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.
For more David “PD” Parker articles and Florida Gators News join Gator Country.