Florida Gators fans in Broward County got the chance to hear head coach Will Muschamp speak for the first time since 2011 when he stopped by the War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for his second Gator Gathering of the spring.
Muschamp touched on a number of topics during his hour-long appearance behind the podium on May 1 and stuck around afterward to sign autographs for all of the nearly 250 fans in attendance.
Below is a recap of some of the most newsworthy and interesting subjects that Muschamp discussed both in front of the public and in his pre-event media availability, which was attended on behalf of InsidetheGators.com.
» Muschamp said he has definitely learned some lessons through his first three seasons on the job: “Keep your quarterback healthy. Number one through five. I think every year you go back and look at the growth stages from being a coordinator through now being a head coach. I don’t know that I was a much different coach than I was when we won 11 games. Keep your quarterback healthy. Anticipating issues that come up, maybe, after being through an experience like that. I’ve never been through an experience as an assistant coach. I’ve had head coaches that have been coaching for a long time call me and say, ‘I had no idea the amount of things that happened and occurred.’ You live and you learn. I never want to experience it again, I can assure you of that. But I think as much as anything anticipation of things that come up.”
» Though media and fans want to put Muschamp on the proverbial “hot seat,” he said he feels no more pressure in year four than he did the day he started the job: “Absolutely not. I feel the same pressure I did day one. Hot seat, all that business? The hot seat is a good deal. Everybody’s praying for you. Everywhere I go they’re praying for you. I feel like something good has to happen out of that, right? That’s a good deal. Everybody says, ‘I’m behind ya,’ I’d like some of them to get in front of me just in case, you know? It is what it is. You’re on the hot seat at the University of Florida every day.”
» Muschamp joked about the weight of freshman defensive tackle Khairi Clark (Hollywood), who is set to enroll during the summer: “I hope he’s not much over 300 plus but I have a feeling he is right now. I hope he’s doing more than running to the refrigerator.”
» Muschamp has high hopes for freshman wide receiver C.J. Worton (Homestead), a late addition who will also join the team in the summer: “A guy that can stick his foot in the ground, change of direction, he’s got really good ball skills. He’s got a real competitive edge guy. I really liked him through the recruiting process and decided to add him.”
» Freshman quarterback Treon Harris (Miami) could be a difference-maker for the Gators from the get-go, according to Muschamp: “Really excited about him coming into the fold. Here’s a winner, a guy that’s won multiple state championships. He’s a leader. He’s got great toughness. He can spin ti with the best of them. He can run it. He’s a great athlete. He’s got great leadership ability. He’s got an electric personality about himself.”
» Redshirt senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar has made major strides during his four years with the program: “He’s a guy that’s continued to get better, bought in the weight room, understood the importance of being a strong guy. He’s really bought in to that part of it. I’m really excited about Quinton and his improvements.”
» Fans may not be sold on redshirt junior QB Jeff Driskel, but Muschamp remains confident in his ability and even has an NFL name to back up his assessment:
“Mike Mularkey, he was a former Gator, came to one of our practices in August and actually spent two days with us. I asked him to evaluate our football team, top to bottom, personnel coaching staff everything. One of the comments he made to me was that Jeff Driskel has got first-round talent. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be a first-round pick, but he’s got the talent and ability. He sat in the quarterback meetings and heard the interaction with the coaches. He heard everything from what you look for on the next level, Jeff’s got it. So, I’m expecting a huge year from Jeff. Jeff understands that. He understands the expectation of the quarterback position at Florida.”
» Recruiting has required some patience coming off a 4-8 season, but Muschamp remains confident in Florida’s ability to pull major talent: “It’s still the University of Florida. You’re talking about a top 10 public school. You’re talking about one of four institutions in the Southeastern Conference in the Association of American Universities. You’re talking about a top-flight education. A lot of these guys – because fortunately recruiting is so early, we started recruiting a lot of these guys two years ago – they understand it’s about relationships. They hear the negativity and that’s part of it. You work through that and certainly do I think it has slowed down maybe I guess I could use the word ‘progress’ to where we may be at this time if we did not go what we went through? Absolutely. But do I think ti is going to slow our process moving forward? No. I think we’re going to have a good football team. We’re going to have a good year. There’s a bunch of good players around us that want to be Gators.”
» Muschamp praised freshmen like QB Will Grier and cornerback J.C. Jackson, recruits who stuck with UF despite its rough season, while panning (but not naming) certain other high school players who went back on their commitments and decided to play elsewhere.
“A lot of these young men change in the attention and whatever you want to call it as far as the amount of attention they receive. All of a sudden it’s a different guy you’re recruiting two years later form that standpoint. It’s great to see the ones that never change. It’s great to see the ones that are genuine, the same guy from early in the recruiting process. And that’s a learning experience for you as a staff, too. You’re sitting back watching a young man change who he is, what he’s about. And all of a sudden you’re wondering, ‘Do we want this guy in our program or not?’ When you do face some adversity, does that guy still want to be a part of what we’re trying to do?
“I use Will Grier as an example. Here’s a guy that could have gone anywhere he wanted to in the country. We struggled mightily; he heard all the criticisms, he heard all the negativity and never wavered. And J.C. Jackson, too, there were a bunch of them. Did we probably lose some prospects during that time? Absolutely. That’s part of it. You move on. And y’all know me, I worry about the ones we sign. The ones that go somewhere else, I got to deal with one day out of the year. I could care less. Just go somewhere else and be a good football player, be a good citizen, I got no problem with that. For 365 days, I deal with the ones we sign.”
» Muschamp believes Florida is “as deep and talented at running back and receiver” as it has been since he took over at Florida in 2011.
» There were no hard feelings after center Jonotthan Harrison‘s comments about locker room issues were made public. In fact, much of what Harrison said is relatively normal, according to Muschamp: “When you deal with competitive guys that want to have great success and they face some adversity, sometimes our young men – and I was the same way back then – you don’t always channel it and handle it the right way. That’s something you deal with. But as a coach, that’s nothing to me. I see that happen very year. I’ve seen that with different teams. … When you’re struggling, because of our society, instead of looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can I do better?’ it’s his fault; it’s not my fault. I’m going to look at somebody else first. That’s where you can have a problem as a team and as a staff. … Quite frankly, when we lost Jeff and we lost Dominique, we lost our leadership and we struggled. We did lack some senior leadership on that football team, and so that’s disappointing. … As far as disagreements, shoving matches and all that, that’s pretty commonplace in the locker room.”
» Muschamp said UF will not shy away from the LSU cross-division rivalry game, but he also recognizes that the Gators do face a tough schedule. He is also not pleased that the Florida-Auburn rivalry has disappeared and joked about how the cross-divisional rotations are determined.
“I was told there was a computer set up and they put the computer in and it came out and gave the data back. That’s what I was told and that’s what I’m sticking to. [Laughter] When I was in Birmingham two weeks ago for a coaches meeting and I asked the commissioner where that computer was, I didn’t really get a response. It is what it is. The Florida-LSU rivalry is a great rivalry. It’s a national game. It’s great for the University of Florida. It’s great for our league. My whole philosophy on the scheduling is this: let’s just win the [SEC] East. You win the eastern division games then you got to play two Western division games. Win both of them, or if you got a tough battle and you split, you can still win the East. You won the East; let’s just take care of the East. That’s always been my focus. At the end of the day, I’ve also been in this league a long time.
“I’ve told this story before. In Destin, Coach [Steve] Spurrier grabbed me my first year and said, ‘You know, it’s a shame going to this 6-1-1 format [because the] Florida-Auburn game is a huge game. It was a great game. … You look at the years and you look at the late 80s when Florida and Auburn had great defenses and Emmitt [Smith] was running it. They were some great games. You look at the 90s, coming in ‘95, I was a graduate assistant at Auburn. All of our DBs were on oxygen at halftime because…Danny [Wuerffel] dropped it on them all day.”
» Muschamp relating a UF-AU story involving former Florida wide receiver Reidel Anthony and well-respected defensive coach Bill Oliver:
“I’ll never forget this. In 1996 in The Swamp, I’m standing at the 50-yard line as a graduate assistant at Auburn. I was working for a guy named Bill Oliver. Florida players came in and they were doing pat-and-go and they were throwing the ball. Reidel Anthony caught a ball, kind of jogged, kind of looked and saw it was Bill Oliver. So he went up to him and said, ‘Are you Bill Oliver?” Bill Oliver said, ‘Yeah, I am Reidel, how are you doing?’ [Reidel] said, ‘We have been watching a lot of your film.’ Bill used to be the defensive coordinator in the early 90s at Alabama for Gene Stallings. And they had some great battles with Coach [Steve] Spurrier.
“He said, ‘We’ve been watching a lot of your Alabama film when you were at Alabama being defensive coordinator against Coach Spurrier.’ Coach Oliver said, ‘Well, that’s good.’ Reidel looked at him and said, ‘You had a lot better players back then than you do now.’ And he was right. Oliver turned around and said, ‘We may be in trouble.’ They beat us 51-10. That was the year the first possession of the first eight games Florida scored touchdowns.
“That was a great rivalry. That was a great game. Our guys will see Auburn every six years. Some of our guys will play at Florida and never play them unless we play in Atlanta. Every institution has a hidden agenda for what they want. … At the end of the day, I knew we were probably going to be at eight [conference games], and I knew they were going to keep it permanent. The permanent vote was 13-1.”
INJURY AND STATUS UPDATES
» Junior running back Matt Jones is “fully recovered” and “running full speed” following multiple knee surgeries. Muschamp said he will be “full-speed with our football team working out” when the players report back on May 12.
» At a Gator Gathering in Tampa on Monday, Muschamp said senior offensive lineman Trenton Brown had his wrist scoped but insisted that he would not miss any practice time and will be good to go for the fall. Brown started some games at tackle in 2013 but is projected to start at guard in 2014.
» Linebackers sophomore Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and redshirt freshman Matt Rolin (torn ACL) were both cleared by the team’s doctors and should be full-go for summer workouts and fall practice.
» Freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher, who enrolled early but missed all of spring practice due to a nagging back injury, is on his way to sitting out the entire 2014 season as it is believed he will undergo surgery sooner than later.