The Silver Lining will return to its regular Wednesday afternoon slot next week. With the only Florida Gators football media availability of the week set for Oct. 22, I felt it was best to bump this column up one day.
Will Muschamp’s Failure
I like Will Muschamp. I did not always feel that way, but I have for the last year-and-a-half. He is a disciplined and passionate man, especially when it comes to football. He wants nothing but the best for his players, fellow coaches and the kids he recruits.
His goal in returning to his hometown and taking the Florida job was to heal a fractured program and return it to glory, an admirable mission and one that, if we are being honest, he half-accomplished.
There is no discounting the change of culture in the Gators’ locker room. As much as Urban Meyer preached and delivered a family atmosphere, Muschamp had to instill a tough-love approach that has kept his players out of trouble and in good academic standing with the school as soon as he took over in 2011.
Three seasons later, after an injury-plagued 4-8 campaign that broke the team down the line of scrimmage, Muschamp had to find a way to bring the program together. The result? Florida’s players are adamant this season that they are closer than ever before, a testament to the effort made by Muschamp and the rest of his coaching staff.
Unfortunately for Muschamp, as uplifting as it is to know that the Gators’ are staying out of trouble, getting good grades and truly coming together as a single unit inside the locker room, what makes or breaks a football coach – especially at a program like Florida – are the results between the sidelines on the field.
And when you take into account the on-field results during the same aforementioned time period, the only determination that can be made is that Muschamp is simply not the right man to be head football coach at the University of Florida.
The statistics are staggering. In fact, one could argue that few head coaches at major college institutions have had such an extreme list of failures as Muschamp has during his time with the Gators. If you are prone to fainting, take a breath before continuing:
» 2013 Florida was the first Gators team to amass a losing record (4-8) since the program went winless (0-10-1) in 1979. The 1980 Florida team set an NCAA record for best turnaround in major college football history at the time when it rebounded to finish 8-4 the next season; UF appears to have no chance at replicating that feat.
» Muschamp’s 22-16 record through his first three seasons (2011-13) was the worst for a Gators coach in that span since Charley Pell went 15-19-1 from 1979-81.
» In the 38 years that Florida has featured a tight end on its roster, dating back to the 1966 season, 2013 was the least productive by players at the position. Gators tight ends combined for four receptions (fewest ever), 42 yards (fewest ever) and no touchdowns (sixth time).
» Muschamp has hired 18 different assistants – including three offensive coordinators and four wide receivers coaches, in just four seasons. Only two of his departed assistants – Charlie Weis (Kansas), Dan Quinn (Seattle Seahawks) – left the program for promotions. Only four members of Florida’s current nine-member coaching staff were on Muschamp’s original staff in 2011.
» Muschamp is 0-3 against Georgia, despite dropping those contests by an average of just 5.0 points per game.
» Muschamp is 1-2 against Florida State, only managing to score a total of 14 points in its two losses (seven each in 2011, 2013).
» UF snapped a 22-game winning streak against Vanderbilt after the Commodores defeated the Gators in The Swamp on homecoming to end the fourth-longest active winning streak against a single opponent in the nation and second-longest inter-SEC streak ever. Florida won those previous 22 games by an average of 21.5 points.
» Dropping a contest to Missouri on homecoming in 2014, the Gators have now lost consecutive homecoming games for the first time since 1946-47.
» Florida ended a 22-season consecutive bowl game streak when it failed to reach one in 2013. The Gators had not missed a bowl in consecutive seasons since 1985-86.
» UF did not sell out its student season tickets for the first time in at least two decades.
» The Gators, in 2013, lost to an FCS opponent for the first time in school history.
» Florida gave up 645 yards in a single game against Alabama this season, the most in school history.
» The Gators have dropped 10 of their last 13 games.
» Muschamp is 15-14 against SEC opponents.
» Florida has lost five-straight games against top 25 opponents and is now 4-13 against ranked opponents under Muschamp.
» The Gators have lost consecutive games to unranked SEC foes, falling to 12-4 in such games. Overall, Muschamp has six losses to unranked teams in four seasons.
» Florida has opened the 2014 season with a 3-3 record through six games for just the second time in the last 28 years. UF’s opening game against Idaho was canceled.
» Muschamp is the only coach in the last 10 years to lose a game when only giving up 120 yards or fewer to an opponent. The overall national record is 147-2 in such situations, with Muschamp’s Florida teams responsible for both of those losses.
Even though I just did, there was no need for me to lay out the case against Muschamp, especially when you consider that his issues reach into both talent acquisition and development. The players on the field now are not inherited but rather Muschamp-recruited and Muschamp-developed. Or Muschamp-under-developed.
Barring an unforeseen turn of events – let’s say five-straight wins to end the season including blowouts of No. 9 Georgia and No. 2 Florida State – Muschamp is finished at Florida. He knows it. I know it. You know it.
But despite Muschamp’s fate being sealed, the fan unrest remains intense. Too intense for my taste, in fact. Fans will be fans, and I understand that. But as the owner of a Florida-centric website and Twitter account, some of the vitriol I have seen has been disgusting. This is still sports. As much as you may dislike Muschamp as a coach, he is still a human being and deserves a modicum of respect.
Ron Zook was despised but got cheered out the door. He was fired in the middle of the season yet had the intestinal fortitude to stay on and finish the 2004 campaign, even earning an upset road victory over No. 10 Florida State. Just 10 years and nine days later, Muschamp will have a nearly analogous opportunity, though this time with the potential added bonus of knocking FSU out of the national title picture.
Muschamp was kept on this week, through the Georgia game, because of the need to show publicly that the football program is stable while coaches are out recruiting.
Once that contest is over and the Bulldogs have (likely) wiped the turf with the Gators, athletic director Jeremy Foley needs to put Muschamp in the exact same position Zook was a decade ago – cut loose with an option to stick it out and prove that he deserves another Power 5 head coaching opportunity.
Florida needs to give Muschamp a chance to go out on the same high note as Zook, because no matter how bad the Gators may have played on the field, he did enough for the program off of it to warrant a respectful exit.
“Our Love Shall Never Fail”
— Jeff Youmans (@Gatorborne) October 19, 2014
Much was made of the above photo, snapped after Florida’s embarrassing 42-13 homecoming loss to Missouri on Saturday.
Just as much was made of a similar shot, taken after the Gators’ similarly-disastrous 33-23 defeat at the hands of Louisville in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
When Gators win, team sings alma mater with band. Despite loss, one player stayed to sing tonight: pic.twitter.com/fglGTaDx
— Whitney Holtzman (@WHoltzman) January 3, 2013
As someone who was present for Urban Meyer’s introductory pep rally, which was held at the Reitz Union, I remember he and his wife stating matter-of-factly to the crowd that there were a number of traditions he wanted to start at Florida. Chief among them were (1) every student learning the fight song, and (2) the team signing the alma mater with the band and crowd after victories in The Swamp.
Despite my quite-clear recollection of this statement from Meyer, it seems that many Gators fans – primarily on Twitter and in the comments section here on OnlyGators.com – believed that Florida’s players were supposed to sing the alma mater win or lose. That struck me as odd and somewhat revisionist history, so I investigated.
Throughout the day and into the night Monday, I spoke with 10 former Gators that played for Meyer. When asked under what circumstances the alma mater was supposed to be sung after games, the majority (four) were sure it was “win or lose.” Three others believed that it was only after victories, and the three remaining players could not say one way or another. Most, either on their own or at my prompting, noted that Florida did not lose much at home under Meyer, so it is easy to forget such a detail.
What this makes clear to me is that most players at that time followed the leader after games. When the coaches and other players started heading to the band, they followed and didn’t pay it another thought.
Update: Late Tuesday, reader Malik G. pointed me to an official Florida release ahead of the 2005 Orange & Blue Debut spring football game. In it, a number of Meyer’s initiatives are laid out. Check out the truncated passage, in blockquotes below..
Just as he did at Bowling Green and Utah, Coach Meyer has made it a priority to establish a relationship between the team and the general student body on campus. …
“For us to achieve the goal of our student body having complete ownership of the team, our players must respect the fact that they are part of the student body. It is important to emphasize that there is not a divide between student-athletes and students, we must all work together.”
Coach Meyer has already met with the UF Director of Bands and has asked for a copy of the school fight song.
Another goal for Coach Meyer is to teach everyone on campus the fight song and have the players sing it after every home victory in The Swamp.
Nevertheless, what needs to be pointed out now – in 2014 – is that Meyer is not coach of the Gators. While traditions he established may have been beloved by fans, he is not the one running the program and directing the players what to do after games.
Muschamp is coaching Florida and one would have to guess at this point that his instructions are for the team to sing the alma mater with the band and crowd after victories only. Otherwise, he and the rest of the football staff would be leading them to the band’s corner after losses, and they would follow.
Perhaps you preferred Meyer’s version of the less-than-10-year-old tradition. That’s your prerogative. (As a side note, I think it’s great when players go sing the alma mater after wins and losses because it shows appreciation for the support of the band and fans in attendance.)
But that does not mean the (vast majority of) Gators who go into the locker rooms with their heads down, depressed after a devastating bowl loss (Louisville) or second-straight home defeat by an unranked SEC opponent (Missouri) deserve to be criticized. At least not if they were never directed to do any differently by those in charge.
Rather, you should appreciate guys like Darrin Kitchens, Kyle Christy and Trip Thurman went out of their way to show their support for their fellow students.
Not Only Gators: Steve Spurrier’s Future
Am I cheating by sneaking a Steve Spurrier piece into the “Not Only Gators” segment of this column? Of course I am. But today, Spurrier is head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. In January? Well…
OK, I’m somewhat teasing you here, but I would be remiss not to mention that I have floated Spurrier as a potential Muschamp replacement to dozens of people since July…mostly as a way to break-up the monotony of the offseason and spark some fun discussion, but also with some seriousness. It is something I have been thinking and talking about for months offline, and while it may not be probable, it is absolutely plausible.
Let’s start with the most obvious: Spurrier is Florida football. He was Tim Tebow before Tebow, Meyer before Meyer. Hell, for one play he was Caleb Sturgis before Sturgis. Spurrier wore blue-and-white at one point and dons maroon-and-black now, but orange and blue is what courses through his veins.
Spurrier was honest about his departure from Gainesville. Not only was he tired of his accomplishments falling short of the fan base’s exceedingly high expectations, he also had a tremendous opportunity to take over one of the still-then-premier NFL franchises. He could neither pass up the opportunity nor the huge contract offered by owner Daniel Snyder.
His time in Washington going neither the way he nor Snyder hoped, Spurrier knew he was getting out at the end of the 2003 season and resigned with $15 million left on his NFL contract. Where the story goes from here is of great debate with few, outside of a small circle, knowing what exactly transpired between Spurrier and the Gators.
The general consensus is that Spurrier was interested in returning, but Florida was dead set on conducting a national search to find a candidate. Perhaps the Gators wanted it to include Spurrier, but he had no desire to wait around while Florida decided whether it wanted the program’s most successful coach ever to return.
Nevertheless, the end result was Meyer being hired by Florida, which beat out Notre Dame for the highly-coveted coach, while Spurrier got snagged by South Carolina. To this end, it has worked out for both parties involved, despite UF’s position right now.
But with the Gators job set to be open again after the 2014 campaign and 69-year-old Spurrier near the end of his career while coaching a team that has suffered severe talent losses over the last two seasons, another opportunity may present itself for Spurrier to find his way back to Gainesville.
How? Why? Well…
The expectations are gone. His return would be hailed and celebrated. He could potentially set up a succession plan for a young, up-and-coming head coach in waiting. He could come “home,” ending his career where it began and he became a legend as both a player and coach.
Whether there is still any tension between Spurrier and Foley is of no matter. But chances are, if it existed, it has waned in recent years as Spurrier has been honored over and over again by the school (Ring of Honor, Heisman statue) and both men have grown older and wiser.
If LeBron James can forgive Dan Gilbert and return home to Cleveland, surely Spurrier and Foley can patch things up for a reunion in Gainesville.
College football coaching insiders I have spoken with do not rule this out. While Spurrier may not say it publicly – and he chose to laugh off the question on Tuesday – it is undoubtedly an intriguing proposition for the legend.
“My next move is to Crescent Beach, Florida,” he said Tuesday during a media availability, referring to his offseason home.
Here’s a translation of that statement: “No comment.”
What does this all mean in the end? Not much. The chances of Spurrier reconnecting with the Gators are slim when you consider Foley’s history of wanting to go with young, up-and-coming coaches with flare. But with there no sure-fire candidates out there and Florida in drastic need of a boost both in offense and morale, perhaps the Head Ball Coach could find his way back to Gainesville for one more tour of duty.
This Week’s Movie Trailer
St. Vincent (opens Friday):
The Top 5 List
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska…
Coen brothers’ films:
1. The Big Lebowski
2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
T-3. No Country for Old Men
5. The Hudsucker Proxy
Thanks for reading. Leave your comments below.