In the Florida coaches locker room, the sound and smells of another football Saturday still fresh in his nose and ears, Will Muschamp knew it was over. His Florida football team had basically just re-gifted a football game, refusing to win when the other team was begging it to.
He didn’t want to leave the warm locker room to face the cold media because he knew it was the final blow. That it came against South Carolina at the time meant nothing. Today, it wreaks of serendipity as his bowl-eligible Gamecocks prepare to host a Florida team with both engines flaming and the pilot already ejected.
That day, Muschamp knew he’d work again.
“I knew I was going to be coaching, I just didn’t know where,” he said Wednesday.
But as a head coach in the SEC East?
“Never say never in this business,” he said.
Muschamp is fond of saying he’s loyal to whoever signs his paycheck, but this job was special to him. He had grown up in Gainesville. In his classy news conference two days later, he called UF “a special place, special people.”
He got Florida.
And Florida got Muschamp.
What did then-President Bernie Machen say at the presser? “I would love for my son or my grandson to have the opportunity to be coached by Will Muschamp.”
The news conference was like a giant job recommendation because everybody in the building loved Muschamp. Back then, I was accosted by former players from the Steve Spurrier Era who believed it was a huge mistake to let him go.
This week I have talked to dozens of people who work at the place we call “The Firm” and every one has talked about that difference when Muschamp was let go vs. the Black Sunday that was 12 days ago.
Then, there was true sadness.
Muschamp had done his job. He was told to come in and clean up a “broken” program. He did. But obviously, it didn’t stick.
Because the program is broken again.
Perhaps it didn’t heal properly.
Which takes us to the world of hindsight. You’ve been there so many times that you have voting rights. What if this and what if that.
In the world of hindsight, you usually don’t need glasses to see, but this one is a little fuzzy.
What if … Florida had not fired Muschamp and hired Jim McElwain?
Well, for openers, the athletic department would have a lot more money in its bank account. The University Athletic Association still has a $787,500 payment this month and one more for the same amount due to Muschamp at a later date.
And then there was the McElwain buyout to get him to come plus the one to get him to leave.
But that’s part of the business of big-time college football.
The bigger question — could this have worked with Muschamp if he had more time?
There was a pretty good chance Florida was going to get quarterback Lamar Jackson, who owns a Heisman Trophy, if Muschamp had not been let go. With Kurt Roper in his second year might the offense have finally found an identity?
Here’s what we do know — it couldn’t have been any worse than it has been the last three seasons. And you know the defense, which was built with Muschamp players in 2015 and ’16, would not have fallen off the way it has this year.
And with a little continuity and definitely some better hires on staff (a weakness of both of the last two coaches), Florida might not be in this mess.
The Gators — at the worst — might be like South Carolina. But that’s the thing. Florida doesn’t want to be like South Carolina. It wants to be like Florida. It doesn’t want to be happy with 8-4. And it never is.
That’s why hindsight doesn’t always work. Muschamp, like Ron Zook, caught every bad break in the world when he was here. And like Zook, he was following a coach who had top of the world success.
It wears on you. And when you lose to Georgia Southern, it becomes suffocating. Back then, the negativity around the program had become unbearable. It was hard to watch this team play.
I resisted for a long time. It wasn’t until after that South Carolina game that I called for a change (like what I say makes a difference). The next day, Muschamp was let go.
And I felt like crap.
We can look back and wonder now if it was the right decision. The only thing we know for sure is nobody can change it.
“I had a wonderful experience at Florida, despite how it ended,” Muschamp said this week. “That won’t ever change.”
Let’s hope athletic director Scott Stricklin finds a guy who feels the same way about this place.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.