Muschamp snubbed by coaching award

The Florida Gators came up short in Jacksonville, which is pretty clear.

On Oct. 27, the Gators played a sloppy, uncharacteristic game against the Georgia Bulldogs.

They fumbled. They threw interceptions. They turned the ball over six times.

Because of that, they lost.

Florida’s lone blemish of the season came in the 17-9 defeat to Georgia. That one loss kept the Gators from reaching the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and, ultimately, the national championship.

But make no mistake; though the Gators came up short in that one game, coach Will Muschamp has not come up short in any way during his second year at Florida.

Year One for Muschamp was a test of patience.

Muschamp faced a number of challenges. He had players that didn’t fit the system he was looking to implement, and worse, he had some players that simply didn’t want to put in the work to be successful.

The result? A 7-6 record, arguably Florida’s worst season since the Jimmy Carter administration.

It took a win in the Gator Bowl for Florida to avoid a losing season, and it seemed as if Florida might be in for a rebuilding process.

Instead, Muschamp reloaded.

He brought in talented freshmen like Antonio Morrison and Dante Fowler Jr. He hired offensive coordinator Brent Pease to fix an offense that was left in shambles following a destitute 2011-12 season.

Muschamp stuck to his guns. He made it clear from the beginning of the season this wouldn’t be a typical Florida team. The Gators would be winning with an ugly, grind-it-out style as opposed to the high flyin’ aerial assaults seen under Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier.

At times it was painful to watch. Florida’s offense was lampooned when it struggled against Bowling Green and even more when it took a blocked punt in the waning seconds to defeat Louisiana-Lafayette.

But you know what? It worked.

No. 3 Florida finished the regular season 11-1 and 7-1 in the SEC. The Gators knocked off Johnny Football in College Station, a ferocious LSU squad in The Swamp and had Spurrier ready to head back to South Carolina before halftime of a 44-11 shellacking the Gators put on the Gamecocks.

In doing so, Florida earned a BCS bowl berth — the Gators will play Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.

Some say it was a sham and that Georgia deserved a spot in the Sugar Bowl over Florida. Others say it was unfair to leave Florida out of the national championship given its quality of work.

Either way, as Muschamp has said numerously, each coach, team and fan knew the rules of engagement prior to the season. It is a flawed system, but the Gators did not benefit from it more than any other team has.

Muschamp turned a 7-6 sinking ship into a Carnival cruise in just one year, which is why it is a complete travesty he was not selected as a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year.

Liberty Mutual tabbed 10 finalists for the award: Nick Saban, Brian Kelly, Bill Snyder, Bill O’Brien, Mark Richt, Kevin Sumlin, Urban Meyer, Jim Mora, Dabo Swinney and Charlie Strong.

Liberty Mutual says the selection criteria includes wins, penalties and year-over-year improvements, among other categories.

It is difficult to find another school in the nation with as much improvement as the Gators this season. Same for schools with more wins.

Sure, Muschamp has become known for his fiery attitude, but expecting any coach to stay calm at all times is a pipe dream. Muschamp has challenged his players to perform on the field and have integrity off it.

Take a second and think: When was the last time a Gators player was arrested? Then think: How few and far between are these instances compared to when Meyer was at Florida?

It is unfair to say the coach has everything to do with that, but he certainly lends a helping hand.

Muschamp has made the right decisions in hiring a coaching staff, selecting players who reflect well on the university and has not once complained about his team being left out of the national championship.

He is a fiery guy, but one that deserves to be in the discussion for coach of the year.

Maybe Muschamp doesn’t deserve to win the award, but it is an absolute travesty he isn’t one of the 10 finalists.

Come Jan. 7, when the Coach of the Year is announced, Muschamp has no chance to win. In this case, it is Liberty Mutual that came up short.