Dooley: Reversal of fortune at UF


Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel runs the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last Saturday.

Elizabeth Hamilton/Correspondent
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 6:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 6:32 p.m.

The first time can be brutal.

When you're a college football coaching newbie, it all comes at you so fast. Even when you've been around the game your whole life, you have no idea what it's like to sit in the big office.




“However prepared you think you might be, you're not,” said Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.

Will Muschamp knows that now. In his second year as the Florida football coach, he can look back and shake his head at that first year. He also knows this — despite some of the great success stories of second-year coaches, there are no guarantees.

Just because a coach has a year of experience, it doesn't always translate into success the second year. The college coaching road is littered with the carcasses of men who didn't show any improvement from Year One to Year Two.

But for the really good coaches, it happens.

It happened for Bob Stoops and Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. And this year, it has happened for Will Muschamp.

Florida sits here today, ready to take on Georgia with the SEC East title hanging in the balance. No matter what happens today, it's been a good second year for the Florida coach. Today, it has a chance to be great.

“We never wavered and I never wavered from the path we were taking,” Muschamp said. “But I have a better anticipation for what's going to come across my desk.

“You have a better understanding of your players and they know you better. In any relationship, knowing what to expect is critical.”

A year ago, Muschamp couldn't win on the road.

This year, he has won in College Station, Knoxville and Nashville in front of sellout crowds.

A year ago, Florida couldn't finish.

This year, it has owned the second half.

A year ago, Florida couldn't beat any team with a pulse.

This year, it has two wins over top-10 teams.

Certainly, the maturity of his team is a major factor. The players are bigger, stronger and smarter. Their coach falls into the latter category.

“We tweaked some things,” he said. “If you continue to do the same things, you're going to get the same results. But you can't start changing everything every time it doesn't work. We didn't change our core values. That doesn't work.”

But he did change some things.

He brought in three new coaches — and, yes, I count Jeff Dillman as a coach. Muschamp told me in the preseason there were three coaches on his staff that he had no relationship with previously — Charlie Weis, Frank Verducci and Mickey Marotti. Weis left for Kansas, Marotti for Ohio State and Verducci was let go. Muschamp brought in three guys he knew, three guys he felt comfortable with. The results show.

There were a lot of people in the Gator Nation who were unsure of the selection of Muschamp to replace Urban Meyer. When he went 7-6, their fears seemed to be coming true.

But that was then. This is now.

Suddenly, all of the bad breaks of a season ago have become distant memories.

“To have a special season, you gotta have some breaks,” Muschamp said. “Think about the number of interceptions we dropped last year. It had to be double digits. We've made a lot of those plays.

“There's no question we've caught some breaks. But you have to credit hustle.”

There is a lot of football yet to be played. Today, Florida puts its 7-0 record on the line against a team that is equally talented and equally motivated. It's Florida-Georgia. Anything could happen.

But it's clear that while the Florida coach has a different way of going about things than the most successful coaches who came before him, his way is working.

A punt isn't the worst thing that can happen to end a drive. You can throw for less than 100 yards and win. You can be successful playing old-school football in this league.

I can't help but think back to Muschamp's first media day speech when he stressed the turnover margin. His team went out and lost that stat in the big games and finished 113th in the nation. This year, the Gators are in the top 10.

“Oh yeah, it so easy your second year in the SEC,” Franklin said.

He was being sarcastic.

It's never easy in this conference.

But it can be easier.

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

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