Will’s First and Ten
Now that he has rounded out his coaching staff and, hopefully, unpacked the last box from Austin, Texas, Will Muschamp is getting about the business of being Florida football coach. Of course he can’t coach his players yet, but Muschamp has plenty of other stuff to do in the meantime.
By all accounts he may have made a dent in the recruiting wars and may yet pull a rabbit or two out of the hat. His public appearances have been few, his media appearances limited. There’s not much in the way of scuttlebutt out there, but the tiny bit of inside buzz has been extremely positive. He has made a believer out of several veteran observers inside the bubble. “Impressive,” said one. “He knows what he wants to do.”
From what I’m hearing, Muschamp is all business and is sending out the message that nonsense from players will not be tolerated. Every coach strives for accountability, but apparently Muschamp will insist on it.
It’s too early to evaluate his coaching staff except for the four members we know --- Brian White, Stan Drayton, D. J. Durkin and Mickey Marotti --- and certainly too early to make evaluations of players since we don’t yet know the full concept of the offensive and defensive schemes.
Here, though, are 10 things that are no doubt on his list in the coming months, starting as soon as Muschamp completes his first national signing day as head coach.
1. Identifying team leaders. Ahmad Black and Mike Pouncey are gone, so it will be interesting to see who steps up to fill those roles. It might be Johnny Brantley and Janoris Jenkins, both seniors, but neither is vocal. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey don’t fit the mold. Jaye Howard has the physical skills to lead by example. There may be battlefield promotions and even some underclassmen could get into the mix. Impossible to determine until the Orange and Blue game, maybe until fall. They will identify themselves.
2. Coaching chemistry. Now that he will have defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on campus following the Seahawks’ loss to the Bears, this will begin to take shape. It will take a while for this staff to bond, but the style and philosophy of Muschamp and his coordinators, Charlie Weis and Quinn, will quickly determine this. Merging the holdover coaches with the others will be crucial because they know the players. Until they have won and lost together, however, that bond won’t really be established.
3. Developing trust with the players. Strange as it may sound, this is not a slam dunk. It’s something all coaches are concerned about once they get their hands on the squad --- Urban Meyer struggled with it his first season. Players are always dubious about new guys coming in, whether they’ll do what they say they’re going to do, etc. More than anybody else, Marotti can be invaluable to Muschamp on this. For one big reason: He’s the only staff member, technically, allowed to have everyday contact with them until spring drills. And they already trust him.
4. Restoring discipline with new ground rules and routines. These were concerns of the 2010 team due to so much change and uncertainty. Muschamp is said to be a stickler for this. No doubt he has heard the “25” associated with the number of arrests during the Meyer regime and would like to make that go away. The whispers are that Muschamp will not tolerate misbehaving, no matter who does it. The first test or two will be interesting.
5. Teaching and selling his offensive and defensive schemes --- both to the players and the Bull Gators. The introduction of a pro-style offense with more multiple passing routes and the indoctrination of the skill position players to it will be a welcome change for those troubled by the ineffectiveness of Smashmouth-style football. It only follows that Brantley will most likely be the triggerman in this style and now that his father has told some members of the media that Johnny will be coming back has to be music to the ears of Muschamp and Weis. Speed will be likely be the underpinning of Quinn’s aggressive defense which will no doubt feature multiple fronts. Muschamp’s philosophy is not unlike that of the last regime’s: 3-4 seconds of relentless effort.
6. Dealing with a different kind of fan base. Will having spent time in Gainesville, he’s aware that this is not Austin or Auburn or Baton Rouge. The Gator fan base is far more diverse than ever --- more so than 26 years ago when he lived here. It’s not just that the expectations are so high, because they’re high on those other places, too. Gator fans are far more demanding and less patient, however, than in other SEC cities. “If Mark Richt coached in Gainesville instead of Athens,” said one person close to the program, “he would be gone now.” And since two national championships ago, the atmosphere is even testier.
7. Deciding how much of a public person to be. Simple though it may sound, this isn’t an easy task. No longer required to speak to the 22 Gator Clubs Steve Spurrier once had to indulge, the person occupying the office of Florida coach is still considered celebrity status of near rock ‘n roll star persona. Everybody wants a piece of Will Muschamp. There just won’t be enough of him to go around. Because of so many media obligations, this puts a premium on time management. One of his earliest chores will be to find his favorite restaurant, unless he gets Urban’s table at Ballyhoo Grill.
8. Deciding which Florida Gator traditions to continue, which ones to drop. Meyer was big on this. Among the new things he introduced: Champions Club, Family Night, Gator Walk, Captain’s Dinner and Senior Tackle Day. Most likely to survive: Singing the alma mater after victories and shaking hands with the band director. And the Gator Walk. Personally I always like the Captain’s Dinner because he held together the past generations of Gators.
9. Holding his friends close, his enemies closer. Well, he’s already got some of his friends on the coaching staff and a few others that he knew around town when he attended Oak Hall. As for “enemies,” he and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher are buddies and still own a beach house together --- so maybe he’ll be able to hold him pretty closely. He’ll develop his own list of “enemies” as he goes, depending on which teams he beats regularly. P.S. I have a feeling we’ve hear the last of that “School Out West” euphemism, however.
10. Defining the “Florida Way” that he talked about in his opening press conference. As a former Gator fan who emulated defensive back Tony Lily while playing backyard football games with his brothers, Muschamp already has a feel for UF’s heritage and will put own stamp on one of the nation’s most successful programs. Hopefully that will include the next generation of those legacies of coaches past: Things like the openness and transparency of the Ray Graves Era; the fun and success of the Steve Spurrier era; the winning ways of the Meyer era; and passionate outreach of the Charlie Pell era. Most likely, though, the “Florida Way” also speaks to the image of the program and how Will Muschamp envisions the footprints that his players leave behind. For now, the “Florida Way” will depend largely on “Will’s Way.”
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