Coaching turnover is simply a way of life in college football.
With increasingly short windows of opportunity due to impatient fans and trustees, a head football coach at a major program has to turn the tide quickly before his seat reaches unbearable temperatures.
In the two previous regime changes prior to current coach Will Muschamp’s arrival, new Florida coaches found a wealth of talent at their disposal. When Ron Zook took the keys to the coach’s office from Steve Spurrier, he inherited a quarterback fresh off a Heisman Trophy-runner up campaign the year before. Upon starting his renewal project, Urban Meyer was handed over a roster stocked for a national championship run. However, when Muschamp took over the Florida reins, some wondered aloud just how much talent he was left with.
When Meyer stepped down from his post at the conclusion of his sixth season at the helm in Gainesville, he admitted the program he was turning over to the unknown newcomer was indeed “broken.”
Florida stumbled to the finish line in Meyer’s last year, finishing 8-5 despite being ranked in the nation’s top five to begin the season. It may have been easy for some Gators fans to understand
Meyer’s “broken” comment came as he and his staff were questioned and ridiculed over the number of off-the-field issues which seemingly plagued the team under his watch.
What was hard to interpret however, was how a team stockpiled with elite four and five-star talent could be as woeful as the 2010 Gators were with no immediate end in sight during Muschamp’s inaugural season.
Last season, rivals used the Gators’ past recruiting classes as reasoning to why Florida shouldn’t have missed a beat. These players weren’t bad in high school. Why do they appear to be so pitiful now?
With the Gators trudging to a 7-6 finish in 2011 some fans questioned if Meyer not only left Muschamp a roster full of spoiled and entitled athletes, but a group that was vastly overrated as well. While some may have believed Meyer failed to restock the cupboard whose supply he fed off of through 2009, Muschamp never bought it.
“I’ve said we were a very young team with over 70 percent of our roster being freshmen and sophomores,” Muschamp said. “We had less starts than anybody in the SEC on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive line — two critical areas in our league that you need to be really good. We inherited a very young football team that had talent. We went through some growing pains last year.”
It would have been easy for Muschamp to say that his roster wasn’t as complete as many outsiders assumed upon his arrival. However, he offered a different truth on the Florida program he inherited.
The Gators entered last year with the advantage of having a senior quarterback to call the shots from under center, but even that went awry for the team in Muschamp’s first season.
“When you lose your senior quarterback, regardless of how many years you’ve been in the program, you’re going to probably face some struggles,” Muschamp said. “We certainly did. Again, I felt like we inherited a young, talented team. We just needed some growing up, some maturing and more experience playing the game.”
After an off-season of development and a year for players to grow comfortable with the coaching staff, Florida now finds itself undefeated seven games into the season – an idea many deemed implausible to begin the year. Suddenly, it appears Florida’s cupboard isn’t as bare as some may have suggested heading into the season.
A program like Florida will always have talent. However what Muschamp needed — as every newcomer does — was time.
“We had a lot of guys playing for the first time last year in a lot of situations,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t have depth. We’ve recruited well to add to that and we’ve recruited well on the offensive line and defensive line. I think that the depth has certainly helped.”
A year after Muschamp’s hiring, the Gators have again catapulted themselves back into the national conscience, regaining their role as one of college football’s most envied programs.
While some fans may still have a lingering displeasure in Meyer’s abrupt departure, there’s no doubt that even he would find difficulty in leaving Florida a talentless team.
And with the current team’s success, coupled with Muschamp and his staff’s own victories on the recruiting trail, it appears that it will be a long while before the wealth of talent in the Gators’ cupboard is ever emptied out.