Fans appear divided on Muschamp

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp leaves the field after losing to Vanderbilt 34-17 in Gainesville Saturday, November 9, 2013.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.

Will Gator coach Will Muschamp get out of The Swamp alive after this mediocre season and get another shot next year at leading the University of Florida football team?

If sheer numbers count, he may be chomped. Talking with fans attending Saturday’s Florida-Vanderbilt game, it was far easier to find Muschamp detractors than supporters. And that was before the Gators lost to Vandy Saturday for the first time in 23 seasons.

Inside the stadium, large patches of empty seats in the east stands of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium stood out when the DirectTV blimp overhead flashed aerial shots of The Swamp.

On the lawn in front of the stadium, where the boosters tailgate from motor homes that can cost more than a middle-class house, Gator fans were for the most part in an understanding mood going into a contest with the Commodores that had so much on the line: a winning record and bowl eligibility.

With the loss, Florida falls to 4-5, and with games ahead at South Carolina and at home against FSU, a winning record and a bowl game appear unlikely.

“I think he should come back,” Steve Waters of Gainesville said of Muschamp. “Look at all of the injuries.”

Susie Jolley of Perry, in a canyon between two RVs with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” bouncing off both, said she is a faithful fan who understands that some seasons will be better than others.

“There is always a year when there is an off year. We’ve had injuries, we have a new young quarterback finding his way with the team. We’re building,” Jolley said. “I’m not in the ‘fire Muschamp’ mode — yet.”

Florida went 11-2 last year and beat most of its top rivals. Going into Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt — a team to which Florida hadn’t lost in 22 games — the Gators were 4-4 with losses to the University of Miami and Georgia, and anticipated defeats in coming games with Florida State and South Carolina.

A number of players, most notably quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, have had season-ending injuries.

That is a consideration for Gainesville’s Wiley Hortmon.

“I think the coach is great. The Gators have some problems, but I think they’ll work it out,” Hortmon said. “There are a lot of fair-weather fans out there. But right now you’re looking at some people who come to football games, and we don’t really care if the team wins or loses. We come to support the team.”

Not too far from the stadium lawn, at the United Church of Gainesville on Northwest Fifth Avenue, Gator fans weren’t so charitable.

Juiced on Bloody Marys and amped on grilled doughnuts, they had no problem demanding Muschamp’s head.

“He’s just not cutting it,” said Darrol Watson of Green Cove Springs. “I’m with The boosters need to boost him right out of here.”

Added Alex Dallas of Jacksonville, “They could go to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and I wouldn’t go.”

Dan Daniels is originally from Jacksonville and now lives in Tennessee.

“I drove down for this nonsense,” he said. “I really drove down to be with my friends, but I am really sick of where we’re at.”

One tailgater at the church stood out. Bill Allen of Venice wore a white windbreaker with a black-and-gold Vanderbilt logo.

Allen has two daughters attending UF. But his son, Brad, played football for Vandy from 2004-08.

“This is a day where we are a divided family, but I’m actually tailgating with the Florida folks every other weekend,” Allen said. “I can’t lose today.”

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