Well some day, some day hopefully not too far into the future, I will be able to get back to writing about Florida Gator football games. For now, however they continue to fade into irrelevance in the face of the trending Gator themes. It is a sad time in Gainesville this week. A sad time because it looks like one man’s quest, many players’ quest, and countless fans’ deeply invested hopes, have passed that fatal tipping point and are heading to their demise. The Missouri game, bizarre and inexplicable as it was, has all the markings of the melting of the polar ice caps. Sure, the Earth’s climate could return to normal, the waters could re-freeze, the glaciers could rebuild, the temperate coastlines could refortify and the apocalyptic weather patterns could cease…but it isn’t bloody likely.
Difficult to Ignore
Concerning Will Muschamp, there have been ample whispers and rumors along every point of the spectrum between “Still has chance to save his job” and “Fired already, just a matter of timing the announcement.” All official channels have been sealed shut with gorilla glue, and most unofficial ones have as well. There is no way to know exactly where Will Muschamp’s job security stands, but every artifact points to Saturday night’s debacle in the Swamp being the end.
Even the most patient and hyperopic fan or critic had to concede to circumstances Saturday night. Even those who could see fields of dreams just over the horizon had to recognize that the horizon was moving away from us faster than we were approaching. You just don’t bounce back from a game like that. You just don’t get blown out on Homecoming by terrible opponents two years in a row at Florida and survive. Forget 2013: it didn’t count and doesn’t matter in the balance of Will Muschamp’s future. This is about 2014. The criterion was painfully simple: show improvement this season and the show will go on. But this team has done the opposite. It has regressed. The effort on Saturday was that of the worst Gator team this fan has ever seen. Everyone knew it was a must-win game and it was the worst performance in many years. This just cannot happen if one is to keep his job.
And Muschamp certainly seemed to know it in his postgame press conference. He looked like a beaten man, ready for it to be over. When asked about his tenuous tenure, his response was telling not only about where he understands his position to be, but also about what kind of man he is. He said he was only worried about this football team. It may have had the transcript of coachspeak, but it rang in a sincere tone across the room. He knows he is likely finished, but he is worried about that team in the locker room. He has 100-plus young men to whom he pledged and has given his blood, sweat and tears to make them into a winning football team, a winning program and winning young men off the football field. He knows that at no other time in their UF careers have they more desperately needed him to give all he has and bleed for them, to hold them together, to make them better and to teach them what it means to meet this level of adversity and pain like men. He said he is only worried about this football team. I believe him.
Bad Things Happening to Good People
I say it is a sad time because that is the emotion that is by far the strongest in this situation. There are myriad emotions running amuck about the Gators’ place in the football world and how the future of the program will shape up, but ultimately UF will be back on top pretty soon. With the next coach or the one after him, or even by the longest of odds with this coach. That’s no worry at all. That’s just a matter of how long we have to wait for it.
But right here, right now, it is almost certain that a good man just lost his dream job. A good man, good husband, good father, standup guy who returned the program’s tattered integrity and shredded moral ground, someone whom we would all be proud to know and call a friend, is in the midst of having his hopes and dreams – and those of his family and friends and many more in the Gator community – crushed into dust, right before his eyes. Something he has worked for tirelessly. Oh there is no doubt he will be snapped up by another top flight Power 5 program – probably in the SEC – as defensive coordinator within hours of the announcement of his firing (should it actually come), and I expect he will in a few years get another shot at being a head coach, and I suspect he will be a success, even flourish as a head coach. Somewhere with less pressure and more patient constituents. Somewhere that doesn’t carry the heavy burden of two Hall of Fame coaches who are still actively coaching and casting their long shadows over the program. Somewhere that doesn’t live under the heavy expectations of the winningest program in the entire nation over the past quarter century (and by a huge margin when you scratch a line through all the programs who got there by cheating as documented by major NCAA sanctions).
But most of all, somewhere normal.
That isn’t to say that Gainesville and UF are not normal in a conventional sense. But there has been nothing normal about the nearly four years Muschamp has been at Florida. He has made a lot of mistakes, as a first time head coach always does, but even his most fervent critics must admit that most of the things he tried and failed…probably should have worked. Much like the last two weeks: The tight end SHOULD have caught the ball to beat LSU…when you hold a team to 119 yards total offense, you SHOULD have won…when you hire the greatest NFL offensive coordinator of his generation, and then win a to-the-death battle with fellow SEC kingpin Alabama to hire another offensive coordinator, and then hire a third offensive coordinator absolutely dripping with heat and buzz for turning Duke into a college version of The Greatest Show on Turf, well gosh one of them SHOULD have been able to make the offense at least serviceable…heck, when you are in a career-making-or-breaking season, you SHOULD be able to play your season opener to help get you ready for the year.
As Will Muschamp has tried to run through the gauntlets that have confronted him, he must have felt like JoBeth Williams running down that hallway in Poltergeist: the faster he runs toward the door, the farther the end of the hallway stretches into the distance. The Missouri game is probably the perfect microcosm of his UF career. The defense was lights out, but the offense could do nothing but implode. You know that is not how the offense was scripted. They didn’t break the huddle in practice every day with Driskel barking out, “Defensive touchdown on THREE!” And every attempt to improve led to another preposterous disaster.Muschamp has all the off-field qualifications of being the next great head coach at Florida. He knows how to run a defense and he knows how to run a football program. He knows how to prepare a team. He knows how to scheme and make in-game adjustments. He knows how to recruit and how to get players to run through walls for him. And he could have developed all those skills into a great or even elite level. Maybe. But with his level of experience, he simply does not have the tools to stop the avalanche that began when the 2013 season started to go south. He is trying to empty the Atlantic Ocean with a teaspoon and he is in over his head. And no matter how many times he thinks he is fighting his way out, something like the Treon suspension pulls him back in. And whether or not he COULD turn the ship around and become a great coach if given another year or two, at some point it simply reaches a time where you have to stop and accept the message:
The universe simply does not want Will Muschamp to coach the Florida Gators.
That is what I divine from all of this. Much like Jeff Driskel, the quarterback who ultimately through no intention of his own scuttled whatever chance Muschamp had of righting the path, Muschamp started as a huge bag of impressive skills and intoxicating potential, but it just did not work out. Most everything that could have happened to knock Muschamp down, has (and Driskel, too for that matter). And eventually the program just has to stop the bleeding and turn to another doctor.
The Glimmers of Hope
There are some, after all. Not for Muschamp’s future as the Gator head coach, most likely – although the remote possibility still exists as long as he is still holding the title. But for the program. As horrible as the offense has been, the team still just needs competent QB play to be a dangerous opponent for anyone. The defense, minus some poorly timed lapses, has made the Alabama game an outlier of great magnitude, and special teams had been lights out before the Missouri game, so we can chalk that up to just a bad game. That happens. If Treon Harris can get better dialed in over the next two weeks (hopefully taking all the snaps with the first team), it is absolutely within the realm of possibilities that Florida beats Georgia and even FSU in Tallahassee. The Semis are just begging someone to beat them every single week and their opponents just refuse to take what is being offered.
Any of those wins all depend on Treon Harris, and pretty much Treon alone. And the chances any wins will occur outside of the FCS opponent…well those chances are minute. But in college football I have seen far weirder things happen. Even after getting fired, Ron Zook won out to end his final season at UF, with the exception of the Georgia game – a game that was so close that nobody doubts victory would have been ours if the program didn’t have its week of practice focus obliterated by Zook’s mid-season firing. It almost certainly will not happen, but it could.
Even if it did happen, it might not save Muschamp’s job. But it might. Either way, good can come. Good WILL come.
Another thing I noticed amidst the gaggle of moving emotions on Muschamp’s face in the post-Missouri presser: relief. We all know that feeling. Whether we know we are about to get fired, but haven’t been called into the boss’s office yet; or we are about to get dumped by your significant other, but you haven’t yet sat down to have “the talk”; or we are about to fail a class but the grades haven’t been posted yet…whatever it may be, we all know that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Especially when we know it is going to hurt deeply. But there is sometimes also a relief that comes with the realization that it is finally over. No more fighting a losing war. No more battling the raging current of booing fans, angry boosters and negative recruiting that pounds against you every day. No more angst with your wife and family, all of you knowing you have what it takes to succeed, knowing you should be succeeding, and not understanding why it just isn’t happening. No more worrying about when the axe will fall.
I know a tiny bit of what he must be feeling. As much as I hate the idea of the fairytale that could have been coming to an ugly end; as much as I hate this limbo of uncertainty; I am exhausted with it. I am so tired of writing about it. I am tired of everyone fighting about it. I am tired of Gator football having absolutely nothing to do with football day after day after day. I miss having something fun to write about; something to get excited about. Something that is working NOW and not just a seed of something I have to try to hyper-analyze and extrapolate into the future to see, and then wait to find out if it ever gets there. Whether this season is saved against Georgia and revives the rest of the year; whether it continues to stagger along to a 6-5 season; or whether it completely craters into another 4-win campaign, it is finally going to end. If Muschamp is retained, it will be because something incredible happened to finish the season – something that leaves little doubt that the future is bright with Will at the helm. If Muschamp is fired, which will be the absolute inescapable result barring a miracle finish, the program gets to begin anew. Either way, the misery is going to end in a matter of weeks.
If Muschamp is retained, the incredible finish that would have to happen will energize the program and fill the recruiting class to the brim with studs. If Muschamp is fired, the new coach will have to be such a home run hire that he will energize the program and load the recruiting class with a great cadre of talent as well – maybe fewer, but in fact maybe even more than if Muschamp were retained.
Any way you slice it, good news is coming soon.
What a relief.