PD’s Postulations: How To Hire a Head Coach, Part 1

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last four years, you’ve heard, read or participated in many discussions about how or why Will Muschamp was hired, and indeed the very philosophy behind how any head football coach is or should be hired. The argument…of course, I mean the lively discussion, usually begins with a fan questioning why Florida would ever hire a head coach who has no head coaching experience.

Well let’s talk about that.

How do you hire a head football coach? And why? Truthfully the process and reasons on a macro level are no different than those in any other industry. In the hiring world, no matter what business you’re in, there are two main ways to procure a great human asset: (1) Hire someone with a clear track record of success in the job you’re filling, in hopes that he duplicates or surpasses that success under your employ, or (2) Hire someone who has not yet done the job in an official capacity but who shows such great promise that you are driven to hire them because they are about to blow up and you want them on your team instead of a competing team.

The established candidate has the advantage of experience and hitting the ground running, but has the disadvantage of being older, possibly too set in his ways to assimilate into your culture and possibly past his prime or simply will not be able to succeed at the same level in new surroundings (e.g., Spurrier was all-world at UF but has been far less successful and less impacting at South Carolina as an older coach out of the comfort zone of his alma mater). The unproven but promising candidate hired on spec has the benefits of being young, full of fresh ideas/blood, has his whole career ahead of him and is far more malleable to a new professional culture. The drawbacks include the fact that he’ll be learning on the job, will probably make rookie mistakes and might never fulfill his potential.

Champ is obviously in the second category. New hires in this category get more time to prove themselves because the potential payoff in years and magnitude are much longer-term than the older, experienced hire. The experienced hire gets less time because he already knows everything he is doing and if he doesn’t succeed early, it is probably indicative of a bad fit or that he’s past his prime.

Some fans think Florida should only hire established, proven, all-star head coaches at UF and the program should never hire first-time or mid-major head coaches. But Jeremy Foley knows better. He knows that hiring first-time head coaches and head coaches from mid-major programs or lower division programs is exactly how Florida got Billy Donovan, Becky Burleigh, Tim Walton, Mike Holloway, Rhonda Faehn, Kevin O’Sullivan and Urban Meyer. That’s twelve national titles and a few College World Series trips from coaches all of whom were hired with no previous head coaching experience or hired from a mid-major-or-lower school with no major school head coaching experience.

Then the biggest question – demand, really – is to know why these first-time head coaches should get more time than established head coaches. Why should they be given a 3-year or 5-year plan instead of immediately winning big. Well, besides the fact that often times a new head coach does not inherit a great program in great shape (which was Champ’s situation), they do need that time to ramp up to great or elite status. The reason they are given this buffer is that the long-term payoff is immense. Here are a few examples from the list of Florida head coaches:

  • It took Kevin O’Sullivan 4 years to get to the College World Series Championship Series and in 7 yrs still no national title, but he has become one of the nation’s elite managers, has UF in perpetual championship reload mode and Florida wouldn’t part with him for the world.
  • It took Rhonda Faehn 10 years to win a national title and 4 yrs to win an SEC tile. Now the Gators have back-to-back national crowns, are loaded to the gills and are the premier program in the nation.
  • It took Mike Holloway 8 years to win a national championship in indoor track and field and 10 yrs to win a national title (8 years for SEC title) in outdoor. Now the Gators have won 5 national crowns in the last 4 years and are the premier track and field program in the nation.
  • It took Billy Donovan 10 years to win a national title, 9 years to win an SEC tournament title and 4 years to win an SEC regular season title. Now they are the top program at arguably the best sports school in the country, one of the handful of elite programs in the conversation as the nation’s premier program, the national team of the decade in the ‘00s and have 6 Elite-8 appearances in the last 9 years, 4 Final-4s since 2000, and 2 national titles.

You give the great ones time because it takes time to build an elite program the right way. Urban Meyer rebuilt an elite program quickly, but in the wrong way and it disintegrated around him just a few years later. Steve Spurrier built an elite the right way, and he started winning titles right away, but it still took him seven years to win the national title. It takes time.

Don’t Like It? Time to Get Over It

I fully understand the perception that UF should never hire a head coach who needs on-the-job training. I used to hold the same opinion. Strongly. But as I took in more and more data I saw that it was the wrong opinion. And whether some fans want to accept that both methods of hiring a head coach can be equally successful, it is time to recognize that Will Muschamp was hired as a first-time head coach, he was always expected to make beginner mistakes, and that was the tradeoff Foley took to bank on Champ’s perceived limitless upside. It’s over. It’s done. He is our head coach. And it was done for logical and sensible reasons.

As fans you need to understand this: you can’t question whether it was the right way to hire a head coach because it is a perfectly valid method and one that has more potential upside than hiring a known quantity. It is merely a bigger risk. But with great risk can come great reward. It is simply not legitimate or credible to challenge this hiring philosophy – too many other elite programs (like Texas, from which Florida stole him) recognized him as the next great thing for fans to simply dismiss that because of one season that was out of his control with 24 players lost to injury and suspension.

The only thing for fans to do is to judge whether or not Muschamp was the right choice. To judge whether the whole country of Athletics Directors, media and plugged in fans were wrong about Muschamp’s potential or if he is on track and demonstrating that he was the right hire for the job at Florida.

So let’s do that. Let’s go down the list of attributes that are essential to being a great head coach and by which every head coach can be measured. Here are the four must-have skills and talents for a head coach to be successful at a high level like Florida:

1. Game Day coaching & 2. Game Week preparation

These two I am lumping together, not just because they are closely linked in many ways as far as strategy, organization and staff coordination and implementation capabilities, but also because Champ has graded out equally high in both. The 2012 season demonstrated that Muschamp not only is a very skilled game day coach and game week prep coach but that he is also a great coach in both areas when he is roundly out-manned on one side of the football. In 2012 the Gators were more limited on offense in terms of personnel than any Gator team since 1989. And even that team had Emmitt Smith. Yet he took a team just one season removed and glued together from Urban Meyer’s dumpster fire “broken program” hit-and-run exit, went up against the toughest schedule in the country that included five teams that were ranked in the national top-5 at some point during the year, made due with one running back (who got banged up in the middle of the year), a first-time starter option quarterback trying to adjust to a pro set with no SEC-level receivers or tight ends to throw to, running for his life behind a 1-deep playing-injured patchwork offensive line, and somehow managed to rather convincingly carve out a methodical and powerful (if not dazzling or stylish) eleven wins and a Sugar Bowl berth.

Muschamp doesn’t need to show me anything else in these two areas. Those boxes are checked. In ink.

In Part 2 in this series, we will discuss the other two elements to being a great head football coach. They are the most critical to Muschamp’s success because they are where he has made the most mistakes and suffered the most setbacks. They are the areas he has addressed with the most humility and outside-the-box thinking and they are the facets of his job, and his development, that will dictate whether he succeeds as the head coach at Florida.


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David Parker
One of the original columnists when Gator Country first premiered, David “PD” Parker has been following and writing about the Gators since the eighties. From his years of regular contributions as a member of Gator Country to his weekly columns as a partner of the popular defunct niche website Gator Gurus, PD has become known in Gator Nation for his analysis, insight and humor on all things Gator.


  1. Like in any business, you simply hire the best person for the job with what you have to work with (i.e. applicants) at the time. Does that always mean you hired the perfect person for the job? No. But that’s beside the point. But fortunately, in sports, there’s a lot more tangible evidence to go by when narrowing down your list. In most businesses, you have to rely on references, and believing the person’s resume.

    Muschamp can recruit, and build a great D, but let’s hope he made the right hire with this OC… And if he can change philosophies mid-stream. ..

  2. Our fan base is typical of today’s society – they want everything and they want it now. They cant see that great things take time to build. I believe we will see a major step taken this year, because Muschamp has found the part that has been missing.

  3. Love your stuff PD, I agree on everything about Muschamp. Last year could very easily be chalked up as an outlier and he can coach the hell out of a defense as well as recruit. He also impressed me by backing off his offensive philosophy and realized we need to open things up…so he can evolve. But he is on his 3rd OC hire. I can’t say Champ was the right choice yet, but I can say I understand Foleys decision. I mean who else were we going to get…steal Saban from Bama?…Stoops? How did that work out before? I see nothing wrong with going after the next big thing from the coordinator position. Fans have to understand there is a learning curve. One thing I will say…is if this does work out Champ is in for the long haul. We won’t be searching for his successor in 5 years because of the NFL itch that needs scratching or an illness that sends him to Georgia.

  4. I don’t think you can defend the hiring of Muschamp. The reason he was not fired last year is because of Foley’s ego. He thought he was a genius for hiring Muschamp. His hiring was totally unexpected for a reason. Since foley thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, he is going to have a very hard time firing Muschamp because it will prove that he failed again when choosing a head coach for the football program. He did the same thing when he hired Ron Zook. The hire of Urban Meyer was not Foley’s doing, it was the President of the UF that made that call.
    Making excuses about injuries or whatever don’t cut it. Oklahoma was also devastated bu injuries last year. They still found a way to not have the team become an embarrassment.
    You are what your record says you are. Muschamp is 22-16, a worse record than when Zook was fired. He is 4-11 against ranked teams. He has lost to Georgia every year. He lost to Vanderbilt at home on Homecoming. The Gators had not lost to Vandy since 1945. He lost to an FCS school, the first time UF has ever done so. Take away his dismal record against ranked teams, what does that leave you? He’s 18-5 against unranked teams. How many of those wins are against teams like the ones the Gators play in their first three games this season? With this record, would it be a surprise if Muschamp ends the current streak against Tennessee or Kentucky, or both?
    What has Muschamp done well? Don’t tell me he’s a great recruiter. Any coach can recruit well at UF. Every coach in recent memory ha recruited very well, including a non-entity like Galen Hall.
    Foley swung for the fences and struck out. The record speaks for itself.

    • This whole little rant of yours is filled with nothing but major flaws. I think everybody will stop reading at your Foley “ego” comment. You do not know Foley, and you couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to Meyer being hired. You want to argue records, and the reason Zook was fired, go right ahead, but you’ll lose that argument as well. People like you are the reason UF fans are looked upon the way they are. You take EVERYTHING at face value instead of actually doing some research or knowing what it is you are actually speaking about. You are lazy debater! Nothing more, nothing less!

  5. One of the biggest keys to a new head coach’s or business manager’s success is making great hires. He has to take a really honest look at his skill set and surround himself with people that make up for his weaknesses. Then he must trust them enough to give up some of his control and allow them to do their job, but he must also learn from from this person. He needs to still have his on offensive identity after this person is gone, because if the assistant is successful, of course you will lose him to promotion. I think that Champ realized from the beginning that he needed a strong OC. He went the experience route with Charlie Weiss, but quite frankly was a wasted year, because Weiss wasn’t going to be happy as an OC after being a head coach. Pease, on paper was a good hire as a coach on the rise, although he was an OC at Boise, Florida and the SEC was definitely a move up. Now the question is was Pease the problem or was Champ to controlling and by being so, not allowing the OC to do his job.
    When you go the route of the unproven route, when you go with the person that is hungry and on the way up when hiring an assistant then you can run into other issues. Is the new head coach the reason for successes or the assistant. Even if the person had already been an OC, DC or even a head coach, but maybe at a lower level, they still have something to prove. Now maybe we already know the answer to the million dollar question. We’ve seen it at Auburn, ie… Gene Chizick (sorry about the spelling) couldn’t succeed without Gus Malzon. Gus’s offensive mind and leadership were what got there National Championship . (Maybe Cam helped) Even closer to home was Dan Quinn the reason for Champ’s success in year two? I think you have to take a look at all the facts in those and similar stituations to make an educated decision on Champ’s employeement after last year. If you think he is still the best person for the job, then you better be hands on in his development and make damn sure when he says, I was wrong in some of my ideas on being successful in the SEC, I can change, then he better. You have to hold him accountable for keeping control of the team through adversity, but he has to give up enough control to let Roper do his job. If after this season we have issues like, half the team are Champ’s guys and half are Roper’s then you better go hire Dan Quinn as your head guy and if Roper’s offense is a step in the right direction keep him as your OC. At least that way you are not putting in another new system you are just putting someone else with better leadership skills. Quinn’s half time adjustments were the best I’ve ever seen and no where to be found last year.

  6. This is nitpicking, but still….

    “a first-time starter option quarterback trying to adjust to a pro set with no SEC-level receivers or tight ends to throw to, ”

    In 2012, we had Jordan Reed at TE/WR. Not SEC-level?

  7. Tebowismow823 I do know that Foley has a large ego, and that is why one of the reasons he chose Muschamp. He thought he was a little genius, especially since no one was beating down the door to hire Muschamp. Thsi is also the reason Muschamp is still the coach. Foley doesn’t want to look foolish for hiring Muschamp, that is a dsign of the inflated opinion he has of himself. We all know that Zook wasn’t fired only because of his record, but the bottom line is he didn’t win. I also know something that you probably don’t know, and I won’y air it in public, but Foley should have never been hired as UF’s A.D. in the first place. As for being a lazy debater, I just presented the facts, and you are what your record says you are. Muschamp’s record is mediocre at best. IF UF wants to accept mediocre, that’s what they have right now with Muschamp leading the program. I could be wrong, I don’t have a monopoly on being right, but I think that another five , six, or more loss season is not something that’s acceptable at UF. With Muschamp, I think that is what is going to happen this year. It’s nothing personal. I think Muscahmp is an intelligent, great person. I just don’t think he has what it takes to be a head coach. Let me just ask you one question from the FSU game last year. Muschamp bemoaned the loss of Trey Burton and explained that UF’s whole game plan was shot when he went down. That’s basically what he was crying about after the game, making another excuse. Why didn’t he insert Taylor into the wildcat? The greatest success against South Carolina a couple of weeks earlier came from having Taylor in the wildcat. Don’t blame Pease, if a guy like me can see something so simple, why can’t the head coach?