Muschamp 'groomed from a young age to be a coach'
Published: Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.
At his ill mother's bedside in South Carolina on Saturday evening, former Oak Hall and P.K. Yonge football coach John Clifford's cell phone rang. It was a good friend calling from Texas — Will Muschamp.
"I saw it was a Texas area code and I said, 'Who can this be?' " Clifford said Sunday. "I was so pleased that he called. He said he was thinking about me and wanted to call about my mom. And then he said, 'By the way, I'm the new head coach at the University of Florida.'
"I said, 'Shut up, are you kidding me?' He said, 'America is a beautiful country.' I was as happy as I could be. I'm excited to have him coming home."
Clifford, a former standout safety for the Gators, said the call from Muschamp came before the news broke Saturday night that Muschamp, 39, had been named UF's new football coach to replace Urban Meyer, who resigned Wednesday. So, Clifford was privy to quite a Gator scoop.
"He'll be a great match, a great match for the University of Florida," said Clifford, who remains at P.K. Yonge as the school's athletic director. "I read where Jeremy Foley said he was looking for someone young and energetic, and that's what Will is. You watch him on the sideline and he's all about that.
"He's going to do great at Florida. He's got to be a great recruiter. He's one of those guys that as soon as he got into coaching, he impressed people. He's worked for everything he's gotten. He's proved himself in every job he's had. He's been impressive. He's always impressed me."
Muschamp first started impressing Clifford at an early age, when Muschamp came out for the football team as an eighth-grader at Oak Hall and became an instant star.
"He was a big, strong 180 pounds as an eighth-grader," Clifford said. "In his first game, he was The Gainesville Sun player of the week. We were playing Bronson and he had 121 yards rushing, intercepted three passes and threw a pass to set up the winning field goal with no time left on the clock."
Clifford said his only regret is he had a chance to coach Muschamp only one year. Muschamp's father, Larry Muschamp, the Headmaster at Oak Hall and a former coach, took a job in Rome, Ga., after Will's eighth-grade season and the family moved after living in Gainesville for 10 years.
"He was already a big-time player," Clifford said. "Larry took a job and took my star away."
Clifford also coached Muschamp's two older brothers — Pat and Mike. Clifford said he's not surprised Muschamp went on to become a successful football coach. It's something he said he could see coming years ago.
"I knew he was going to be a coach from the beginning," Clifford said. "I'd send game tape home with his older brothers, and they'd break it down. Will started doing that when he was in eighth grade. It was like having a coach on the field with him.
"He was pretty much groomed from a young age to be a coach."
Even though the Muschamps left Gainesville more than 20 years ago, Clifford has remained friends with the family, especially Will and his brothers. "Mike is one of my best friends," Clifford said.
After leaving Gainesville, Will became a star player at Darlington High School in Rome, Ga., and went on to be a standout safety as a walk-on at the University of Georgia. A broken leg cost Muschamp his senior year in high school and serious scholarship consideration. He did make an unofficial visit to Florida, where Steve Spurrier was starting his career as the Gator coach, but decided to walk on at Georgia.
Muschamp's coaching career began at Auburn in 1995 as a graduate assistant. He's been on a steady climb since, coaching outside linebackers at Jacksonville State (1997), the secondary at West Georgia (1998) and Eastern Kentucky (1999) and serving as the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State (2000).
He broke into the big time when he became the linebackers coach at LSU in 2001. A year later, Nick Saban named him the Tigers' defensive coordinator. When Saban left LSU for the Miami Dolphins, he took Muschamp with him to be the assistant head coach for defense.
In 2006-07, Muschamp was named the defensive coordinator at Auburn.
In 2008, he became the defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting at Texas.
Now, Muschamp is coming back to Gainesville to coach the Florida Gators, his favorite team growing up.
In an earlier story in The Sun, Muschamp said he grew up only about four blocks from Florida Field.
"I was a big Gator fan growing up," he said. "We walked to every game. Charley Pell had it going back then."
Clifford said he's confident Muschamp will have it going for the Gators, too.
"I'm really excited about what Will is going to be able to do here," Clifford said. "He's a great fit for Florida. I've told people before, 'Wouldn't it be great if Will got a chance to coach at Florida? He'd be perfect for the job.' Now, he's here."
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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