t really count as a signature win) that you would like to see he has accomplish more than just about anyone else has at Vandy. The Commodores play real good defense but are a little sketchy on offense. Wait, it seems like we’ve seen that movie already. Steve Spurrier isn’t coming home. I am starting to understand why Jeremy Foley may be inclined to give Muschamp another year to prove which season was the aberration, the 11-2 2012 or the 2013 train wreck. You see fans get to make their decisions and base their rants on emotion. People in positions that require them to make the tough decisions have to remain calm, research every aspect of the situation and then make a judgment call between a list of possibilities that may not really include an optimal option. Emotion cannot be part of the criteria for making these decisions.
Let me throw one more variable into this situation. No decision should be made based on this variable. It is simply an observation. While I have my reservations about Muschamp’s ability to find the testicular fortitude to be an elite head coach, I have no such reservations about his prowess as a defensive coordinator. If Will gets fired from Florida this season, it is quite possible that he does not get a decent head coaching job offer for next season meaning he would likely find himself as a defensive coordinator next year. Let’s see now, who will likely be hiring a new defensive coordinator during the off-season? Oh yeah, the Georgia Bulldogs. His Alma Mater. I don’t know about you but I’m not real thrilled about the idea of seeing the Gators shut down by Muschamp’s defense in Jacksonville next year with the defensive talent that UGA will have at their disposal. What would make that even worse is that for all practical purposes Florida would still be paying him to do so. It does not change what Foley should do or not do, but it is an unpalatable concept none the less.
Here is what I think I would like to see happen. I would like it to be announced on Monday that Brent Pease has been let go and that the search for a replacement offensive coordinator is underway. I would like for whoever is hired as OC to have the ability to run an aggressive attacking offense just like the aggressive attacking defense Florida runs these days. I would hope that Muschamp has learned that his “plan to win” is terribly flawed when it comes to offensive philosophy and that he adjusts his mindset to allow him to become the championship head coach that I still think he can be. Most importantly, I do not want to see Florida get abused by an FCS opponent in the Swamp again anytime soon. Like in my lifetime.