Muschamp will experience rivalry with Ga. from unique perspective
Published: Friday, May 13, 2011 at 8:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 13, 2011 at 8:26 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE — Florida coach Will Muschamp returned to one of his old college stomping grounds Friday night — the stadium along the St. Johns River once known as the Gator Bowl.
He does not have any fond memories.
“They weren't good,” he said before speaking at the Jacksonville Gator Gathering at EverBank Stadium.
Not as a player at least. Muschamp was a strong safety at Georgia in the early 1990s (1991-94) and was 0-for-3 against Steve Spurrier's Gators in Jacksonville. He also was 0-1 in Gainesville.
But Muschamp does have some good memories of this place as a Florida fan. He grew up a Gator fan in Gainesville, and made the short trip to the Florida-Georgia game several times with his family, including to the 1984 game — one of the biggest Gator victories in the rivalry.
“I watched that one,” he said. “I sure did. I remember it well.”
Having the unique opportunity to experience this rivalry from both sides, Muschamp says it's something special — and something that needs to stay at this neutral site.
“There's no environment like it coming into the stadium,” he said. “Obviously, growing up in Gainesville, my mom and dad came over to this game. I came to several. And I remember coming as a young man and playing in the game.
“The excitement of the Florida-Georgia game, there is a certain buzz at practice. You're going to feel it. It's a great rivalry. I'm for it (always being in Jacksonville). You go back through the history of the games, it's a lot of fun.”
The two schools recently renewed their contract with Jacksonville, and the agreement runs through the 2016 season.
So Muschamp is going to have plenty of opportunities to view this rivalry from one more perspective — as the head coach at Florida.
Part of his role as UF's football coach is making the annual spring tour of Gator Gatherings around the state. He's been pretty busy lately. He was in Tampa on Thursday, in Jacksonville on Friday.
In all, he'll be speaking at 12 events over the spring and summer.
“When you take the job as the head coach at the University of Florida, you wear a lot of hats,” Muschamp said. “Part of my job is getting out and seeing Gator Nation and visiting with these people and understanding the passion and support they have, show them we appreciate it, and we certainly do.
“You've got to do your due diligence and get out and see these people. I think it's important.”
During his speaking tour, Muschamp has been asked many of the same questions at each stop. The recent popular question has to do with transfers. Three players have recently made the decision to transfer — tailback Mike Blakely and wide receivers Chris Dunkley and Javares McRoy.
Is this a sign that the players are unhappy with the coaching change?
Muschamp said a big “no” to that one.
“Change, certainly, I do think it promotes a little anxiety, a little uncertainty,” he said. “I want guys that want to be at Florida. It's a great place. If they don't want to be a part of what we're trying to do and what we're trying to build, fine, move on and we'll find someone else.
“I think at the end of the day, if a young man thinks it's tough in January and February and March and April and May, what's he going to think in November and October? Those are things that I see. If he's got some doubt about playing at the University of Florida, move on and go somewhere else. The grass isn't always greener.”
Muschamp said the 80 or so players who have not transferred seem to be buying what he and the new coaching staff are selling.
“The last few days, I've been able to be in the office,” he said. “I really believe our players have totally bought into what we're doing. They have a great attitude. Based on my exit interviews this past spring, it's been unbelievably positive support of what we're doing and how we're doing things.
“From a players' standpoint, I give them plenty of opportunities if they want to tell me there are some things they feel we need to do differently. We're doing a lot of things right.
“We've got guys that are working awful hard and doing an awful lot of good things.”
Like all head coaches, Muschamp has some favorite sayings he often repeats in front of his players.
He said he walked in on some players in the locker room the other day who were doing a Will Muschamp imitation. He said he views that as a positive sign.
“They didn't think I was in town and I walked in the locker room and I got them,” he said. “That's when you know your message is (being received) and they're taking it.
“This is a real simple game that is complicated by a lot of things. This game is about people, relating with people, relating with players and getting them to believe in what you want to do with our program. I think we're in a great spot right now at Florida.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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