Is Muschamp going to fall victim to third-year jinx?


Florida head coach Will Muschamp is coming off 11 wins in his second season with the Gators.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 8:52 p.m.

As Will Muschamp approaches his third season as Florida's head coach, he is roaring into uncharted waters with the same passion he did his first two seasons.

He told us all he would be himself when he arrived at UF and we have seen it in all its loud glory. (I wouldn't want to mess up his dry cleaning). Muschamp is not afraid to offer an opinion, sometimes with the decibel level of a Green Day concert and sometimes with a dry wit that says more than he's saying.

He has faced the tough first season (7-6) and navigated an overachieving team through an 11-win second season. He's seen a lot in two years. But there is something out there, something lurking, a pit of despair filled with struggles and lost hope.

It's waiting for him even if he doesn't realize it's coming. What coach ever sees it coming?

Maybe he'll be the guy to slay the dragon, to buck the trend and dismiss the demons.

I am speaking, of course, about the Third-Year Jinx.

It's a frightful monster, disguising itself under mounds of comfort level and betrayal.

OK, maybe I'm being a little overdramatic here. College football season starts tonight. Excuse me for being a little amped up.

But the Third-Year Jinx has bitten a lot of coaches at Florida.

I'm not sure I can explain why it happens. And it's not just at Florida. Nick Saban's third teams at Michigan State and LSU each lost five games. On the other hand, Lou Holtz and Les Miles won national championships in their third seasons at Notre Dame and LSU, respectively.

So this is a fickle jinx.

Except when it comes to Florida.

It's not like Florida coaches have had disastrous third seasons. But during the 51 years I have been following the mighty Gators, every one of them has struggled.

The previous coach, Urban Meyer, coached the Gators to three 13-1 seasons in a four-year span from 2006-09. The one year the Gators weren't among college football's elite during that amazing run came, of course, in his third season.

Florida lost four games, including the only one Meyer lost to Georgia during his UF career. Sure, Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and gave us an individual season to remember, but this is a team game and Meyer's third team (9-4) was the worst one he coached at UF. I say this with the caveat that the 2010 team was worse with five losses (8-5), but I'm not sure how much he coached that team.

Ron Zook was bitten the hardest by the Third-Year Jinx. It bit him right in the behind. Zook was fired midway through his third season. He also had to deal with Gainesville suddenly turning into Hurricane Alley for one summer.

Steve Spurrier was immune, right? Not really. His third team at Florida was the worst one he had at UF. Somehow, in part thanks to a collapse by Tennessee, he managed to get that team into the SEC title game, but it did suffer four losses one year after a Sugar Bowl season. It lost consecutive games for the first time in Spurrier's Florida coaching career and by a combined 40 points.

His 1999 team also lost four games, but that team was better. Because I said so.

Galen Hall's third season could be defined as 1986 because he was interim coach for most of the 1984 season. His '86 team went 6-5 and didn't go to a bowl. If you want to say his '85 team was his first as permanent head coach, well, his 1987 team lost six games.

Charley Pell's 1981 team was his third. It lost five games one year after the greatest turnaround in college football history and turned in one of the biggest duds in Florida's bowl history at the Peach Bowl.

Doug Dickey's third team had a .500 record. Ray Graves' third team, which just so happened to be the first Florida team I ever saw play, lost four games, but at the time it was considered a special season because it ended with a win over ninth-ranked Penn State in the Gator Bowl.

But that was then. That was when a Gator Bowl victory and seven wins was considered a good season.

That's as far back as I go. I could point to G.E. Pyle, who went unbeaten in his third year (1911). But then I'd have to point out that six of Florida's first nine coaches didn't make it to their fourth seasons because they were three-and-out.

I'm not sure I understand why coaches such as Meyer and Spurrier struggled in their third years. The first year, you come in and change the culture, the second you're more comfortable and the players buy in and you have great success. And maybe it's because of that success that the third year is difficult.

Whatever the reason, the Third-Year Jinx is alive in Gainesville.

Like Muschamp doesn't have enough to worry about with viral infections and Toledo's tempo and torn labrums and expectations.

Like he's going to worry about this.

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

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