Muschamp's first trip through 'The Gauntlet'
Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 5:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 5:45 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — At ESPN, they call it "The Car Wash." A coach or athlete shows up in Bristol, Conn., and makes his or her way to every radio show, TV show and commercial shoot the four-letter network can set up.
Here in Hoover, we call it "The Gauntlet" as SEC coaches and players bounce from room to room answering the same questions over and over and over again and try to think up new ways to say "We had a great summer" and "We're excited about this season."
Wednesday at SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel, it was Will Muschamp's first trip through The Gauntlet.
He needed a lot of water.
"It's getting there," he said when I asked him if his throat was getting sore.
Muschamp had never seen anything like this, more than 1,000 credentialed writers, TV personalities, cameramen, photographers, bloggers and tweeters asking him questions at 13 different stops.
There wasn't a lot of originality in the questions. There rarely is.
"Can you talk about John Brantley's confidence level?"
"What's it like to succeed a coach like Urban Meyer?"
"Are you going to turn down the flame now that you are a head coach instead of an assistant?"
I followed him around through most of it, and the answers were what you would expect. He started with a live interview on ESPN, then an informal interview with some reporters on the third floor.
That was a nice warm-up for The Gauntlet.
It started in the Internet/Radio Room, where one of the media members was a familiar face. Nicki Meyer is working as an intern at Scout.com and was in the room shadowing one of the full-time employees. Muschamp left the room, then came back in to say hello to Urban Meyer's daughter.
"It was good to see her," he said. "I saw her in one of those rooms we were in."
One of many.
From there he walked across the spacious atrium with mini-cams and lights pointed in his direction as cameramen tried to navigate backward without tripping over something or banging into a pillar. Next up, the room for TV people not paying the SEC a lot of money to televise its games. In other words, the affiliates.
There are two of these ballrooms set up because one can't handle all of the tripods and microphones. There, he delivered a line he obviously had prepared for questions about Meyer.
"Urban has been first class," he said. "He's a Gator, and he wants us to do well. My email is full of Gator Nation giving me advice. I tend to listen to him more."
It was repeated in the next room and the next. But he was asked one question in the TV room that caught him off-guard about being involved in his first conference game as a head coach at Knoxville, Tenn.
"No, that's a home game," he said. "They didn't change it, did they?"
As he left the room, I asked him about it.
"Yeah, where did that come from?" he said. "I'll be honest, it kind of caught me off-guard for a second."
He received a lot of questions about being a former Georgia player — "I'm a Florida guy." About his intensity — "My role at places I've been is to be an emotional guy. I can't be something I'm not." And about his familiarity with the league — "Unless you've been through it, you don't understand."
In the second TV room, there was soothing music wafting down from the ceiling while he spoke.
"Is there an elevator going up and down behind me?" he asked.
Muschamp was both intense and charming. He got laughs and many comments about his personality.
"You can't have union guys. Those are the guys who make a great play and then take the next play off because they think they are in a union," he said in one room.
When a blogger was attempting to get his microphone to work, Muschamp said, "O-N." And then, "Shout it out. I can hear you."
When he was asked about the Gator Nation not accepting an 8-5 record — "They've told me."
During a segment filming the TV show "Talkin' Football" with Tony Barnhart, Mark Schlabach and Bob Neal, he was asked about the brutal schedule that awaits him.
"Those teams are looking at the schedule saying, ‘Oh no, we've got to play the Gators,' " he said. "I know I used to."
As he left the CSS room, Muschamp was handed an SEC computer bag as a gift. Why do I think it's sitting in the back seat of the van that took the Gator contingent to the airport?
From there it was down the hall, to the Fox Sports Net room, where he was being interviewed by former Gator All-American Kevin Carter, who works for the network. Then, next door to CBS. Then, ESPNU.
Finally to the big room, the main ballroom where hundreds of print media members waited to hear the new Florida coach. His wry sense of humor had the writers chuckling, and we saw his intensity when questioned about Jeff Demps, who is running track in Italy.
"I don't deal in rumors or message boards," he said. "When I talk to someone, I want it to be eyeball to eyeball, and I've never been to Italy."
"I'm ready to go," he said after stepping off the podium. "My staff is meeting right now."
ESPN SEC, ESPN, SEC Digital Network, SEC Radio Network. The same questions. The same answers.
Finally, the finish line. Sirius/XM Radio.
And then, to the jet that would take Muschamp, his three players and the athletic department representatives back home.
Muschamp has made it a habit of winning news conferences. He won a bunch of them in one afternoon in Hoover on Wednesday.
We're just about ready to see if he can win games.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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