Four years after Will Muschamp took over the Florida Gators, the offseason focus is not what the head coach expected when he accepted the job. Rather than trying to figure out ways Florida can sustain its success, Muschamp is fixed on turning around a Gators program that was ravaged by injuries and fell apart at the seams in 2013.
Publicly, Florida has done an admirable job attempting to put that 4-8 season in the rear view, not showing any highlights from 2013 in its online hype-up videos or during major recruiting events held in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators are instead pumping how successful the team was in 2012 and how many former players have been succeeding at the next level over the last few years.
Internally with the team, Muschamp does not have that luxury. He had no choice but to address Florida’s failures, which started with injuries but transitioned into apathy by the time the Georgia Southern game rolled around.
“That’s something we sort of buried to start the summer. It’s been a great motivation through spring and the offseason workouts. It’s something we still got to deal with; it’s there,” he said Sunday during the team’s media day.
“I addressed our team about our preparation, about our attitude, about our embracing adversity, about having a competitive edge every day. To stick your head in the sand and pretend it was all injuries, that’s not right. You’ll fool yourself if you believe that. We addressed a lot of those things in the offseason and moving forward. We’re getting ready to get started with the 2014 Florida football team.”
Muschamp believes the Gators have reasons to look upward, starting with how successful the team has been during his tenure, primarily off the field.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot of things as far as where we are. We had the highest GPA this past spring, a 2.8 cumulative with our scholarship players – [best since the] early 1990s at the University of Florida. That’s an accomplishment,” he said.
He is also motivated by the mental toughness that Florida has shown over the spring and summer, especially when the team was clocked running its set of 16 consecutive 110-yard sprints.
“We have a prescribed time that, each position, they have to make. Of our entire roster – scholarship, walk-on, everyone – only two players, one of them being a true freshman, did not make all of their times,” Muschamp explained.
“So as far as a buy-in level, that’s there. I couldn’t say that, our previous three years, that we had that many guys make it. But it is a hard test.”
Muschamp touted UF’s declining arrest rate, which almost completely fell off over the last 12 months. After seeing 14 players arrested 21 times during his first 30 months at the helm of the program, he has only had one player – a freshman in cornerback Jalen Tabor – cited since July 2013, going nine full months without a single incident.
“It’s a daily, continual education for your players. I think it goes back to recruiting and part of the evaluation process and taking the right guys, number one. And then number two, doing a good job as far as your structure is concerned on your campus to guys understand there’s going to be consequences, they understand to stay within the lines of what we need to do and how they’re going to act to represent the University of Florida,” he explained.
“I always tell players [that] they’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to make some poor choices and decisions but, ‘Help me help you.’ If you’re willing to work with me, I’m willing to work with anybody. I’ll give you the shirt off my back to help you. It’s through a growing process as a college student. Our guys, in my opinion, have bought into that. They understand that we’re here to help them. They don’t buck at that very much. I think they’ve done a nice job, for the most part.”
As far as intangables are concerned, Muschamp is seeing positive returns. It is why instead of focusing on the areas where he believed the Gators to be inadequate, like he did his first three years, he has instead spent the offseason praising the team.
“[It’s] from their work ethic, their buy-in. We always talk in terms of you’re either renting it or you own it – take ownership of your team. I see a lot of that,” he said.
“I think we’ve improved our offensive roster tremendously – at the receiver position, at running back, I think Jeff’s really going to have a good year. I feel very good about our first seven offensive linemen. I think we’re talented after that, it’s just guys haven’t played much. … I think the key ingredients offensively, we’re better than we’ve been.
“Defensively, we’re not as talented as we were in 2012, but I do think we have the key ingredients. Two inside tackles up front that are seniors that are capable of playing very well; two edge rushers that have played well for us and I think will play consistently well for us this year; a lot of competition at linebacker with some good players that have played well; and a talented secondary. I think all of the components are there. I think we’re talented enough with our specialists to kick the ball well. We need to go do it now.”
He attributes this entire turnaround – academics, discipline, buy-in – to the quality of people he has recruited in his last three classes. Muschamp has focused on bringing into Florida prospects that are not only talented but also unlikely to cause problems either inside or outside the locker room.
“When your best players are good guys, good dudes, you’re going to be all right,” he said, “and our best players now are great people.”
Now it is time to see if those same prospects, coupled with the remaining players he inherited from Urban Meyer’s regime, can be the solution to the Gators’ recent woes.
“I think we’ve made some strides off the field, but we need to show some results from those positive things on the field and that’s what we plan on doing,” he said.
“When you turn the lights on and you go out there in the stadium in front of 90,000 people, that’s when you find out.”