The greatest college football coach who ever lived was the master of re-invention. At least four times in his legendary coaching career Bear Bryant re-invented himself and each time he emerged a better coach, yet in changing the way his teams played football, Bryant never really changed who he was or what he stood for. Bryant was a tough guy who demanded toughness from his players. He was as blue collar as it gets, believing that hard work and commitment prepared his teams to face and overcome any obstacle they faced.
The style in which Bryant won at Kentucky was radically different than what he used at Texas A&M and during his first national championship season at Alabama (1961). He changed to the pro style attack to win two more national titles when football changed from one-platoon football to unlimited substitutions and then won four more national championships with the wishbone in the 1970s.
The importance of what Bryant did should not be lost on what Will Muschamp has elected to do by hiring Duke’s Kurt Roper as his offensive coordinator. Roper, who in five days will bring to Gainesville a brand new offensive philosophy predicated on spreading the field and alternating tempo to create mismatches and substitution problems with the defense, represents the new trend in college football, much the way the wishbone and veer represented radical departure from the norm in the 1970s. It must be noted that Florida’s 1969 Super Sophs team was a wide open, pro-style attack. One year later, with the hiring of Douglas Adair Dickey as the head coach, the Gators shifted to a veer option game that morphed into the wishbone as soon as Dickey could stockpile running backs.
Whether you want to call it re-invention or something else, what Muschamp is doing is radically different than what we’ve seen in the past three years. By abandoning his bleed the clock, play it safe offensive style, Muschamp is taking a huge risk, but it is indeed a risk worth taking because there is no rule against scoring a lot of points and playing great defense. It’s been done before at Florida. The Gators scored points in bunches and played bone-crunching defense for two of their three national titles (1996, 2008).
There was nothing wrong with Muschamp’s ultra-conservative philosophy except that it requires the kind of personnel that allows you to impose your will on opponents and you can’t turn the ball over or play from behind very well. There is hell to pay if your defense doesn’t bring its A-game or the offense can’t hold onto the football. You’ve got to have a backup plan and you can’t just flip a switch to a tempo offense to put points on the scoreboard when things are going badly with Plan A.
What we’ve seen the last three years is one season in which Muschamp’s philosophy worked just fine (11-2 in 2012) and two seasons in which the Gators couldn’t answer the bell when a game called for shootout points. Those two seasons also answered that ringing question will we see a cure for insomnia in our lifetime?
So change was a requirement for Muschamp and to his credit, he not only decided to change rather than go down with the ship, but hired a patient, successful teacher to implement whatever changes are necessary to depart from the old ways and embrace the trend of high tech offensive football. The key element in this change of philosophy will be Muschamp’s ability to re-invent himself without fundamentally changing who he is.
The reason Bryant was so successful with each re-invention was that he stayed true to himself. He never stopped demanding toughness, hard work and commitment from himself, his players or his assistant coaches. Muschamp has said time and time again that he wants the Gators to have a blue collar, lunch pail reputation. There is nothing wrong with that and just because you spread the field and play a faster tempo game doesn’t mean you’ve replaced your team’s spine with silly putty.
So the offense will change and hopefully for the better but if Muschamp is going to succeed and remain as Florida’s football coach for years into the future, he is going to have to stay true to Will Muschamp. Embrace the change in schemes and the offensive approach, but don’t ever stop demanding toughness and don’t ever lose the commitment to work harder and more efficiently than your opponents. If Muschamp does that, he’ll be fine.
NOTICE ALL THE EMPTY SEATS?
Have you bothered to watch any of the bowl games on television so far? Have you noticed that the empty seats typically outnumber the fans in the stands by a 3-2 margin (i.e., only 40% of the seats have live bodies in them)?
It’s not just because for the most part the games we’ve seen so far feature mediocre teams with small fan bases that nobody really knows anything about. It’s because there are (a) too many bowl games, (b) too many teams that don’t deserve the reward of a bowl playing the extra game, and (c) there are too many unappealing matchups featuring teams who have nothing in common and whose fan bases are too small to begin with.
Don’t expect it to get better the closer we get to January 1, either. Oh, there will be an occasional sellout – the Peach Bowl always sells all its seats, for example – but there will be too many games like Baylor-UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, where neither team sold its full allotment. Both teams were contractually obligated to buy 17,000 tickets. Baylor only sold 10,000. UCF sold 7,000. Both schools are on the hook for the other tickets, which means the Fiesta Bowl will be a losing proposition for their athletic departments. It didn’t have to be that way. If UCF had played in the Orange or Sugar Bowl, its fans would have traveled in droves. Had Baylor played a Pac-12 or Pac-12 team, the Fiesta probably would have sold out. We’ll see plenty more examples of half and three-quarters full stadiums before this bowl season concludes.
The empty seats are just one symptom of a bowl system that is corrupt to the core. Maybe it’s going to take a couple more years of stadiums with growing numbers of empty seats at bowl time to bring about a common sense change to end this nonsense.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Because Florida football is undergoing a radical change in offensive philosophy by the hiring of Kurt Roper and we have a bowl system that desperately needs an overhaul, it seems only fitting that today’s music is “Changes” by David Bowie.