One of the primary jobs of a head football coach, especially in the Southeastern Conference, is to keep his team’s fan base engaged while also managing its expectations. Florida Gators fans are easily engaged but tough to manage, which is something that head coach Urban Meyer learned toward the end of his tenure but Muschamp knew from day one.
With Florida falling flat to .500 in the regular season last year, Muschamp repeatedly dismissed notions that Meyer left the cupboard bare in Gainesville, FL. What he mentioned time and time again at press conferences, media availabilities and fan gatherings was that he needed time to turn the program around, let the young players develop and have the entire team buy in to his philosophies.
“I said we were a very young team,” Muschamp recalled on Monday. “Over 70 percent of our roster was freshmen and sophomores. We had less starts than anybody in the SEC on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive line – two critical areas in our league that you need to be really good. We inherited a very young football team that had talent. We went through some growing pains last year.
“When you lose your senior quarterback – regardless of how many years you’ve been in the program – you’re going to probably face some struggles. And we certainly did. I felt like we inherited a young, talented team that just needed some growing up, needed some maturity, needed some more experience playing the game. We had a lot of guys playing for the first time last year in a lot of situations. We didn’t have depth and we’ve recruited well to that. We’ve added good depth on the defensive line and the offensive line this year. I think the depth has certainly helped us.”
His ability to handle the team (and its failures) last year with confidence and poise assured some fans that the Gators were in the right hands and on the right track even though a vocal minority was beginning to light fires under his seat.
Read the rest of this story on Muschamp…after the break!
Seven games into the 2012 season, that vocal minority has dissipated as Muschamp is boasting an undefeated 7-0 (6-0 SEC) record and a turnaround unlike any Florida fan legitimately expected this early into his career.
His leadership and decision-making have fueled change around the program, as has his hiring of a new offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and strength and conditioning coordinator in the offseason.
Muschamp turned to Brent Pease, a well-respected and creative offensive mind, to run the side of the ball in which he is not an expert. Despite never coaching with Pease, he had him on his short list for years and saw him as someone who could come in and move the Gators forward immediately.
Charlie Weis leaving gave Muschamp all the reason he needed to rid Florida of offensive line coach Frank Verducci. He went back to his well of former coaching staff colleagues for his replacement and chose Tim Davis, an intense coach that has made the offensive line tougher and a much-improved unit from a year ago.
The coaching staff hire that brought the greatest immediate impact to the Gators, however, was Jeff Dillman as the new strength and conditioning coordinator, a replacement for Mickey Marotti, who left to join Meyer’s staff at Ohio State.
Muschamp inherited Marotti but the styles of the two never seemed to completely mesh. The former wanted his players to be powerful and physical while the later was concentrated more on speed and agility.
With years of experience coaching alongside Dillman, hiring him was an easy decision or Muschamp as he was a known quantity. Dillman not only has Florida’s players stronger and more focused than a year ago, he was also able to instill Muschamp’s intensity in the offseason program, which is a difficult task but nonetheless one he accomplished.
Dillman also came up with the slogan “Florida Never Breaks,” which has been a rallying cry for the team both on and off the field.
“Jeff Dillman has kind of come up with that as far as different ways to motivate the players throughout the summer, to be able to always try to find an edge and create an edge for our football team,” Muschamp explained. “Jeff does a fabulous job. He and Jesse Ackerman and our entire weight room staff, they spend more time with the student-athletes than we do. A lot of people don’t realize that.
“Especially in the summer and when you’re sitting there in the middle of June and the middle of July, you better be creative in how to motivate some of these guys. I’ll be honest with you. I think back to when I was playing. It’s hard. It’s 150 degrees sitting outside and you’re lifting weights. You better have somebody in there that’s got a great message to motivate you, and Jeff certainly does.”
Muschamp’s leadership, Pease’s creativity, Davis’s coaching and Dillman’s intensity have molded the Gators in Muschamp’s image. Faced with a chance to win the division and advance to the SEC Championship for the first time since 2009, the only question remaining is if Florida can put it all together at least one more time this weekend against Georgia in Jacksonville, FL.