The Mark Miller Report: A divided nation

The Gator Nation has basically divided into two factions. One that has been dubbed the “Sunshine Pumpers” that support the current head coach and defend him at every turn and one that has been dubbed the “negative Nellies” that feel they have seen enough and want University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley to clean house and start over with the football program or at least force a change at offensive coordinator. Here I will do my best to explain the stance of each side and then give my personal belief on these issues. I want to say in advance that my beliefs are simply my own opinions based on things I have seen and heard and in some cases, my own hunches. Take them for what they are worth, which is next to nothing. Of course, the big debate is whether the current coaching staff should remain intact. I will get to that.

But first, there is what got Florida to where it is today.

The Sunshine Pumpers: Urban Meyer left the team in complete disarray and created a situation that led to a lack of depth at key positions. Will Muschamp inherited a mess and has, for the most part, done an admirable job of cleaning it up to this point. The lack of depth caught up with the Gators this season.

The Negative Nellies: Meyer was God on Earth and left a cupboard full of talent that Muschamp and crew have squandered with poor player development. Meyer, Spurrier, Saban and Charlie Strong would all be undefeated with this current Gator roster.

What I believe: Well first, two of those above coaches aren’t even undefeated with their own, mostly healthy, rosters. As for Meyer and his departure, there are all kinds of rumors out there from him being on death’s doorstep to pretending health issues just so he could save face as he bolted from an SEC that scared him. There are other rumors that I refuse to even acknowledge nor do I care to know their validity. I believe that Urban Meyer is a great coach. I also believe that he became infatuated with ESPN’s constant gushing over his recruiting prowess. I think that it became just as important to Urban to have the top ranked recruiting class as it did to have the top ranked football team. Because of this, he began to let some questionable characters get away with some questionable behavior because it was good for recruiting. He wanted his star players to be telling prospective star recruits how much fun it was at UF. It is my opinion that the team got out of control and Meyer panicked and fled. His health issues were probably very real. Extreme occupational stress can easily lead to severe health issues. This left Will Muschamp a mess to clean up.

Then there is where the Gators are today.

The Sunshine Pumpers: We were 11-2 last season. We were one USC touchdown away from playing Alabama in the national championship game. The incredible list of injuries must be taken into account when assessing 2013. It has been a difficult season but Muschamp has the program going in the right direction and next season should be much better if the rash of injuries ends.

The Negative Nellies: Muschamp is in over his head. We were lucky to have an 11-2 record last year and it could have just as easily been 7-5. The entire coaching staff, especially on the offensive side, is underachieving and there is virtually no player development. The only players playing well are the Meyer leftovers. While Muschamp has recruited well, he and his staff have failed to develop these players into quality depth to handle the injuries. All teams have to deal with injuries. Lots of other teams have freshmen contributing, why aren’t Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fullwood able to contribute for the Gators?

What I believe: Yes, the Gators were 11-2 last season and you are what your record says you are. However, there were concerns with the offense last season and those issues carried right into 2013 only to be exacerbated by the injuries. The loss of Chaz Green before the season even started began a domino effect that has continued to ripple through the offensive line all season. It seems like the Gators lose an offensive tackle for the season every week, Tyler Moore being the latest. Add to the equation the fact that both the starting quarterback and starting running back missed much needed preparation in camp due to illness and then both were lost for the season. I think the offense would have shown improvement this season without all of the injuries but how much improvement is a valid question. While Florida does have freshmen contributing, I do agree that Fullwood and Robinson should be contributing by now and probably would be if they had been worked into the offense when the Gators had leads over lesser opponents. Whether it is by Muschamp’s design or Pease’s, this practice of letting the air out of the ball in the second half of games where Florida has the upper hand hinders the development of the offense and you pay the price when you need your offense to perform. There is a reason why teams like Alabama, Oregon and Florida State beat teams 59-0. They are not just being cruel. At the time when most teams are getting their young playmakers acclimated to the offense and the speed of the game the Gators are using every second of the play clock, running the ball and shortening the game. I strongly disagree with this philosophy and it has a lot to do with offense being ranked among the worst in the country. Even though the offense is not stellar it is not as bad as the rankings appear because the Gators took no advantage of building their offensive stats in the second half of games where they had their opponents outmatched while everyone else does. They also took no advantage of fine-tuning the offense for later against better opposition.

There is another issue that must be addressed at this point. Will Muschamp has exhibited great discipline for his players conduct off of the field and it seems to have been successful. The arrest rate for Gator players not named Morrison has decreased noticeably. However, the discipline on the field has been another matter. Every game the team is plagued with dumb penalties, many of which are the result of a lack of emotional control by the players on the field. These include many personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties culminating with one of the dumbest penalties I have ever seen. Saturday, with all of the momentum on their side, the Gators stopped UGA on an ill-advised attempt to convert a fourth down in their own territory. Florida would have taken over at the Bulldog 40-yard line needing only a handful of yards to at least have a chance to tie the game with a field goal. Instead, linebacker Neiron Ball inexplicably removed his helmet and appeared to be celebrating his part in the key play. This, of course, is a 15-yard penalty and the Gators ended up with the ball at their own 45. Three plays later Florida was punting and UGA would play keep away for the remainder of the game. I don’t for a minute buy Ball’s excuse that his helmet was crooked and he just took it off to realign it.  My take on this problem is this: Will Muschamp, you are no longer a defensive coordinator. You are now a head coach and need to behave accordingly. How can you exhibit virtually zero emotional restraint on the sideline and then reasonably expect your players to exercise control of their own emotions on the field? Personally, I like an intense coach. I like the fact the he appears to hate losing just as much as I do, but he also has to be a leader and that includes restraint.

Where do the Gators go from here?

The Sunshine Pumpers: Stay the course. Everything would be fine without all the injuries. There is nothing to be gained by creating a carousel of coaches and changing schemes every year. Muschamp’s 11-2 record is just as likely to be the norm as this year’s debacle. We should leave everything intact for next year and then make a decision for the future based on the results we see on the field in 2014.

The Negative Nellies: These folks like to quote Jeremy Foley. What must be done eventually should be done immediately, or something to that effect. There is some difference of opinion here between those who think Pease should be let go and those who think the whole group including Muschamp should be sent packing.

What I believe: Regardless of what transpires the remainder of this season (within reason, this does not include crashing a motorcycle with a coed on the back) Muschamp earned some time by going 11-2 last season and the unbelievable injuries this year must be taken into account as well. For me, there is no discussion as to whether Muschamp’s job should be in jeopardy this season. I believe he is and should be safe. The question, as far as I am concerned, is what to do about the offense. Should Brent Pease be retained? Replacing Pease would mean that Florida would have three different offensive coordinators in four years. It is somewhat foolish to think that can be a positive thing. On the flip side, look at what a difference Cam Cameron has made in LSU’s offense in one year. Something is drastically wrong with the Gator offense. There is simply no way to ignore that. One thing I have always believed is that you don’t make a move to replace an employee unless you have access to someone better. If Foley and/or Muschamp have a target they believe in, I think it will be time to make the change at the end of the season. Eventually, if not already, this is going to translate into recruiting struggles on the offensive side of the ball. Bringing in an exciting new offensive coordinator can only help in this area.

I would also recommend that Foley sit down with Muschamp after the season and discuss his overall coaching philosophy. I believe that Muschamp is trying too hard to take the risks out of coaching football and I just do not think it is possible to do so successfully. I realize that opening things up on offense also makes turnovers more likely but eventually you will need your offense and it will need to have experience. I will end by saying that I believe in Muschamp. I think he is learning on the job and we have already dealt with the growing pains. Why not stick with him a little longer and see if we can also reap the rewards?

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Mark Miller
Mark Miller's bravery knows no limits. He's a Gator living deep in the heart of Georgia. Mark's weekly columns appear in the Coosa Valley News in Rome, Georgia, where Gators are few and Bulldogs are many. His updates about football and life among the heathens will appear in Gator Country on a weekly basis.