There was at least one person in the room Tuesday night who had no doubt that the new guy was a “perfect fit” for the head coaching job at Florida and that there would be no regrets about hiring an assistant to succeed Urban Meyer. Well, maybe two: Jeremy Foley and Will Muschamp.
Muschamp said he knew he was the guy Foley wanted when the Florida AD began rattling off all the qualifications of the person he was looking for over the phone “and I got excited.”
Still a few weeks away from officially taking over the team, the 39-year-old Muschamp spoke to the players briefly and said he would be “strictly a spectator” in the weeks leading up to the Outback Bowl as he evaluated the talent. But as he had told the players, first impressions are important — and he certainly made a good one.
After a 40-minute press conference in which he passed the litmus test by referencing names like Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Wilber Marshall, Tony Lilly, Wayne Peace, Tyrone Young and even Ray Graves, the former Georgia Bulldog walk-on transitioned himself into the good will of the Gator Nation. He announced he was keeping Strength and Conditioning Coach Mickey Marotti and that as long as he was Florida’s coach he wanted Urban Meyer to be part of the program. But he’s made no other decisions about coaches, he said, and had “zero timetable” for doing so.
As he spoke, a number of players and coaches listened and watched, including Meyer — although Urban did it from a distance, not wanting to detract from Muschamp’s spotlight. He hung out in the hallway, sometimes positioning himself behind a curtain.
“Whew! He’s got a lot of energy,” said one Gator who played in the sixties. “He wore me out just listening to him!”
No doubt, the new Florida coach thrives on enthusiasm, because he says one of his favorite things is “affecting people in a positive way.”
Muschamp thinks the two most important ratios in football are the big play ratio and the turnover ratio. And the “hidden stat” is momentum.
Seems like momentum is one force that the fire-breathing, fist-pumping, chest-bumping Muschamp thinks he can manipulate with his own personal juice. The air was fairly crackling with sparks Tuesday night as he talked about his vision for winning at Florida and the ensuing challenges. No wonder they call him “Coach Boom!” Remind you of anyone?
There seemed to be a mission statement with the delivery of his words and the direct, non-stop way in which he spoke, hardly looking at a note, gave you the feeling it was packed with purpose. The man must be a force in the locker room.
Somebody jokingly asked if Muschamp would hire Meyer as his special teams coach, to which he answered: “Well, he certainly knows a lot about it.”
In fact, the new Gator coach embraced Meyer, just as Meyer had embraced the legacy of Steve Spurrier. Except Muschamp gets the real live person, because Meyer will reportedly stay on as a special advisor to Jeremy Foley. And that’s just fine with Muschamp, who says he wants Meyer around to consult with as long as he’s the Gator coach.
Muschamp also says he wants to send Urban out with the right way with a win over Penn State. “This guy is a Hall of Fame coach,” he emphasized.
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It says something about Muschamp that when he worked at West Georgia as an assistant coach, he washed pants and lined the field. He learned early the value of hard work and discipline, perhaps because his dad was headmaster at Oak Hall Middle School. His dad also told him that 10 percent of life is what happens to you and 90 percent depends on how you deal with it.
Like their coach, these new Gators will be blue-collar overachievers who are expected to be tough on the field and in the classroom — as well as to do things the right way and make good decisions.
He called it “The Florida Way.”
Or, perhaps, “Will’s Way,” the next generation, I suppose, after “Urban’s Way.”
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Some say there are lots of similarities.
There will be the inevitable comparisons between Meyer and Muschamp — already some are saying Will looks like “the Urban of four or five years ago” — and after his first meeting with the new coach, Johnny Brantley said “they are pretty much alike.”
The good news for Brantley and fans of the pro-style offense is that the new coach, a defensive man, wants balance, plans to run when needed and says he will stretch the field by throwing deep.
He also said the person calling the plays — whoever that might be — should have both pro and college experience.
I can’t say for sure, but it looked like a gleam in Brantley’s eye. The senior-to-be would be the likely triggerman in an offense geared less to the spread-option and more to the pass/run.
And wouldn’t that be some kind of irony? JB4 goes all the way to Texas to find out he wanted to be a Gator, returns to Gainesville where he sits for three seasons behind Tim Tebow, stumbles his way through his first year as a starter with a malfunctioning unit, ponders his future elsewhere and then decides to return for his final season and play for the guy who just left as the Longhorns’ defensive coordinator.
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Certainly the 23rd coach of the Florida Gators and former Auburn/LSU/Texas assistant ingratiated himself with his new football family, wearing what he called “the right orange and blue this time” and invoking memories of chasing down Wilber Marshall at picture day and talking some ball.
He was an Oak Hall Middle in those days, prior to his family moving to Rome, Ga., often playing football with brothers Pat and Mike in the backyard of his parents’ home at 122 NW 22nd Ave.
“Mike was Wayne Peace, Pat was Tyrone Young and I was Tony Lilly,” said Muschamp. Naturally, though Mike and Pat were quarterbacks, Will had to be the defensive back.
He may have been a Bulldog as a player, but he grew up a Gator in the days before it was called “The Swamp.” He recalls going to Florida Field and sitting in the old North end zone, seeing Wilber Marshall annihilate Southern Cal and “watching Charley Pell circle the field.” He says he had a bird’s eye view of James Jones’ famed one-handed catch to beat Miami — “and he WAS in bounds.”
At picture day his mom “always wanted to have her picture made with Cris Collinsworth,” something Will didn’t understand then but does now.
And to top it off, Muschamp said he planned to talk to Danny Wuerffel, had spoken by phone with Tim Tebow Saturday after taking the job and “reached out” to Steve Spurrier on Tuesday.
Will Muschamp touched a large segment of Florida fans, touched all the hot buttons and touched all the bases in his first at-bat as a true Gator on Tuesday. It was a pretty good way to start out his career as the 23rd head coach of the Florida Gators.