The South end zone meeting room was packed.
Will Muschamp’s normal Monday afternoon press conference is generally more heavily attended than any other Florida Gators press conference during the week but the news that Muschamp would step down at the end of the season had brought all the national media outlets and television stations to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Monday.
The mood was light at 11:30 a.m. — thirty minutes before the world would turn their attention to the reason why we were all gathered there. Old friends and colleagues joked and caught up but as the seconds ticked away and the time got closer a timid hush befell the room.
The time came when current President of the University of Florida, Bernie Machen took the podium. Machen — who will step down at the end of this calendar year — began the press conference by sharing his sentiments regarding Will Muschamp.
“From my perspective as president, I have treasured, literally treasured the last four years in working with Will,” he said. “He was asked to come here and build a program, a program built on character and on good academic values. He was asked to develop young men that would be a credit to the Gator nation. He has done that.”
Machen’s sentiments were not his alone. Head baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan made his way to the football stadium to offer his support. He stood next to strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman and first year recruiting coordinator Drew Hughes. Seniors Mike Taylor, Chaz Green and Max Garcia stood off to the side of the room, slumped against a wall, watching something they knew was a possibility but never dreamed that they would actually have to go through it.
Machen continued on his point. Making sure to note Muschamp’s success off the field. The Florida football team’s APR was 979 last spring, 10 points higher than the national average. 68 of Muschamp’s players were academic All-SEC and the composite GPA of the football team after last spring was the highest it has ever been at the University of Florida.
“Never have I worked with a coach in any sport over three different universities who has been more supportive of the university mission and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Machen said.
Then it was Foley’s turn.
The long-time athletic director walked sullenly to the podium.
“He gave his heart and soul to this program, he loves this university, as you all know he grew up following the Gators, he loves the Gators, and everybody in the program was in the fox hole with him,” said Foley.
Foley attested to the relationship that he and Muschamp have. They worked together on a daily basis the past four years and the two have grown close. Last year as the program crumbled, Foley stood in front of Muschamp, bullets flying all around him, and puffed out his chest in support of his coach, his friend.
Foley backed Muschamp even as the Gators suffered their worst loss in program history to Georgia Southern. He was confident that Will Muschamp was a championship caliber coach and he’s still confident that he is. It just won’t be at Florida.
That relationship is not unique to Foley and Muschamp. The head coach has touched each and every one of the people he has encountered the past four years inside the building.
“Today sucks for all of us,” a person inside the organization to Gator Country on Sunday afternoon.
“He represents everything that is right about college athletics,” Foley said of Muschamp. “That’s not lip service that’s the truth. The environment inside our building is the best it’s ever been because of Will.”
Foley thanked Muschamp publicly and handed over the podium.
Will Muschamp is a winner. He has been at every stop previous to this one. He fought to earn a scholarship at the University of Georgia, and was named captain of the team his senior year. He’s won ball games at both the college and professional level with this job at Florida being the first and most glaring failure on his résumé.
Still, in this moment, less than 24 hours after the world was informed that you did not do your job sufficiently enough to keep it, he was relaxed. He walked up to the podium in his normal coaching attire — khaki pants, Nike shoes and a Florida Gator half-zip sweater. “I guess I’m under dressed for the occasion, I apologize for that,” he said after the two men who spoke before him were in suits.
Muschamp thanked the administration for their support throughout his time at Florida, expressed his frustration at not being able to get the job done despite having numerous opportunities.
He continued, “They got a deep and talented roster, so don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got no good players.”
In what was the lowest moment of his career, Muschamp was facing it with the dignity and class that the two previous speakers tried to put into words.
Then, as only a ball coach can, Muschamp pivoted and changed the conversation.
“I am going to start on EKU, because it’s Monday, and that’s what we do at a press conference on Monday,” he said with a smile.
He then gave his usual rundown of the coaches and players that the team will face this Saturday. He noted two players — Jarrad Davis and Neiron Ball — would miss the season after both injured their meniscus against South Carolina. He delved into his opportunity that was given by famed Eastern Kentucky Coach Roy Kidd.
He wrapped up the preview of the Colonels before fielding questions.
Would you change anything, Coach?
“Sure, there is no question,” he said. “It’s frustrating to see guys stand in this day and say I wouldn’t have changed anything, well, hell you’d have gotten fired again.”
The questions went on for 10 or 15 minutes. Muschamp used his time to reflect on his four years. Muschamp always says that life is made up of 10-percent what happened to you and 90 percent how you respond.
Muschamp used that quote and the situation as a whole when speaking with the team on Sunday afternoon.
The meeting was quick — just 10 minutes or so according to senior linebacker Mike Taylor. The 24-hour news cycle and social media broke the news to most of them. They knew what they were walking in to, even if they hadn’t been told officially.
Muschamp admitted telling the team was hard.
“You spend as much time with these guys as you do your own kids,” he said. “Sad to say, but I do, and I look at these young men as my own.”
“Don’t worry about [Muschamp],” Taylor said. “He’s a great coach and an even better person. Don’t worry about him having success, he’ll have plenty of success down the road.”
Monday was an emotional day for everyone that works inside the University Athletic Association. You could see it on the faces off every staff member that stood in the room, watching the events unfold, they felt the pain that Foley and Machen expressed through words. They showed it more so than even Muschamp, who — when told by a reporter that he was handling the situation very well and that he looked good — responded by saying “My wife, thinks I’ve gained some weight this year.”
In the lowest moment of his career, Will Muschamp was himself. In this moment, more so than any other moment this season, Muschamp gave every one a glimpse inside at the reason the people he works with love him.
He’s down-to-earth, funny and affable. Muschamp has a great memory; recalling even what should be to him, minor encounters with fans and people. In a one-on-one situation, he has a way of making you feel like you’re the only person he focused on even when the life of a college football coach is filled with countless things he needs to be worried about.
Muschamp has two more weeks with his team. They’ll play out the rest of the season, striving this week to attain bowl eligibility. He said he owes it to them to be fully committed these next two weeks and the feeling is mutual.
“I’m just truly blessed to have met Coach Muschamp,” senior center Max Garcia said. “And all of the people he’s brought around me.”