Dooley: At least Muschamp understood Florida

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South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was the head coach at Florida from 2011-2014.(AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

In the Florida coaches locker room, the sound and smells of another football Saturday still fresh in his nose and ears, Will Muschamp knew it was over. His Florida football team had basically just re-gifted a football game, refusing to win when the other team was begging it to.

He didn’t want to leave the warm locker room to face the cold media because he knew it was the final blow. That it came against South Carolina at the time meant nothing. Today, it wreaks of serendipity as his bowl-eligible Gamecocks prepare to host a Florida team with both engines flaming and the pilot already ejected.

That day, Muschamp knew he’d work again.

“I knew I was going to be coaching, I just didn’t know where,” he said Wednesday.

But as a head coach in the SEC East?

“Never say never in this business,” he said.

Muschamp is fond of saying he’s loyal to whoever signs his paycheck, but this job was special to him. He had grown up in Gainesville. In his classy news conference two days later, he called UF “a special place, special people.”

He got Florida.

And Florida got Muschamp.

What did then-President Bernie Machen say at the presser? “I would love for my son or my grandson to have the opportunity to be coached by Will Muschamp.”

The news conference was like a giant job recommendation because everybody in the building loved Muschamp. Back then, I was accosted by former players from the Steve Spurrier Era who believed it was a huge mistake to let him go.

This week I have talked to dozens of people who work at the place we call “The Firm” and every one has talked about that difference when Muschamp was let go vs. the Black Sunday that was 12 days ago.

Then, there was true sadness.

Muschamp had done his job. He was told to come in and clean up a “broken” program. He did. But obviously, it didn’t stick.

Because the program is broken again.

Perhaps it didn’t heal properly.

Which takes us to the world of hindsight. You’ve been there so many times that you have voting rights. What if this and what if that.

In the world of hindsight, you usually don’t need glasses to see, but this one is a little fuzzy.

What if … Florida had not fired Muschamp and hired Jim McElwain?

Well, for openers, the athletic department would have a lot more money in its bank account. The University Athletic Association still has a $787,500 payment this month and one more for the same amount due to Muschamp at a later date.

And then there was the McElwain buyout to get him to come plus the one to get him to leave.

But that’s part of the business of big-time college football.

The bigger question — could this have worked with Muschamp if he had more time?

There was a pretty good chance Florida was going to get quarterback Lamar Jackson, who owns a Heisman Trophy, if Muschamp had not been let go. With Kurt Roper in his second year might the offense have finally found an identity?

Here’s what we do know — it couldn’t have been any worse than it has been the last three seasons. And you know the defense, which was built with Muschamp players in 2015 and ’16, would not have fallen off the way it has this year.

And with a little continuity and definitely some better hires on staff (a weakness of both of the last two coaches), Florida might not be in this mess.

The Gators — at the worst — might be like South Carolina. But that’s the thing. Florida doesn’t want to be like South Carolina. It wants to be like Florida. It doesn’t want to be happy with 8-4. And it never is.

That’s why hindsight doesn’t always work. Muschamp, like Ron Zook, caught every bad break in the world when he was here. And like Zook, he was following a coach who had top of the world success.

It wears on you. And when you lose to Georgia Southern, it becomes suffocating. Back then, the negativity around the program had become unbearable. It was hard to watch this team play.

I resisted for a long time. It wasn’t until after that South Carolina game that I called for a change (like what I say makes a difference). The next day, Muschamp was let go.

And I felt like crap.

We can look back and wonder now if it was the right decision. The only thing we know for sure is nobody can change it.

“I had a wonderful experience at Florida, despite how it ended,” Muschamp said this week. “That won’t ever change.”

Let’s hope athletic director Scott Stricklin finds a guy who feels the same way about this place.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

62 COMMENTS

  1. Pat: Both Zook and Muschamp were fine men. I remember actually getting to meet Zook at a Pensacola booster meeting and listening to him describe what he intended to do to get UF going again. On the way home, my wife said “what do you think” and I responded “I like him a lot, but I just feel a doubt in my mind whether he’s got what it takes to carry it out”. Somehow I never lost that feeling. There is no such thing as “luck”, just pure hard fate in this life. Zook and Muschamp were unfortunate at UF. When I met Spurrier and Meyer at Booster gatherings I had a different feeling or presents from them. To be successful at he highest College football level, you’ve got to have a God given intangible program wide leadership quality that your either born with or don’t have. PERIOD. Again, when I look at and listen to McElwain, I just did not feel I was looking at “the Bear” or Robert E. Lee. Same for Zook and Muschamp, two fine men, but not top flight leaders. Sorry.

      • Chris, it should be Bob Stoops, but he is not coming out of retirement. With that said, I think Florida alternatively would benefit from younger energy and innovative offensive thinking from the next head coach. That clearly describes either Fuentes, Frost, and Norvell, likely in that order of offer of the Florida HC position. Fuentes probably likely is not going to leave Va. Tech. Frost may not leave UCF right now, as he is likely waiting on his dream job of becoming the head coach at Nebraska. So that leaves Norvell from Memphis and that would be a big gamble for Stricklin. Probably too big of a gamble for him. So he therefore goes for someone else out there. Maybe a program builder like Taggert, but he has stated that he is not likely to move his family again so soon. So, Stricklin may go big time after a more experienced and proven program builder and winner. Maybe the TCU or Washington head coaches. But that would be extremely costly. And if all of that does not work out, maybe Stricklin just makes a last minute offer to Charlie Strong, who I think would be a great head coach of the Florida Gators. Great person. High character coach. Disciplinarian. Great recruiter. Knows Florida. Had a very good offense at Louisville. But, then again, would he leave an ideal situation at USF so soon to jump into the current fire at Florida? And his personality may be just too laid back right now for this team. Clearly, Stricklen has a major challenge on his hands as he seeks to fill the head coaching position at Florida. I am just glad he is in charge of that task instead of me, you, and DeWayne.

  2. I was sorry to see Zook go I’ve never seen a man work harder than him. Just the opposite of McElwain’s laid-back style, he was a buzz saw all the time and a great recruiter. I always thought that given more time Zook would have been a real winner here. Muschamp however never understood offense and you cannot be HBC of the Gators hoping to win games 13-10 with defense. That one flaw eventually did him in, he was just too stubborn to care about the offense side of the ball. He’s learned and he’s got a pretty good team up in South Carolina now. Mac was a bust from the get-go he never had the skills he was hired for as an offensive genius. He went after facilities upgrades because that’s a lot easier than putting a winning team on the field when you have no clue how to do that. Watching him was painful – he is a terrible game manager and makes no adjustments in-game, is too loyal to his incompetent buddies, i.e. Nussmeier and just was an overall terrible fit for Gator Nation. Just not qualified for the job, Foley blew this hire worse than the other two.

    • Tunaboat. Zook is currently the special teams coach of the Green Bay Packers after a non successful tenure at Illinois. Florida made the right decision to discharge Zook. But Foley clearly made less than good hires with Muschamp and McElwain. Simply stated, Stricklin has to get this hire right in a big way. I am hoping that he is meeting with Bob Stoops and begging him to come out of retirement and come save the Florida football program. And hang out with his good friend, Steve Spurrier, in Gainesville.

    • Tunaboat. I couldn’t agree with you more about Zook. His ability as a recruiter benefitted Spurrier and Meyer. He was a team builder and with more time as HC it would have been interesting to see how things might have gone. His handicaps were having a limited pool from which to build his staff because he was offered the HC position late and his weak communications skills as a public speaker. I can’t help but wonder if Foley hired him mainly for his recruiting skills in the short term with the idea of replacing him at the first opportunity. The fans weren’t likely to be enamored with anyone replacing Spurrier. The fire Zookers sprung up as fast as a summer thunderstorm.

    • Zook was the best recruiter Florida has ever had. I would have liked to have seen what he could have done with a longer tenure as head coach. But any coach would have had great difficulty following the Old Ball Coach.

      • Rod, Zook was out of coaching for a long time, was never offered a head coaching job after Illiniois again, and is currently a special teams coach in the NFL for good reasons. He was not a good game day head coach. He also was not good at system organization/structure and booster relations, which are critically important for any college head coach. Zook was also too close to his players, which caused problems in team culture during his HC tenure at Florida, and which Meyer inherited; and then it got worse under Meyer. Zook was and is a career assistant coach. The title, head coach, was too big for him to manage. But he was very personable with the average fan and player. Just my opinion.

    • Mr. Dooley:

      I wish you would start writing more honestly about the negative attributes of our coaching staff well before what is apparently UAA permission to release the hounds. You didn’t start criticizing the obvious ineptitude of the previous two staffs until literally hours prior to termination. Journalism is dead.

  3. Pat I thought you having a hard time dealing with Mac loss because you can’t seem to move forward even when you say you are. Opining for Muschamp is even more ridiculous. Let it go. I would rather read article on future coaching prospects, timeline for hiring, how much erosion to recruiting class gator MBK. What we need to do not to become a school with a revolving coaching door and what are those disadvantages. The potential articles you could write are limitless. Yet you force to relive a failed pass. Your article makes no since it;s about two coaches who failed at the job they were assigned. Your point of how they were perceived as the door hit in the arse is of little consequence. Here one for you Urban was detested by most when he left and won 2 natty’s which is another meaningless point.
    If your tring to say certain coaches should be eliminated do to personality traits then please stop beating around the bush and write that column.

    • Glen, no one is forcing you to read Pat’s articles. I believe Pat has earned the right to publish anything he desires at Gatorsports and with the Sun. And he is one of the most respected sports journalists covering SEC teams. And, finally, I personally enjoyed reading this article and gained new insights from it, as well as new thoughts about who I hope is the new head coach. The article stimulated my thinking, which a good article does.

      • I like Pat. I’m tired of reliving the past instead of focusing on the current events or the future of the program but like all readers you are entitled to your opinion

      • “Earned the right…”? What a nonsensical read. How about objective journalism, not permanent Bianchi poison, nor Dooley’s tut-tutting honest criticisms of a failed product?

        Rick, explain Dooley and Robbie ratcheting up their contempt for the fans this season, even as we all saw what was collapsing on the field. Explain Gatorsports shilling for Mac’s jerk sauce. Assuming this comment isn’t scrubbed…

        • No one has earned a right, not in journalism nor in football. You are only as good as your last story. Its about readers. You bore them they go elsewhere! I agree with Glen and Pat on this one!

  4. Don’t even go there, Doolittle. Zook/Muschamp/McElwain all failed to deliver for one reason or another. That’s history, old news, done, in the past. Now Stricklin is the guy who will determine the potential future of Gator Football. I personally believe that this next hire is a two horse race, Frost and Mullen, anybody else,seems to me, to be more of the Zook/Muschamp/McElwain crap shoot.

  5. Art, all signs point to Mullen going to Tennessee, not Florida. I am personally good with that direction. Mullen burned too many bridges during his tenure at Florida, and he has never been all that innovative or that great of a recruiter, which are two things the new head coach has to be.

    • Rick, not that it’s relevant to this discussion but for you bringing up the idea of Mullen to Tennessee, I’ve often wondered over the last couple of seasons if the Vols had ever thought of Tee Martin for the HC job after Jones. That is, if there is an “After Jones”. Martin is no doubt ready for the task and seems up to it by most accounts.

  6. Pat, about the gist of your article…not buying it. And Art, please, not Mullen, there was grumbling about his offense when he was coaching at UF.

  7. Pat, since you want to play “what-if” I’m just curious who would’ve blocked for Lamar Jackson assuming he would have selected UF? I don’t believe Jackson would’ve gone to UF. It’s a cheap attempt on your part to inflict a little more pain into the fan base.

    The fact remains Muschamp was all world recruiting on the defensive side but couldn’t land any top flight offensive players. Nelson Agholor, Artavis Scott, Dalvin Cook, Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph…I could go on and on and on. All of these players were either long time UF fans growing up, strong leans to UF or UF commits that ultimately flipped.

    If you’re going to write a retrospective piece about Muschamp’s tenure you should at least accurately depict what happened. Not speculate on what may have happened. The fact remains he could not get any legit offensive recruits.

  8. I usually don’t comment. I have been watching gator football since before Ray Graves. Went to every one of his summer camps in the sixties.But I will put in my two cents worth, Kerwin Bell period. If you where to ask S.O.S. he would agree. He has an offensive mind like Spurrier. He beat number one Auburn almost all by himself. I was there. He knows how to coach and recruit Florida. If will muschamp had hired him as O.C. he would still be coach. He is a person who would be loyal to the Gators something we need badly. He also Knows how the A.D.
    Is run! I was calling for Spurrier when we lost Pell and everybody said I was nuts. Well
    I don’t need to explain that one!

    • No, you sure don’t, Everett. That one was destiny fulfilled. Bell’s name came up early on, but sure fell off quickly, didn’t it? I wouldn’t be alarmed by such a hire, myself, but it sure lost traction before it even got started.

  9. Dooley, you are spot-on with this one – as you often are. When we fired Zook, there was one grand and obviously great option for his replacement. This year, there are are several very-good to potentially, great head-coaching candidates to chose from. But when we fired Muschamp, there was McElwain, and not much else. And the plain and simple truth is we downgraded from Muschamp to McElwain.

    I was among those calling for Muschamp’s head in 2014. And that was a mistake. Hopefully I’ll learn from it. Hopefully, we all will.

    • You’re right, there was one grand and obviously great option after Zook, his name is Stephen Orr Spurrier. It is my perception that the HBC’s return was possible, if not for the ego and arrogance of those in charge. Try to imagine Gator football with the HBC from 2005-2015. Consistency, stability, and SEC titles? Yes. Tebow and 2 MNCs? Probably not. Meyer’s meltdown and embarrassing retention, and Muschamp? Definitely not.

      • The blame for Foley having to hire Zook falls almost exclusively on Spurrier. He didn’t quit in December, He quit in January, right in the middle of key recruiting season. Foley had to scramble at the last minute to try to get someone to coach and salvage that class. Plus, Spurrier and Foley had fallen out over, among other things, the Dockett/Graham incident. He left the school sitting high and dry. I don’t know of any ADs who would let that go.

        So instead – ho hum – we brought in a guy who won 2 NCs in his first four years. I know … a real tragedy.

  10. Pat, Florida was only “Florida” as you call it from 1990 through 2009. Before and after that the program is irrelevant in the SEC or national discussion. It can ascend again, but it is going to take a committed UAA and AD. One that is as committed to the football program as it is the outstanding volleyball, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, gymnastics, and on and on. The mind set is not there to rebuild the relatively brief relevance Florida had on the conference and national discussion. The UAA and administration will be overwhelmed and overjoyed if 7-5 becomes the new normal…..I cannot even conceive of ever winning 10 games again.

    • With the talent Florida pulls in 10 wins should be the accepted minimum. 3 NCs in that time frame does not a “flash-in-the-pan” make. We are supposed to be a national power – that the new norm. Bama did not accept their mediocrity before Saban. OSU did not accept their mediocrity under Cooper, Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, etc etc. We’re in that argument now. Personally, I won’t settle for less.

  11. Pat if you thought if Lamar Jackson would have played quarterback at Florida, I have some land i want to sell you, good prime bottom land under the Atlantic Ocean, Lamar playing Qb funny……………….

  12. Pat – another in your long series of pieces documenting your bromances with UF football coaches. What an embarrassing puff piece that completely ignores the reality of that era. Journalism is sadly dead as we used to know it. Who will dare to report on Jeremy Foley’s mismanagement of the football program? If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Gator Nation can only hope that Mr. Stricklin and Dr. Fuchs are students of history.

  13. Stop! Now that McElwain is gone, we can all look back and think about how “great” Muschamp was while he was head coach. Muschamp was a good guy but to just brush over his staring down players, dressing down reporters and his BOOM attitude means that you have to brush off McElwain’s media presence too. The fact is that, somehow, every coach at UF since 1979 had managed to scrape together a winning season. Muschamp complained about injuries but ask Galen Hall if he would have preferred 2013 to the years of TV bans and probation. In the 80’s, Auburn, Miami and FSU were on our schedule and they were good.

    This program has averaged 5+ losses in the last 7 years. The year where we had the fewest losses (2012), we did not make the Championship game and was embarrassed in our bowl.

    The last time we were consistently relevant, the seniors we are recruiting were 10 and the freshman we are recruiting were 6 or 7. The Gators are a big name but our best years are fading farther and farther into the rearview mirror.

    Stop pretending Muschamp just needed a chance because it makes a good article. South Carolina is the same as UF has been the last 2 years in a weak SEC East. The kept the game with UGA close but could not score. They are 6-3. They lost to Kentucky at home. They lost to Texas A&M by 7. They are 4-3 in the SEC. Please, please stop.

    • It’s that rear view mirror you speak of, Travis, that has me worried the most. You make some really good points, but I enjoyed the article very much and I don’t think Pat Dooley intended it to be interpreted in the way many Gators, obviously, have taken it.

  14. Please,plesae, Pete, if you thought for a second those players were coming to Florida you had too many beers, I told my son on day one when Cook,Lane(who btw did not play hardly at all) i got it right with wilson Aglohor wasn’t coming, none of those were coming to fla but wilson, didn’t you ever notice cook’s face when he said he was he wasn’t flipped he never wanted in here

  15. Still very strong for Frost. Two years ago, UCF was winless. Today, they are 18 in the CFP, 14 in the AP and 12 in USA Today. He is young, energetic and it seems a very good recruiter. If he can do this in Orlando, imagine what he could do with the resources that UF offers. Stricken get him and get him quick. GO GATORS!!

  16. I was not a Muschamp fan from the day he was hired. Never thought and will never think a coach who played for one of the Gators arch rivals (Georgia) should ever be a coach of our Gators! Had I know what McElwain was going to do with the program, I would gladly welcome Muschamp back on the field again as our coach, but that’s not going to happen. My preference is to return to the coaching model that was very successful for the Gators – that is to find a former UF player, lke Steve Spurrier, who has been a head coach (Mike Malarkey or Kerwin Bell) in his career to lead the Gators. And then he can use former UF greats to be his assistant coaches. This will instill a sense of tradition, loyalty to future players who will be wearing the Orange and Blue.

    • While I agree with your premise, at this point I would be pretty happy with Kirby Smart coaching the team right now. I’ve heard people talking about hiring Kerwin since we fired Zook and I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen. Hoenestly, as much as I love him as a player, I’m not sure how I would feel about him being the HBC. He’s been stuck in his current position and hiring the coach of Valdosta State doesn’t seem the way to go, not to mention whatever his program did in 2015 to vacate their conference wins.

    • Steve Spurrier, Don Shula, Pete Caroll, Lindy Infante, Don Matthews. All those legendary coaches influenced Kerwin Bell–who either played for or coached under them. He runs a spread offense but demands pro-like precision from his qbs. He has been successful everywhere he’s coached. He has been described as a great recruiter. So Everett Henderson’s post is not to be scoffed at.

  17. I still wonder that a good to great defensive HC can’t figure out what kind of O is hardest to defend, then go get the QB and OC and players that can do it whatever that is. Florida has more talent than most to run the spread, but oh no, let’s copy Saban without the players or OC and trust that the D can cover all the offensive flaws. That’s how to get fired!

    qb

  18. I can’t believe we are getting a piece of revisionist history about Muschamp. This community hated him by the time his last year arrived and it did so for very good reason. There are many coaches with character, and for sure, Muschamp was one. But guys, character in a head coach should be a given. If you are hiring an engineer, you assume they understand math. If you are hiring a coach you assume – and better verify – that have character. It’s the first reason you might cross candidates off the list of possibles. But look, Florida, (us!!) want to win in an enjoyable fashion. It’s the character of our program, for better or worse, and it comes down to the HBC’s legacy. As a 45 year fan of this program, I would rather win with style than relying all the time on last minute miracles and hail Mary’s. Bring back the fun. One thing we know for sure after last Saturday’s game is that Randy Shannon will not bring fun back to the program. Let’s have some fun again.

  19. Why can’t we hire a big name coach just one time ?

    Why did they hire Muchamp instead of a proven big name ? We were coming off 2 recent national titles for pete’s sake !

    Why did they hire Mcelwain instead of a proven big name when we needed a tournaround ?

    Miami hired a proven name and they turned around in 2 seasons and are the best team in Florida. Don’t even imagine that UCF with Scott Frost is competitive with Miami.

    What is wrong with the Florida football program that it cannot hire a big name coach ?

    • I am with you Frank. Let’s go after a big name for a change. As we speak Texas A & M is taking a run at Jimbo Fisher. Florida is a better destination than College Station. How about Dabo Swinney or James Franklin?

  20. I wish you guys the best of luck. I have two statements from afar. First, it’s very likely that the next Florida head coach will not be on the job after 4 years. Florida is one of the top jobs in the country, but it will take a very special coach to handle that position. The demands and pressure at Florida are tremendous and everyone can thank SOS for that. Most all fans today want to win now and don’t understand why a new coach can’t win big starting in his first season. It’s now the culture. Secondly, I am a long time suffering Gamecock fan and can say that most Gamecock fans are very pleased with Muschamp’s work. However, there’s a small group of fans that want Roper, our OC replaced and are blaming him for all of our woes on offense. It seems they have forgotten that when SOS resigned here, the cupboards were bare. Unfortunately, SOS, as much as he was adored at South Carolina fell asleep at the wheel during his last few years and our recruiting was abysmal. So, here at South Carolina, we have lower expectations than the fans at Florida have and with Muschamp in charge, we can already see results. So, again, good luck with your new coach.

  21. Nice article – fair, frank and thoughtful. I liked Muschamp, and I liked Coach Mac. Lesson to be learned is that just because a coach was a former coordinator under Nick Saban, does not mean you are true HC quality. At least Will Muschamp built us a good defense (his strength). He was smart to latch onto Roper, who appears to be an above average OC. Coach Mac, bless his heart, ran on the strength of Muschamp’s defense and was for whatever (perhaps numerous) reasons was unable to generate any kind of real offense during 2.5 years as our HC, despite the fact that he was Saban’s former OC. Time for another chapter in the post-Tebow, post-Urban Meyer era.

  22. Well one thing is obvious, Dooley’s love affair with Muschamp will never end. The Sun reporter coddled Chump during abysmal seasons…while deservedly gouging McElwain, and continues to show admiration for Chump…who refused to adapt/embrace to Florida’s inherent offensive identity born from SOS. The response to this joke of an article is simple…Chump was not successful at UF…PERIOD. To write “what if” scenario articles about the topic serves nothing other than to bring attention to the misguided loyalty of a BROMANCE Dooley has for Muschamp. Dooley is an idiot for writing this….it borders on media stalking…get over it Dooley! Chump is GONE!!

  23. The title of this article is a real head scratcher. No, Pat, Chump didn’t get Florida. Gator football is built on good defense and outstanding offense. Chump, through his pig headedness, shredded the offense and made no effort to improve it afterwards. He thought with a good defense he could win every game 10-7 and he refused to change when that wasn’t the case. Losing to Vandy at home on homecoming and the Georgia Southern debacle were new low points in Gator history and they were all on Chump. As for Mac, well, the only difference between him and Chump is that Chump didn’t pretend to be an offensive guru but their teams were pretty much indistinguishable from each other. Pat, Chump might have been your boy but he was a lousy head coach for the Gators.

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