Drawing similarities between a coach who led a team to its worst record since 1979 with another who won back-to-back national titles is a tall task, but Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley did just that in a radio interview on Thursday.
While once again expressing his complete confidence that head football coach Will Muschamp is the right man for the job, one who can turn the Gators back into a contender after leading the program to a 4-8 record in 2013, Foley explained in-depth to Buddy Martin of WOCA 1370 AM how he saw – and still sees – in Muschamp many of the characteristics that made head basketball coach Billy Donovan successful.
“I’m not saying Will and Billy are the same person, but [when I hired Muschamp] I saw the same energy, I saw the same passion, I saw the same enthusiasm, I saw the same track record in terms of he coached for some of the greats, certainly Nick Saban,” said Foley.
“He coached at the highest level. He won a national championship at LSU; he coached in a national championship game with the University of Texas. He was designated as the University of Texas’s next head coach. Obviously I know the folks at Texas, know the type of program they have. They’re not just doing that for some guy off the street.
“I sat down with Will. He had a plan. [I] liked the fact he recruited in the south before. Obviously this is all about recruiting. Just like Billy being at Kentucky, recruiting the Southeastern Conference, that’s important.
“I know obviously all the issues and all the challenges as it relates to the offense under Will since he’s been here, but I also think this is a league where you play good defense, you’re going to have a chance, and I think Will was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. … When you add all that together, that’s what we saw. …
“If you were around Billy and Will, you would see some of the same characteristics – unbelievable intensity, unbelievable passion, organization skills, tremendous recruiters. You certainly hope all of that can translate into great success for our football program under Will.”
Foley has been asked numerous times how many games Muschamp needs to win in 2014 in order to keep his job, seeing as his first three years at Florida have been the worst for a single football coach since the 1980s. He once again refused to put an exact number out there, explaining that it would do no good in the long run.
“I’ve never told a coach in any sport, at any time, ‘You have to win X number of games, you have to go to the NCAA Tournament, you better be in the top two in the league.’ Never done that,” he said. “Around here, there’s enough pressure without me putting that type of pressure on our coaches.”
He did, however, lay out exactly what he will evaluate Muschamp on this season.
“We need to be better, and we need to be able to see that,” Foley explained. “You got to be able to sit back, take your orange and blue glasses off, and say, ‘You know something? That program is better, there is marked improvement and we’re on track.’ This season, as it plays out, will tell us that. … I’ve never told somebody, ‘You better win X number of games,’ and I’m not going to start doing that now. But we’ll all know whether we’re better, and we’ll all know whether we’re on track.”
Martin also questioned Foley about UF’s football scheduling and whether rumors of conversations with Texas about a home-and-home arrangement had any basis in reality.
“We are having no conversations with Texas about that at all,” he said, “but that’s why they call them rumors. I read that the other day. It’s just not true.”
In terms of scheduling tough out-of-conference – and potentially out-of-state – opponents for the Gators, Foley acknowledged the fan desire but stated that it is not as simple to schedule a marquee game as many may believe.
“Football scheduling is always going to be a challenge. It’s one of those things that I have a lot of conversations with our fans about, and I get it, at times they’re not enthralled with our home football scheduling. Scheduling can be difficult,” Foley began.
“First of all, we need seven home football games. We played only six last year, and we had to save for 4-5 years in a row to make up for the loss of the home gate when we played down in Miami. We’re going to play six home games in 2017 when we go to Dallas to play Michigan, but that’s a significant financial windfall for us.
“We work hard on scheduling. I think people just think all we do is just call smaller schools and see if they can come in here. We make a lot of inquiries about scheduling. The mid-majors have leverage. It’s not that they don’t want to come to Gainesville, it’s that they have other opportunities.
“You’re always working like heck to put a football schedule together; it is not easy. I get the desire of our fans to have a better, higher, more marquee opponent in our facility. Sometimes they’re hard to get. It’s not due to lack of effort, I promise you. We e-mail people, we call people, we talk to people. But we do need to play seven home games. We are committed to the eight-game conference schedule. We are committed to play Georgia in Jacksonville. So, our schedule is a little different than most. We’ll continue to work on it, and we’ll continue to try and enhance what we do for our fans.”