In an appearance Thursday afternoon on ESPN Radio’s The Paul Finebaum Show, Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley once again threw his full support behind head football coach Will Muschamp ahead of the 2014 season.
Muschamp, who last season led an injury-plagued Florida team to its worst record (4-8) since 1979, has been written about plenty this offseason as the top name on college football’s list of coaches on the proverbial hot seat.
Foley did not deny that Muschamp is facing a pressure situation in 2014 but had no problem making it clear that he trusted him to right the ship after it sunk just seven months earlier.
“If you’re not being successful in this business, you’re going to catch heat no matter what the sport is or who the coach is, and we understand that,” Foley explained.
“We hired Will three years ago now and felt very strongly about his capabilities and his talents. Certainly in year two, I think those were on full display when we finished 11-1. Last year didn’t go our way; we’ve never made any excuses about it. It’s not who we are. It’s not good enough. We need to get better and nobody understands that more than Will.
“It doesn’t change and didn’t change how we felt about him. If you feel strongly about somebody, sometimes you just got to take the heat and you got to go and be strong. That’s what we did there, and we’re excited for the future under Will’s leadership.
“He made some tough calls himself by making some changes in his coaching staff. Now we just got to go do it. The University of Florida is not a 4-8 program. That’s not who we are. We’re going to be better, and we’re excited about the future under Will. [We] feel the same way about him as the day we hired him.”
Finebaum also asked Foley how difficult of a decision it was to ultimately keep Muschamp in the fold and not jettison him out of the program.
Muschamp at 22-16 in three seasons, is one loss worse than Ron Zook was (23-14) during his three years with the Gators. Zook, who was fired in the middle of that third season, never won more than eight games but also never missed a bowl game and did not lead Florida to a losing record and its worst season in more than 30 years.
Foley detailed how he did not just stick to his guns but rather evaluated how Muschamp dealt with the difficulties he faced, such as a flailing offense and list of season-ending injuries that mounted week by week from the offseason to Florida’s regular-season finale.
“I certainly observed how Will handled a difficult year. I never saw a guy lose control; I never saw a guy who was walking around with a deer-in-the-headlights look. I saw a guy who just kept grinding and was a leader,” he explained.
“You tell a lot about people when things aren’t going well. It’s real easy for all of us when things are going well. You really find out what people are made out of when things aren’t going well, and I liked what I saw.
“It was no fun – no fun for him, no fun for Gator Nation, of course, certainly no fun for our players, no fun for me – it’s no fun when you’re not winning in this business. I think you got to sometimes look through all that and just figure out where you’re headed. If you feel like you’re headed in the right direction, then to make a change will just, in my opinion, set you back.
“Obviously, you hope you’re right. It’s an important program to so many people. It’s important to the University of Florida. It’s important to our fan base. It’s important to our tradition and our history. You don’t want to let anybody down. By the same token, if you think you’re headed in the right direction, you got to stick to your guns. If you stay strong, things have a way of working out.
“I’m very confident and I feel very good that this is going to work out in the end for the University of Florida. The easiest thing to do is to make that knee-jerk reaction, and I’m not sure what you’re left with…I’m not sure what kind of program you have. I’m not sure how people view you. I’m not sure how potential coaches you interview would view you: ‘Here the guy’s 11-1 and SEC Coach of the Year and he’s gone a year later?’ I just think that sometimes you got to look at all those things, in a combination, and make a decision that you feel is best for the University of Florida.”
Foley also touched on a number of other topics in his conversation with Finebaum, including his thoughts on head basketball coach Billy Donovan and former Florida head football coaches Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier.
» On Urban Meyer and Gators fans turning on him for leaving: “I think the whole separation was awkward for a lot of different reasons. … He was the one who had to go through it. … Time has a way of smoothing all that out. … I think some of the uneasiness as far as our fan base will heal over time; time has the way of doing that. I think when all the dust settles, he was one of the all-time greats in the profession. We were blessed to have him for six years. We all enjoyed the ride, that’s for sure. I can say right now again, because I saw the efforts it took to make it happen, he was the ringleader of that ride. It was the way he coached, the way he worked, the staff he put together. Obviously on the front end there’s some uneasiness, and it doesn’t happen very often where a national championship-winning coach leaves and goes somewhere else. That doesn’t happen very often.”
» On Steve Spurrier’s roll with South Carolina and Florida fans still respecting him: “He’s always been a favorite son and rightfully so with what he did for the University of Florida when he was a player, obviously what he did as a coach. … He put the program on the map. At the end of the day, he’s just a big-time ball coach. He’s also a really good friend. Nobody respects him more than I do. I spent some time with him in the Bahamas back in May and it’s just great being around him. … The guy is one of the all-time greats. … He just can flat-out coach. When all is said and done, he will be recognized as one of the all-time greats as well.”
» On Billy Donovan’s flirtation with the Orlando Magic and return to the Gators: “It was a difficult time for our program, more difficult for Billy. He was under a tremendous amount of stress. To be honest with you, I’ve never seen him in such a difficult situation. … It is fun to be around him because not only is he a great guy and a good friend and a good person, but he really is a talented, talented coached. I love being in the locker room listening to him talk to his team. I love being on road trips with him listening to him strategize and talk to his assistants. We are blessed. We are blessed he came back, and we’re still blessed he’s our basketball coach because he’s one of the best.”