Florida football coach Will Muschamp was the first to take the mic in the main meeting room on Wednesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
Muschamp spoke about how frustrating the 2011 season was, how excited he is for his second year, players on Twitter, tight end A.C. Leonard leaving the program and much more.
Here is the transcript of Muschamp’s quotes on Wednesday:
COACH MUSCHAMP: Thank you very much. Great to be here. Year two at the University of Florida.
First of all, I want to thank all of you, what you do for the SEC, University of Florida, helping us being the best conference in the country, certainly in football, but all sports. After being a player and coach in this league for an awful long time, developing relationships with you people has been good. You’ve been good to me and I appreciate that.
Really excited about August 3rd when we report after a very frustrating, disappointing first year, first campaign there at Florida, certainly didn’t meet the expectation level that we expect at Florida on the field.
But I do feel like we have built a very solid foundation for where we were headed. We did not get the results we wanted on the field. I feel like in the locker room, the weight room, the attitude of our football team, the discipline of our team, we’re headed in the right direction.
Every decision I make is for the long‑term success of our program. As I said plenty of times, we’re building a program, not a team. That’s where we are right now.
Very pleased with our off‑season program. Very pleased with spring ball. Excited about this team, their commitment level, their discipline for what we’re trying to do to be successful.
In any situation of building a solid foundation, you need to recruit well, which I felt like we did. You need to also have a good staff. We have three new additions on our staff. Brent Pease, offensive coordinator, guy on my radar for an awful long time. Was at Kentucky when I was at LSU. The ‘Bluegrass Miracle.’ Outplayed us that day. A lot of that was because of him. He’s a very intelligent guy, does an outstanding job with our players. Philosophically we’re on the same page.
People ask what will be different. We better score some more points. But he brings a lot of formation variation, motion shifts. We will be a more downhill running game because of the backs we have. That’s not a shift in philosophy. That’s what we wanted to be last year, but we didn’t necessarily do that because of our front wasn’t as good and the backs were smaller. We were more of a stretch outside running game.
Brent is a guy that brings a lot to the table, played the position at quarterback in the National Football League, has coached that position and called plays in our league before, which is important to me. Coached receivers at Boise, did an outstanding job there. Very pleased with that transition as Charlie moved on to Kansas and we wish him well.
Tim Davis, our new offensive line coach, were together at Miami, a guy that brings a much needed energy to the position, a guy that our most improved unit this spring was our offensive line, which we needed to. We needed to take huge steps forward. A lot of that goes to Tim. He’s a guy that really does a great job of relating with the college athlete. Was part of a national championship there at Southern Cal and a guy I’m excited on our staff.
Jeff Dillman, our strength coach, I feel like is really doing a good job with our players. Especially you local writers, media people, he does a really nice job. You’ve seen the transformation of our bodies. We’ve gotten stronger. We were outscored in SEC games in the last quarter 72 to 22. A lot of that to me goes to the weight room. You have to be stronger, well‑conditioned.
We were three and four in seven games in the SEC of scores decided by one or two scores. You’re talking about a one‑ or two‑possession game late in the game. You need to win those games. I feel like Jeff has done a nice job with our football team.
Offensively we obviously have a quarterback battle going on with Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. Both guys are talented, qualified for the position. If you saw our spring game, you saw what I saw for 14 practices. Two guys that are very even in their competition. They’re even going into fall camp. They’ll get equal reps. I would like to name a starter before the season, but I’m not going to put a timetable on that. If we need to play both of them, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do what we need to do to win football games.
Both guys have a similar skill set. So it’s not like there’s one offense we run with one and one with another, and there’s a possibility you could see both in the game at the same time. But they’re both guys that can contribute to our football team. Jeff and Jacoby have handled the competition very well. It’s been good for our football team.
Their competition has made our football team better. I’m pleased with how that has worked.
Our offensive line is much improved from last year. We need to show you on game day. I’ve challenged our guys that. The receiver and tight end positions have improved. We have some guys that I think are ready to step up in their second year of starting and playing in the SEC.
At the runningback position, I brought Mike Gillis here today from DeLand, but Mike is a guy that I’m expecting to have a good senior season. He’s a guy, because of his running style, will be more of an inside zone, two‑back power lead team. He’s a guy we’re expecting to have a great year. He’s not a man of many words.
Defensively we really lost one starter. We return most everybody on our defense. I brought Lerentee McCray and Jon Bostic. Jon was our leading tackler last year, had a solid junior season, looking for him to take the next step as far as leadership and those things are concerned. Thought he did a great job in spring.
Lerentee was a guy that was banged up a little bit last year. I held him, he probably could have gone. Can play both outside linebacker positions, can give us some edge rush in our four‑down package. They all have the work ethic you want, the type of student‑athlete we want at the University of Florida. Very pleased with having those three guys with me today.
Also on defense, we return 15 of our 16 top tacklers, so that’s exciting. We had a lot of first‑year starters last year. Defensively going into last season, we had less starters than anyone else in the SEC. That attributed a lot to our inconsistent play across the board. That’s where we need to improve there.
But when you talk about names like Shariff Floyd, Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell, and I’ll update his injury situation later, Matt Elam, Josh Evans, Jelani Jenkins, all of those guys were first‑time starters last year for an entire season, I think are really good football players.
We inherited a good, young talented team. All those guys back, a year more maturity. I’m excited about what we can do on that side of the ball.
Special teams, Caleb Sturgis, probably the best kicker in the country. He was voted all SEC first team by the coaches. I texted our team, Congratulations to Caleb Sturgis, and the SEC coaches must not think much of the rest of you guys. He’s really good. He’s accurate, he’s got a great leg, very dependable. Just have to keep him healthy.
Kyle Christy will be our punter. Took over the responsibilities about halfway through the season last year, really is a good athlete, can do some of the rugby style, directional kicks we do.
As far as kickoff returns, right now Andre Debose will be the feature guy. He has three at Florida, owns the record there. Solomon Patton and Mike Gillislee can also do that.
Punt returner, we needed to settle on one. We had a bunch of guys repping. Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy, Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton. We needed to settle on a guy back there that can be dependable for us in those situations. Very pleased with our special teams. Last year punt return yardage was the one thing we need to take a step forward with.
Our team emphasis, the number one thing is turnover margin. We finished 113th in the country. We turned it over 26 times. It’s a minor miracle we won seven games. That’s a new point of emphasis. It is every year. But you got to self‑evaluate yourself as a coach, as a staff, say, What can we do to emphasize it better or differently so our players will be more cognizant of the situation of securing the ball offensively and taking the ball out defensively.
That is a huge point of emphasis. I think our depth will help us. We’ve recruited well at those positions and have more guys with more game experience that I think are more game‑ready. We were out‑rushed in seven games last year. That’s a sign of losing on the line of scrimmage. This is a line of scrimmage league.
We wore down late defensively in some games, had a hard time getting off the field. That’s something I think we have improved. I want to see us do it in the fall.
We need to finish. We were outscored 72 to 22 in SEC games. That’s something you can attribute in the weight room. We need to coach better and play better in those situations. We need to start this season fast. We lead off September 1st with Bowling Green. Last time we played in the swamp, we didn’t coach well or play well. We need to get in front of our fans and play well.
We go to Texas A&M and to Kentucky. We have to get a leg up on the SEC race. I know it’s been a motivating factor for our kids this summer in their workouts.
As far as injuries are concerned, Stephen Alli had a stress fracture situation on his leg. He had surgery after spring. He should be cleared by the middle of camp, middle of August there.
Marcus May came in with a torn meniscus. He had surgery in high school. Still recovers from that. We think he’ll be cleared the first part of training camp.
Jeremy Brown fractured his wrist this summer. He’s having surgery as I speak right now. Should be cleared September 1st for full contact.
Ronald Powell has been cleared for all weight room activities. He’s squatting, doing everything, been cleared for straight‑ahead running. He’s not changing direction or taking on blocks right now. As any of you know with an ACL situation, that always takes time. That last 20%, as you work through that, is always critical to see how quickly you can return. He’ll play for us this year. When that will be, I don’t know yet. There’s nobody that’s worked harder or handled the situation better or more mature than Ronald has. He’s grown up through the summer.
Lastly, I met with A.C. Leonard yesterday. Obviously he made a mistake there in the winter. He has decided to transfer. He and I talked yesterday. He had a set of criteria he needed to work his way back on our football team. He and I both sat down and decided it would be better off for him to transfer.
I don’t know where he’s wanting to go. I’m going to talk to him further about it. It was a mutual decision. Just sometimes it doesn’t work, and it wasn’t working in this situation, so he needs to move on.
I’ll open it up for any questions.
Q. You talked a lot about returning starters on the defense. A lot of older guys, juniors, seniors. Can you talk about the leadership you expect to have on this defense next year.
COACH MUSCHAMP: Well, you look at the two guys I brought today, Jon Bostic, Lerentee McCray, both exemplify the work ethic you have to have to be successful in our league. They understand what it takes to be successful. Really all the guys I mentioned, a close‑knit group on that side of the ball.
Dominique, Shariff, Ronald, Neiron Ball is a man we’re fortunate enough to get back. That front seven, Omar Hunter, Damien Jacobs has blended with our team midyear. All those guys have a close‑knit group.
On the back end, Josh Evans and Matt Elam lead our secondary. I feel comfortable with our leadership, where it is. Those guys have a high expectation level of themselves of what they need to do to be successful.
Q. How comfortable are you with McCray at the buck position? The new kickoff rules, seems like a lot more strategy going in. Can you talk about that.
COACH MUSCHAMP: First question with Lerentee, going in, he will play “Sam” and “Buck”. He will play “Sam” in our regular package, then when we get to our subpackages, he’ll play the “Buck”. He’ll play “Buck” in some regular package.
I think the wildcard there a little bit is Neiron Ball. He’s a guy we’ll play at the “Sam”, he and Darrin Kitchens, see if those guys can continue to develop, which we think they can, to be really good players. We can just take Lerentee, move him full‑time at the “Buck” position. I feel very comfortable about Lerentee. He played the position last year for us and did a really nice job. Ronald was injured for the Auburn game. He came in and played very well at position for him in this game.
As far as the kickoff, D.J. and I have talked a lot, talked to people around the country about that. We have a guy that can kick it out of the end zone, but you’re going to get the ball at the 25 yard line now. We have talked about some sky kick situations as far as trying to pin them down. We do run well, that’s why we’re good on special teams. We talked about trying directional kick the ball with height and see if we can’t pin ‘em back in even further.
That’s something we worked through in spring, we talked about a lot, repped a little bit. We’ve had our kickers working on that. We will do that again in fall camp.
Q. You’ve coached in the Big 12, the SEC. How do you think newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri will do?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think very well. You look at Missouri, the job Gary Pinkel has done has been outstanding. I think in ‘06, they were one game away from playing in the national championship. Competing against those guys, they do a great job.
Offensively they’re exotic. Yost and those guys do a great job of spreading the field, making you make plays in space. They create a lot of run/pass issues with the quarterback Franklin. They give you there a tough preparation for your defense to get ready for the different looks, the things you’re going to do. They do a really nice job.
Defensively Dave Steckel, their defensive coordinator, is a guy I have tremendous respect for. Last four years, I may be wrong, they’ve had a first‑round draft pick in the NFL from the defensive side of the ball. The defensive end at San Francisco, Weatherspoon, the linebacker, the three technique at Chicago, I believe. Obviously, they recruit well, evaluate well and develop their players very well. No, they’re going to be fine.
They are very different offensively as Texas A&M is from what we see in our league, and there will be an adjustment on both sides, in my opinion. You look at what Kevin and Kliff did at Houston. They put up video game numbers as far as offense is concerned. They do a great job of spreading the field in a little different manner. They give you the illusion it’s a throw offense. Their tempo to the line of scrimmage, getting the ball snapped, took 106 snaps in their spring game.
Kevin did a great job at Houston. Now moving to Texas A&M, I won’t see anything different. They’ll be able to recruit well. Great recruiting base in College Station. I think both schools will do very well and blend very well for our conference.
Q. Florida and Texas have annually produced the largest number of high school division FBS recruits. You have recruited in both states. What will the SEC learn about the quality of the Texas high school football players and what will Texas players learn about the quality of players that Florida produces each year?
COACH MUSCHAMP: There’s going to be great respect on both sides. I work in a great state for players and high school coaches. The number of players I sign out of the state of Florida is very comparable to the state of Texas. But both states have great respect for each other. There’s outstanding coaches in both states, great players in both states.
When you have a recruiting base like we have, like they have in the state of Texas, it makes our job a little bit, I don’t want to use the word ‘easier,’ but it makes it better because you have such a great recruiting base. The pride they have in the state of Florida, having been in Texas, I know they have the same pride. I’m looking forward to the game on September 8th.
Q. How frustrating was it for you to have a signee that met NCAA requirements yet not be admitted to your school?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I can’t comment. He’s been released from his NLI. By NCAA rules, I can’t make any comment about that.
Q. What did you learn in your first year as a head coach? Do you feel any more pressure going into year two than you did year one?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Well, no more pressure at all. The pressure is what you put on yourself, and I put an awful lot on myself whether it’s year one or year 10.
Going into the first year, the issues I knew we had was a situation where we inherited a roster with two quarterbacks on scholarship, Tyler Murphy and John Brantley. We signed two freshmen that are really good football players. Unfortunately, I think I said this a thousand times last year, if we can keep John Brantley healthy, we’ll be fine. We were unable to do that in Game5, wasn’t healthy till the Gator Bowl. That posed a lot of issues. We lost a lot of confidence offensively. We struggled to move the ball consistently throughout the rest of the season.
That really permeates and affects your entire football team when that happens. That was disappointing and we lacked depth on both lines of scrimmage and quality depth at that. Whether you’re a head coach or assistant coach, when you’re heading in with that, it is difficult and frustrating.
But certainly year two, as far as from a job standpoint, I feel like I’m much more prepared just from the day‑to‑day operation of the things that come across your desk as a head coach. No different from year one as a coordinator to year two.
Mack Brown said something to me when I was at Texas, had the opportunity to be the next head coach at Texas. I said, What makes you think I’m ready for this job?
He said, You’re not. I’ve been a head coach at North Carolina for ten years and Appalachian State for one year and Tulane for four years, and I wasn’t ready for this job at Texas. Every job is different. Every job has its own set of circumstances, its own positives, its own negatives.
That always made a lot of sense when he said that. You have to work yourself into the job when you get there.
Q. Which freshmen do you expect to make an impact this year?
COACH MUSCHAMP: It’s a huge advantage for a young man to enroll in January. That’s got to be something they really want to do. In most situations I’ve had young people do that, they’ve thrived, they get ahead academically. They come into a situation where there isn’t high expectation for the season. They don’t have all that sitting on their plate. They’re just going to school, getting ready for spring ball, they’re learning how to work, learning what the expectation level is.
What freshmen will contribute, I don’t know. When we start practicing, I’ll be able to figure all that out.
Q. Georgia is one of your biggest rivals. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on their off‑season and expectations for them in the upcoming season?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Really I worry about Florida. I’m not really worried about expectation at all. I’m worried about what we’re going to do, how we prepare ourselves as we start August 3rd. That’s what I’m concerned with.
Q. You seem really high on Brent Pease as an offensive coordinator. Did you consider him officially when you came to Florida?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think always as an assistant, aspiring to be a head coach, you always got a list. He’s always been on the list. Things work out for a reason. You don’t always understand why they do.
But I was very fortunate this year to be able to hire him at Florida. I think he’s a great addition to our staff. Very bright, intelligent guy. He and his wife Paula are a great family. I’ll really pleased with how that transition has occurred and where we’re headed.
Q. Talk about scheduling. A lot of people talked about the difficulties in scheduling. You open the season against Bowling Green, then eight SEC games in nine weeks. Do you remember anything similar to that?
COACH MUSCHAMP: In our league it’s all hard. Where you play ‘em, when you play ‘em, it’s difficult, a good league. Really good players, coaches. Regardless of when you’re going to see them, when they see you, they got to play the Gators.
The things I can’t control, I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about.
Q. What do you like most and least about the new playoff format?
COACH MUSCHAMP: The new playoff format? I think it’s fine. As long as they kept the bowl system, which I know that Commissioner Slive, I know his thoughts on that, the bowl system is intact, I think it’s great.
Really, the bowl system is a great reward for the student‑athlete. It’s a great reward for the coach and his wife to go someplace for three, four days, stay in a nice hotel, have nice meals. A lot of our young people, they don’t get to do stuff like that. As long as they keep the bowl system within it, I think it’s fine.
I think you have to go through it to figure out what you really like and don’t like. Moving the games back to a reasonable time, not drifting all the way into January I think is really good.
I’m fine with it. I didn’t have a whole lot of opposition to our previous system. Was it perfect? No. I was on both sides of that. At LSU we got into the game one time, fortunate enough to beat Oklahoma in ‘03, and in ‘08 at Texas we didn’t get in the game and we thought it wasn’t just.
It is what it is. There are going to be arguments regardless in however they select the four teams. I’m fine with it. I have no issues with it at all.
Q. Trying to get a handle on Charlie at Kansas this year. Talk about the challenges he had on your staff last year, evaluate that.
COACH MUSCHAMP: Talked to Charlie yesterday. We were talking about last season.
You know, again, going in the season, we felt if John Brantley stays healthy we’re going to have a chance. John goes down in the fifth ballgame, you have Jacoby Brissett, and Jeff hurts his ankle in the second half against Alabama, then Jacoby Brissett, who is a true freshman, walks in at Baton Rouge taking his first snap. That’s a tough deal of cards there.
You know, what happens so much in athletics, in any sport, confidence is so key. When you have confidence in what you’re doing, you believe in what you’re doing, things are moving well and you’re playing well.
In the first half against Alabama, when John was healthy, offensively we moved the football against a really good defense. I mean, they’re really good. We didn’t run the ball extremely well, but we threw the ball well.
When John went down, that handcuffed us there a little bit. That was the most frustrating thing. Then some deficiencies in other areas started to show up when we lost that experience.
Very frustrating year to go through as a coach, but I appreciate how our players pushed through it, continued to fight and play. I never questioned our effort in most situations.
Q. There’s a lot of talk this summer about the common interdivision game. From the Florida perspective, do you like playing LSU every year or would you rather see it rotated?
COACH MUSCHAMP: There’s going to be 13 coaches that come up here and give you a reason why the schedule should be a 6‑2 or a 6‑1‑1. I think that Florida/LSU is good for our game. Les has done a tremendous job at LSU. Urban did a great job at Florida. You really look at from ‘03 to now, you’re looking at teams that have won three national championships, and LSU played for another one last year.
Both programs are operating at a high level.
The 6‑2 format ensures the fact that Florida is going to play Auburn in less than just a six‑year rotation. I’m sitting at the head coaches meeting, Steve Spurrier leans over to me, When I was a coach at Florida, that Florida/Auburn is a great game. We’re looking at a 6‑1‑1 format, we may not see Auburn for six years. It’s difficult for a player to come to Florida and not play a rival like that.
At the end of the day, I know Nick and some others talked about playing a nine game schedule which I wouldn’t necessarily be for because of our in‑state rival. At the end of the day, that’s why you have a commissioner. That’s Commissioner Slive’s job. It’s his job to take the opinions of everybody, we all have different opinions, of what is best for our school. That’s why he takes all the information, looks at it, makes a great decision for our league. At the end of the day, we all support the decision.
He made the best decision for our league and that’s why we support it.
Q. By beating Ohio State, you were 7‑6 last year. Florida has not had a losing season since 1979.
COACH MUSCHAMP: Yeah, I know, I was told a couple times (smiling).
Q. Talk about Florida just being able to stay steady like that over a long period of time when you have programs like Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee.
COACH MUSCHAMP: Well, I think obviously the job that Steve did in 1990 and really took Florida to another level as far as winning championships. You have a great recruiting base. You’re able to have access to really good players. Within a 300‑mile radius you can win your league by recruiting those players. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Recruiting base, the facilities, our administration, our athletic director, we stay up with facilities, what we’re trying to do. We’re always staying on that curve. I think we’ve had great head coaches through those years.
Again, I think that I would attribute most of that, it’s a great place to live, you’re able to attract good coaches to come. Jeremy takes care of our staff.
From that standpoint, I think the continuity of Steve over a 12‑year run, then Ron did a nice job, then Urban came in and did a nice job for six years. We had three head coaches, not changing the guard every two years, and I think that helps the continuity.
Q. You talked about how important it is to get confidence, that it builds on itself. How big are those first two road games as they set up the rest of your season?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Well, again, it’s a long year. Regardless of the results or the outcome in those games, you got to continue to play through the season.
I know that’s been a really good motivating factor for our players to understand that we need to start fast. They understand the pride we have in playing at home. We didn’t play well at home against our rival the last time we were in the stadium. It’s critical September 1st to play well and be prepared well. Those other two games, we can get a leg up on the competition in the SEC by playing well early.
I look at it as a great opportunity for our football team, a great motivating factor for our players to report in shape, which they will be, and ready to go with a great mindset to have an outstanding year.
Q. Coach Sumlin was asked about the game on September 8th. What do you expect?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I said before, it’s an SEC‑like atmosphere. Great fan base, a lot of traditions, history, all that. It will be loud, it will be fun. Our guys are looking forward to competing in College Station. They’ll be ready to go.
Q. With A.C. leaving, how does that affect things depth‑wise behind Jordan.
COACH MUSCHAMP: We have Clay Burton rep in there, Omarius Hines will play a little of that position, move tight end and runningback. We have the two freshmen coming in we’re excited about. We moved Tevin Westbrook after spring to tight end. We have five scholarship guys at the position, which is what you need.
Q. As far as your players and their use of social media, what is your philosophy on that as far as them engaging with fans?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Well, we don’t have a lot of rules. Number one rule is, Don’t embarrass the program, the university or your family. We monitor that through a service we have to make sure. We ask them to not talk about any football business on there.
Unfortunately we got some knuckleheads here and there that will make poor decisions, put something on there. They don’t understand the ramifications of putting something on there that’s not appropriate and we handle it quickly.
I think freedom of speech is one of the great things we have in this country. I don’t have any problem with it, as long as they handle it the right way. If a guy doesn’t handle it the right way, he won’t be on it because he doesn’t deserve the right.
Q. Being a former Georgia player, there’s talk all the time the Florida/Georgia game moving out of Jacksonville, do you see this as tradition?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think it’s a great tradition to leave it in Jacksonville. It’s a great setting. Coming over the St. John’s River, as a competitor, if that doesn’t get your blood boiling, there’s something wrong with you. You look at the tradition, the history of the game there. Coach Dooley never complained about it being there.
Appreciate it. Thank you all.