Hoover, Ala. — Let’s stipulate that Florida is pretty good at hiring football coaches. Two of the past three tapped by the Gators went on to win a national championship. The third was Ron Zook.
The Zooker had never been a head coach. At Florida, he didn’t last three full seasons. (Still beat Georgia twice, though.) We mention this because Florida again has a head coach who has never been a head coach. He’s Will Muschamp, and he’s no Ron Zook. He’s probably not a Steve Spurrier or an Urban Meyer, either.
If you get past the obvious disadvantage of having played under Ray Goff, Muschamp has a solid background. He’s the son of a coach. He played in the SEC. He has worked at Auburn and at LSU. He apprenticed under Nick Saban, who’s the best in the business. He was the coach-in-waiting at Texas, which takes the sport seriously. That said …
He hasn’t coached a game. As Spurrier himself has said: “If you want to know whether a guy can win, look at his record.”
Muschamp’s record: 0-0.
Everyone knew Spurrier would win big at Florida. How? He’d won an ACC title at Duke. Most folks figured Meyer’s spread option would, given time, function in the SEC. Why? He’d gone undefeated at Utah.
Spurrier won his first SEC championship in Year 2 at Florida and would have done it in Year 1 had the Gators been eligible. Meyer won the BCS title in Years 2 and 4. Muschamp’s first Florida team won’t be favored to win its division and might not be picked to run second.
To reiterate: Zook won 20 of his first 33 games … and got fired in 2004 the week Florida played Georgia.
Greeting the assembled SEC media Wednesday, Muschamp appeared antsy — his opening statement lasted more than five minutes, a filibuster by industry standards — but composed. (Zook, by way of comparison, gave the impression of a man in the throes of hyperventilation.) The new Gator sounded the right notes. He made you think, “This guy’s got a chance.”
Then you remembered: He’s 0-0.
Muschamp has assembled an intriguing staff: Charlie Weis, the offensive coordinator, used to be the head coach at Notre Dame; Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator, had been in the NFL since 2001; Mickey Marotti, the strength and conditioning coach, is a Meyer holdover. (And, according to Muschamp, the strength coach “is the most important guy on the staff.”)
Weis’ offense, Muschamp said, should suit quarterback John Brantley, the underwhelming incumbent, “a little bit better from the skill-standpoint” than did Meyer’s option. On the status of running back Jeff Demps, who’s running track in Italy: “I deal with people eyeball to eyeball, and I ain’t never been to Italy.”
He has, however, been around football his whole life. “When I was playing in the backyard with my brothers,” Muschamp said, “I wanted to beat them as bad as anything.”
Speaking of ties, familial and otherwise, how does a Georgia native and a UGA grad feel about coaching Florida? “I’m a Florida guy,” Muschamp said.
How does a career assistant make the transition to winning head coach? “You don’t try to be something you’re not,” Muschamp said. He won’t call plays for Weis, and he won’t to draw up defenses for Quinn. (Though Muschamp was a pretty fair defensive coordinator himself.) He’ll oversee.
To date, Muschamp’s closest counselor has been his predecessor. “My e-mail is full of suggestions from Gator Nation, but I listen to Urban a little bit more … We’ve talked about [the competition] in the SEC, and he said, ‘You’re kind of like, “Wow, it’s [this way] every week.” ‘ ”
Well, yes. That’s why the SEC has yielded five consecutive BCS titlists. That’s why Florida’s aim isn’t just to contend in the Eastern Division but to win in Atlanta and play for the big crystal football. Meaning: The Muschamp honeymoon ends with Loss No. 1.
In his first meeting with his new players, Muschamp said he told them: “Change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” That’s a pithy phrase, and nobody ever used the word “pithy” in the same sentence as “Ron Zook.” But the Zooker isn’t the gold standard in Gatorland — he’s the lead balloon.
Will Muschamp will be better than Ron Zook. But being better than Ron Zook will make him only the third-best Head Ball Coach the Gators have had since 1990.
By Mark Bradley