Muschamp receives Foley's support


Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp argues with a referee against the Florida State Seminoles during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday Nov. 30 2013 in Gainesville, Fla.(Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, November 30, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.

In an impromptu news conference before Saturday's Florida-Florida State game, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley offered another vote of confidence for third-year coach Will Muschamp.

Foley has not wavered in his support of Muschamp during UF's losing streak, which reached seven games following a 37-7 home loss to rival FSU.

“He has a plan,” Foley said. “You can tell when people in leadership roles and things aren't going well how they react and learn all about them. When I'm around him, I feel even better. He has a strong work ethic. I think he has a strong plan of how we're going to fix this. I think he will fix it.”

Foley issued a public statement that Muschamp would be back for the 2014 season following UF's 34-17 home loss to Vanderbilt early last month. But Foley said he felt it was important to reiterate the message for recruiting purposes.

“It's important for our coaches to understand that things are tough and we're going to be there for him,” Foley said. “The guy was 11-1 a year ago and SEC Coach of the Year (before a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville). To sit here and be silent, I just think that, you know or say how confident we are at the end of the year, that's not how we felt.”

During the news conference, Foley was asked what was the difference between keeping Muschamp and firing Ron Zook during the middle of his third season in 2004. Zook went 23-14 in three seasons at UF and didn't have a record worse than 8-5.

“It's my job to evaluate and see where the program is headed,” Foley said. “At that point in time, I didn't think it was headed where we wanted it to be. This time, I think it's headed where we want it to be.”

The loss to Florida State dropped Muschamp to 22-16 in three seasons as UF coach. Florida finished Muschamp's third season 4-8, its first losing season since going 0-10-1 in 1979. Florida also won't be going to a bowl game for the first time since 1990, when the Gators were on NCAA probation.

The loss also dropped Muschamp to 1-5 against traditional Florida rivals Georgia and FSU.

Foley, who hired Muschamp as his first and only option after Urban Meyer resigned in December of 2010, said he shares in the disappointment of Gator fans with how the 2013 season unfolded. He also refused to use injuries as an excuse, though the Gators have been decimated by multiple injuries to key players such as quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, running back Matt Jones and offensive tackle Chaz Green.

“We've got to fix some things,” Foley said. “When you have seasons like this, that's what you do – you evaluate, you analyze and you fix things. You don't panic. You don't put orange-and-blue glasses on.

“It's not acceptable, it's not who we are and it's not what we're about. Confident we can fix it. I don't say that, I've heard that it's my ego speaking. No, it's my belief. Like I told my staff the other day, my name's not on the front door down there. I don't own this franchise. It's my job to make sure it's going in the right direction and I believe with Will, it's going in that direction.”

Tebow, Elam on sidelines

Florida received a morale boost with the return of a pair of former stars — quarterback Tim Tebow and safety Matt Elam

“Tim came in and he commands an audience wherever he goes,” Muschamp said. “He's a great Gator and I appreciate him. It was great to see Matt. Matt actually was in the building on Friday. He played (with the Baltimore Ravens) Thursday night, was here early on Friday morning, spent the day with us and the players. Just great to have him back. Wish we could put him out there in uniform.”

Florida offensive lineman Max Garcia said Tebow addressed the team in a pregame speech.

“He told us any man can get knocked down,” Garcia said. “It's the man who comes up and is changed and is different from when he is down, that's who we need to be. That's who we are. That's who the Gators are and that's how we need to play.”

Easley back for Senior Day

Florida honored its 17 seniors for Senior Day. That included senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL injury in his knee in early October.

Easley withdrew from UF shortly after the injury to undergo rehabilitation and focus on preparing for the NFL draft. He led the Gators out of the tunnel.

“Dominique has been back in town 10, 12 days,” Muschamp said. “He's been rehabbing in Pensacola. It was great to see him and all those guys.”

Roberson limited, Ivie out

Muschamp said cornerback Marcus Roberson was limited because he rolled his ankle in practice Thursday. Roberson fielded a punt and played just a handful of snaps.

Defensive lineman Joey Ivie was out because he sliced his heel on his scooter after Wednesday's practice and needed 25 stitches. Freshman safety Keanu Neal left the FSU game with a shoulder injury.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy also missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury.

Etc.

Following the game, Muschamp refused to put a timetable on any announcements regarding coaching changes. … Muschamp also refused to say if any underclassmen were declaring for the NFL draft early, though junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy told ESPN reporter Joe Schad on the sidelines shortly after the game that he intends to declare for the NFL draft. Purifoy, Roberson and redshirt junior defensive lineman Leon Orr are all mulling possible decisions to leave early. … Purifoy recorded his second career interception in the first quarter. … The announced crowd of 90,454 was Florida's 10th sellout in 20 home games under Muschamp. … Florida's offense has had a different starting lineup in all 12 games this season. … Redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar had two catches for 17 yards, extending his school-record streak of having at least one catch in a game to 28 straight games. … The 37-7 loss was Florida's worst to rival FSU ever in The Swamp and largest scoring margin since falling to FSU 52-17 in 1988 in Tallahassee. It was also the Gators' second consecutive home loss to the Seminoles, the first time since the late 1980s. … Because of UF injuries and departures, only six of the 22 starters from last season's Sugar Bowl were available at the start of the game. … The seven-game losing streak to end the season is the longest since UF lost nine straight in '79.

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