Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An Early Christmas for the Gator Nation

CFRT SEC Contributing Writer

Funny thing happened on the way to writing this column.
Will Muschamp was hired to succeed Urban Meyer as Florida’s next head coach. Sooo….ctrl+highlight+cut….on all those notes/opinions/stats on who this college football fan with an outlet had gathered for just who Florida Gator athletic director Jeremy Foley should interview for the vacancy.
I have to credit a fellow blogger for the scoop.
It first popped up on ‘Saturday Down South’ around 6:45 p.m. on Saturday that ESPN would make the announcement at 9 p.m. after the Heisman Trophy presentation that UF would announce the hiring of the former Texas defensive coordinator to replace Meyer.
My reaction was, “yeah right,” these were the very same crackpot reporters that had Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops working out the numbers on his new contract with Florida earlier in the day.
That prompted me to write a column about how it was ridiculous how all the rumors swirled around un-named sources.
So, I Googled – yes Googled – “Will Muschamp.”  
And dadgum if at the bottom of his bio wasn’t “current head coach for the University of Florida.”
Holy cow!
So I popped up Gatorsports.com.
No mention.
No mention.
SI.com (Sport Illustrated).
OK, I figured, just another rumor – never mind.
And so I went back to reading (Boise State’s) Chris Petersen’s accolades, because I thought I’d have plenty of time on this.
After all, Foley said it would be two, to two and a half weeks or so before he would make a decision.
I had a good article going too – how Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen wanted to build his own legacy and not take Urb’s leftovers.
How he too hadn’t really proven what an offensive genius he really is without Tim Tebow, etc.
I was just about to write why Stoops, although a proven winner, is horrible in the postseason and couldn’t stand above the scrutiny year to year if he didn’t go undefeated every season.  
Besides, Foley won’t be looking at a defensive coach anyway.
We all thought it would have to be a proven offensive innovator, so that also ruled out Charlie Strong.
And based on that, and what Florida learned from Ron (The Zooker) Zook, the next Gator head coach wouldn’t be learning how to be a head coach on the job, so that ruled out Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.
Then, I almost forgot about the Gator that got away.
Auburn’s Cam Newton was about to be named the Heisman Trophy winner, I could hear the announcement on the TV in the next room.  
About that time my Dad called (a.k.a.: The Lizard Man) and scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen  “……..BREAKING NEWS…sources confirm ……Will Muschamp has accepted the head coaching job at the University of Florida…….” My Dad and I were reading it to each other on the phone, and in unison, we had the same reaction to the news.
After deliberation, we decided this is a great hire – at least it could be – and we hung up with a “Go Gators!”
Not that I thought Muschamp isn’t capable, it was how fast Foley pulled the trigger.
But after some reflection, you can see Foley has had this move tucked up his sleeve a lot longer than any of us have known about Meyer’s resignation.
Foley’s homework had already been done, and after his last two coaches resigned on him three times, Foley had his plan together to keep a proud and elite program from unraveling before everyone’s eyes.
This program under Foley has worked too hard to let FSU and Jimbo Fisher retake the state’s power position, and the vacuum created in the SEC East was not going to be filled by a former Gator coach or their dyed-in-the-wool rivalries.
Foley made a statement not only with the hire, but the timing of it being announced.
Take that Cam!
Much was said about the arrogance of releasing the news during the Heisman ceremony.
“Who do the Gators think they are?”
Well, they seem to be the New York Yankees of the college football world.
How else do you explain why the announcers closing up a broadcast of a show with as much prestige as the Heisman Trophy chose to talk about Florida’s coaching hire and not the most famous award in college football history?
And isn’t it intriguing how this is a story of a former Georgia Bulldog coming back home to Gainesville – Florida?
Muschamp was born in Rome, Georgia, moved to Gainesville and grew up wanting to play for the Gators.  
Those that know Muschamp describe him as a fiercely-determined guy who has always known what he wanted.
I contacted a friend of mine in Gainesville who I knew grew up with Muschamp and asked him about the new Gator coach.
“I went to school with Will K-8,” my friend explained.
“He was an incredibly intense competitive guy and an unbelievable athlete in the eighth grade.
“(It is) a great hire, (he’s) a young, hungry guy who will work his butt off.”
After middle school, the Muschamps moved back to Georgia where Will played high school football, basketball, baseball and he also ran track.
A leg injury playing baseball hindered his recruiting chances and he ended up walking on at Georgia where he would play safety and eventually become a team captain.
Mike Bobo, who at the time was Georgia’s starting QB and teammate, described Muschamp as a “hard worker, very physical, very intense.”
It seems Foley has landed the coach this Gator program needs to climb back to the top after a disappointing 2010 that saw the Gators lose three games in The Swamp, five on the season and losing its premier coach to health issues.
By all accounts, Muschamp is an intense, hardworking, heady young coach on the rise, not to mention a relentless recruiter that will be able to keep the flow of talent streaming into Gainesville.
Muschamp was named the Big 12’s top recruiter after last year.
And for the doubters that feel this is just another Zook mistake, a career defensive coordinator with a knack for recruiting, remember: Zook was not on anybody’s watch list back then.
Zook was just a band-aid to stop the bleed off of recruits to hold the program’s place until a new legend could be found.
Muschamp is a Nick Saban disciple and well sought after assistant.
He was certainly good enough that the Texas Longhorns and head coach Mack Brown felt they needed to lock up to prevent the annual parade of suitors knocking on his door from hiring him away.
So Texas doubled his annual salary to $900,000 and ‘hired’ him to be their head coach in waiting.
Which is not unlike the path Muschamp’s good friend Jimbo Fisher took, succeeding the legendary Bobby Bowden at FSU.
Muschamp was a graduate assistant while Fisher was an assistant on Terry Bowden’s Auburn staff in the mid ‘90s.
And it was Fisher, while offensive co-ordinator for LSU, who introduced a young Muschamp to Saban on Christmas day in 2000.
An impressed Saban had Muschamp on his staff as linebackers coach the next season.
By 2003 Muschamp was the defensive coordinator for LSU’s National Championship team and eventually followed Saban to the Miami Dolphins as assistant head coach in charge of the defense.
That 2003 LSU coaching staff has produced quite a family tree of coaching, four head coaches at prominent southern football powerhouses were on that staff.  Saban (Alabama), Derek Dooley (Tennessee), Fisher (FSU) and now Muschamp (Florida).
In hiring Muschamp (39), the second youngest head coach in the SEC behind Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Foley looks to have found  the man that not only taps into Gator roots, addresses the need of holding together a top-rated recruiting class but more importantly secures the programs future.
Muschamp possesses all the tools and drive to build a legacy all his own to emerge out of the shadows cast by those erected by Spurrier and Meyer.
You can chalk it up to the holiday season, but I can see this as a loose adaption the classic Charles Dickens Novel, “A Christmas Carol.”
Ebenezer Foley has been visited by the ghosts of Gators past, present and seasons yet to be.
Just think of all the restless nights tossing and turning with the visions of the Doug Dickey’s and Charlie Pell’s of the past, Spurrier and Meyer setting the bar so high in the present and then awakening to a Tiny Timmy Tebow announcing the future via his twitter account – “Welcome to the Gator family Coach Muschamp. You’ll soon find out why it’s great to be a Florida Gator! God Bless us, everyone! And Go Gators!”
Merry Christmas Gator Nation!

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