The Silver Lining: Foley puts legacy on the line by sticking his neck out for Muschamp

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is right.

The statement he released Wednesday – crafted into a story for the Gators’ official website – was “not the quote-unquote dreaded ‘vote of confidence.’”

It was much more than that.

It was arguably the best athletic director in the country putting his unequivocal support behind a first-time head coach in Will Muschamp, one who currently possesses a 22-13 record in less than three full seasons at his school.

Foley said he was “a thousand percent convinced” that Muschamp was his man when he hired him and is still the right person to lead Florida going forward. “Nothing has changed in what we feel about Will Muschamp from the day we hired him.”

Simply put, that’s not how a growing number of fans feel.

Some Gators understandably questioned Foley’s hiring of Muschamp from the get-go.

Replacing offensive-minded Urban Meyer, he of two national championships and three BCS bowl game victories, with a first-time head coach who earned his chops on being a premier defensive coordinator and outstanding recruiter made Muschamp resemble Foley’s first-ever head football coach hire, Ron Zook, a bit too much.

But Muschamp had other qualities of which to boast. He was the quote-unquote “coach-in-waiting” at Texas and a quote-unquote “son of Gainesville” in that he and his brothers were raised just miles from Florida Field. Muschamp certainly had to fight an up-hill battle to win the affections of the fan base, but he went a long way to overcoming that obstacle with an 11-2 record in just his second season.

Also unlike Zook, Muschamp was forced to clean up an exceedingly messy situation inside the program, promising at his introductory press conference to run the Gators football program the quote-unquote “right way.” So far it appears to have lived up to that promise off the field, even if it has not been reflected in his composite record on it.


The problem is that fans have taken such a sharp turn against Muschamp this season, especially following Florida’s loss to Vanderbilt – the first since 1988 and first at home since 1945 – that Foley’s “not the quote-unquote dreaded ‘vote of confidence,’” rather than achieve one of its intended effects – to calm the noise inside the program – has made fans start unjustifiably questioning Foley’s own leadership and hiring aptitude.

There is even the growing notion that Foley’s only football hires have been Zook and Muschamp – two so-called failures – while bringing in Meyer is being credited more and more each passing day to former Utah president Bernie Machen, who officially started his tenure at UF exactly one month after Meyer’s hiring became official.

CHOMPING: Let’s just take a moment and squash that notion. Meyer was one of the preeminent coaching names in college football and on everyone’s short list, at least those considering hiring a new head coach. There is no doubt that Machen helped convince Meyer to ultimately choose Florida as his destination, but that does not mean Foley had not decided Meyer was his man, nor that he would have been unable to lasso him on his own without Machen’s assistance.

No matter what Foley has done for Florida’s athletic program as a whole – like serving as the unquestioned catalyst for head basketball coach Billy Donovan being hired, retained and him ultimately deciding to return – an athletic director’s legacy at an institution like UF is largely determined by how he manages his football program.

Foley has made some of the most brilliant hires in college sports history when it comes to basketball (as noted above), soccer, gymnastics, track & field, swimming, lacrosse – and the list goes on – but making the right decisions with the football program is what Gators fans, alumni and boosters care most about.

That’s why Foley’s statement – again, “not the quote-unquote dreaded ‘vote of confidence’” – was indeed much more than that.

A vote of confidence is usually a half-hearted attempt by an administrator to throw support behind an embattled head coach in an effort to get fans’ discontent, media-created hot seats and the like under some sort of control.

Foley went way beyond that. He linked his legacy at Florida to Muschamp’s success and has risked his reputation being tarnished – whether briefly or permanently – by his decision not just to hire Muschamp but back him with “a thousand percent” certainty.

He is an intelligent man and did not do this while unaware of the consequences.

Muschamp was not a hire made on a whim by Foley. He had a full year to vet candidates, poll references and make what he believed to be the right decision.

Unlike Meyer, one of a couple names on Foley’s list heading into the 2005 season, he claimed to have no list or decided back-up plan in 2011.

It was only Muschamp, No. 1 with a bullet.

“We will get better under Will Muschamp’s leadership,” Foley proclaimed Wednesday. “This is not the quote-unquote dreaded ‘vote of confidence.’ This is just how we all feel around here. We have a strong faith and a strong belief in his capabilities, his leadership skills, in his ability to evaluate what needs to be fixed.

“Go back a year ago: we’re 11-1 and beat four teams in the top 10 [in the regular season] and he was SEC Coach of the Year. I don’t think that was a fluke. I think coaching has a lot to do with that. We’ll stay the course here. We’ll get it right. We’re not going to let Gator fans down. We want the same thing they want.”

What Florida fans want are wins and titles, but they’ll probable settle for relevance in the near future. The Gators had that in 2012 but lost it as quickly as the injuries started piling up and the season began slipping away in 2013.

What Florida fans see in Muschamp is a coach who has only led his team to victory in 63 percent of its games under his stewardship, an average that will likely decline closer to 60 percent as UF will only be favored in one of its final three games of the season.

But no matter how much distrust there is for Muschamp right now, Foley deserves the benefit of the doubt. His words carry water, which is why he decided to make such a strong statement – “not the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’” – in the first place.

He has now officially stuck his neck out for Muschamp, twice as far as he did when he hired him in the first place.

Foley’s career will never be defined by this hiring – and it will certainly not be on the line if it fails – but his legacy is most certainly at stake. In that there is no question.

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39 Responses to “The Silver Lining: Foley puts legacy on the line by sticking his neck out for Muschamp”

  1. Daniel M. says:

    Strong.

  2. Oldflyer says:

    I expect that Jeremy Foley did his due diligence before “sticking his neck out”, as you characterize it. In fact, I suspect that he did not stick his neck out at all because he knew that whoever he answers to agreed with him.

    I trust that Foley is not managing for legacy. Some politicians may do that and when they do they often fail on all counts. Leaders are more concerned with building foundations for success. If they do that, legacies take care of themselves.

    Some Florida fans can roll on the floor, bang their heels, and howl if they choose, but the real world is not impressed. Over on GC forums, someone threw Bil Parcells’ quote at me, “you are judged by your record”. So, I looked up Parcells’ record and learned that there were very poor years scattered through the record of the HOF coach. If he had been judged on the record of his first couple of years as a HC, there might not have been a carreer at all. At times it is clear that he was busy cleaning up a mess left by he previous administration; at other times it is likely that external factors (injuries) overwhelmed his efforts. It happens. It happened to the Gators this year. Mature people accept reality, and make their judgements accordingly. They demonstrate a reasonable level of patience, not open-ended but reasonable. Immature people, well we know what they do.

    • Sticking one’s neck out also means making a decision or holding a position that is opposite of popular consensus. Popular consensus right now, at least among vocal fans, is that Muschamp should be fired. Hence the phrasing. Hope that makes sense.

      As I made sure to point out, I’m not saying Foley’s job is on the line. I’m talking about his legacy.

      • nugent1021 says:

        Got it, legacy not job for Foley. I think this article took some nerve for you to be willing to write it, when it could potentially get you “blacklisted” from access to the university or whatever games they play with the media types – even though you were careful not to say “wow, this is the worst offense I’ve ever seen.”

        I’m going to scream with the next post of “we need to have the same staff for consistency so we need to keep Pease another year” – FSU has a completely new staff except the head coach. Auburn, completely new staff (albeit, not a system change for the players). I could go on. Foley is the one that said “What should be done eventually, must be done immediately.” This is ridiculous.

        Our offense has been bottom 10% of the whole league for 3 years. No effort to change that. No one wants to watch this type of football, it’s boring and gives us ulcers.

        Just hire Franklin from Vanderbilt, he’s obviously a better coach. Not just because of that one embarassing game for us.

        • Florida gives me no access, so there’s nothing they could take away.

          But I don’t know why it took nerve to write this. It is not bashing anybody. It is taking a look at the ramifications of an AD hitching himself to a coach who currently has a 22-13 record and is on a lot of fans’ bad side.

          I think some of the people that have read this column fail to understand that it is neither positive nor negative. It is just taking a perspective.

          • 630Chucky says:

            If Muschamp can’t turn things around, then people will (and probably should) view the hire (and now the subsequent support) as a huge mistake. But the notion that his legacy is in jeopardy comes from perspective that is too narrow.

            Sure, Spurrier was hired before Foley became AD, but Foley has overseen an explosion of success in UF athletics. I don’t think his role in building the $100 million athletics budget we have today (and the 7- and 8-figure profits generated each year) can be overstated. I was around before there were national titles or even SEC titles at UF. I remember what the facilities were like back then. I see what’s there now, and Foley made all that possible. He built an elite athletics program, with 3 national titles in football (and 2 in basketball–Holy crap! UF has national titles in basketball).

            Foley positioned UF to compete with anyone at anything. That’s his legacy, and it should remain intact even if history remembers the Muschamp hire or Zook (which to me was far worse) or any other coaching hire as disasters. I can’t think of an AD that has anywhere close to a perfect hiring record. Foley has earned the credibility to own the hiring process of coaches, and he’s smart enough to know if or when he has to fix a mistake. Even if Muschamp turns out not to be the answer, Foley will get it right.

            • It’s actually the opposite, IMO (but then again, I wrote the thing). I’m looking at it from a broad perspective. There is no questioning the success Foley has amassed over the years – which is exactly why I said this is not a question of whether his job or future is on the line.

              But exactly for those reasons, because he’s held in such high esteem, him putting his 1000% confidence in a guy that right now is 22-13 in three years is an eye-raiser of a statement. Foley unequivocally backed Muschamp.

              If Muschamp ultimately fails, it’s a stain on his legacy. It doesn’t mean he’ll have no legacy or a bad legacy. But it will be a black eye on it. No other way to put it.

  3. Jim Carruthers says:

    Muschamp should never have been given the job. Unproven leader with one of the top programs in the nation is always a recipe for disaster. I question Foley’s ability to choose a proven and successful coach with his failures of Muschamp and the Zooker. The man for the job right now has some Gainesville ties, has a coaching legacy, was a successful player and not only wins but brings the brand of football that Gators have come to expect. Yes, the greatest Gator of them all, Steve Spurrier. I was here when we had the fertilizer year…0-10-1… and the steep climb to become relevant. Foley and Muschamp with the help of the quitter Urban Liar, have taken us back to 1979. Fire both Foley and Muschamp now. Don’t make us suffer through another season of mediocrity.

    • Oldflyer says:

      I know that fans are unhappy, and lashing out. But, please.

      Florida cannot tolerate unproven leadership? The first thought that leaps to my mind is the case of war time leaders during WWII. Were you around in WWII, or have you read anything about it? It was largely unproven leadership that led us to victory. Eisenhower, Bradley, Ridgeway, Nimitz, Halsey, Burke, just to name a few. These were all unproven combat leaders; but, their careers had been studied carefully. The men who appointed them knew their strengths and their limitations. Every day, in every field of endeavor senior people take a chance on promising younger ones. Often it involves much more serious issues than coaching a football team. I happen to be confident that Foley also knew who he was appointing to lead the Gators. I have never considered Foley to be a careless or lazy manager.

      But, if we are to limit ourselves to discussing first time Head Coaches, I could mention: Sean Payton, Marvin Lewis, John Harbaugh in the Pros; and of course, we need look no further than Jimbo in the college ranks. Another illustrative example is one of the current darlings of the Gator forums: Art Briles. His first HC job, Houston. First year 7-5. Second year, 3-8. Third year, 6-6. Only after this start did improvement become manifest: but UH was patient; and Baylor was predatory and he was soon gone.

      I do not accept the premise that hiring a first time Head Coach is a mistake; nor do I accept that it is an insult to the Gator fans.

      The ongoing hunger for Spurrier’s return is toxic. He is not returning. Whether he would have returned pre-Meyer is problematical since he pretty well burned the bridges to the Administration. The story about the interview demand had to be a joke, or an excuse on Spurrier’s part. If Machen had approved the hiring of Spurrier, given the nature of his leaving, without a probing interview to at least clear the air on his attitude toward Foley, and the likely future relationship, he would have been grossly derelict. I don’t think that describes Machen. Long past time to let it go.

  4. Gatoralum88 says:

    As usual, great work Adam! You’re a master at your craft. I apologize for my impatience waiting for it. What you wrote about Meyer was spot on. It was a no brainer! Heck, Foley would have been roasted had he not closed that deal. Speaking of closing, Da’Shawn Hand’s decision yesterday makes me question Muschamp’s ability to close considering his team’s current state. Following 11-and-2, he certainly didn’t close on anyone of significance on signing day when a bunch of players had Florida on their short lists. Time will tell if this next class ranks in the top 10 (currently 10th in ESPN’s rankings). Meanwhile, Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU are all in their top 5. This season is certainly lost and I’m sure I’ll struggle watching the USC and FSU games. Next season, if Florida manages to lose on ole Rocky top, they’ll be 9-3 AT BEST because they won’t win in Tuscaloosa and won’t beat Famous Jamies in Tallahassee (I’m now leaning toward calling last year’s win there a fluke). Keep up the good work Adam! I love your site. :)

    • GatorCooken says:

      Hand was unfortunately never really seriously considering the Gators. His commitment to Alabama was a little surprising though. The real question with him is not necessarily the lack of “closing”, but why he never really gave us a serious look. Choosing Bama due to academic reasons, really?

    • GatorCooken says:

      I am VERY worried about Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane however…

      p.s, Adam I enjoy the simple math quizzes, keeping your readers sharp!

  5. SWFL Joe says:

    Foley has botched hirings in the past (Zook, Peck, McMahon come to mind) and has survived and he will this time also. But let’s face reality, the UAA runs on money. Football is the engine that generates the funding so we can field excellent teams in the non-revenue producing sports (everything else but men’s basketball). Foley is VERY proud of all of those Capital One and Sears All Sports Trophies. But once the product in the swamp starts to really drive away booster contributions, it will not only be effecting the budgets of football but baseball, softball, tennis, swimming, lacrosse, track & field, volleyball, gymnastics, etc. So far the Muschamp mess has been confined to football but if it starts to negatively impacts the other sports, Jeremy won’t be issuing statements, it will be pink slips.

    • There seems to be a lot of people hating on Pat McMahon recently. Granted, Florida did not have a crazy amount of success under him, but the Gators did make it to the Championship Series of the 2005 CWS.

      • SWFL Joe says:

        Agreed but the following 2 years were 28-28 and 29-30. Bad enough for Foley to lose confidence in him to be able to right the ship. Maybe not a “botched” hiring, but after 6 years, was something Jeremy could no longer be “a thousand percent convinced” was going to work.

        • Right, so he fired him. But it’s tough to say that was a bad hire, along the lines of Zook, when the guy got a team to the national championship game!

          • SWFL Joe says:

            The point I was trying to make was Jeremy hasn’t always struck gold in his hirings but even when didn’t, he still survived it. If Muschamp turns out to be one of those misses, he will survive that too and anybody that thinks he won’t doesn’t know Jeremy’s history at UF. Sorry about the confusion.

            • I’m asking because I’m wondering if you misunderstood: did I not make it perfectly clear that I was speaking specifically about Foley’s legacy and not his job being on the line? I was very specific in that regard.

  6. JLS says:

    What a load of fiction and revisionist history:

    1. Foley had at most a two man list in 2004. It was Spurrier who they did not want but some fans did and Meyer. They did not expect Notre Dame to come open. After they made Spurrier feel unwelcome enough that he confirmed his earlier decision to go to SoCAr, had Meyer taken the Notre Dame job UF would have been in trouble. Anyone who thinks the in coming president who became a hands on sports guy like Machen did not make the call on hiring Meyer is fooling themselves.

    2. Spurrier had just a few years earlier had almost or had taken the Tampa job but then stayed at UF, so if Foley did not have a list in 2011 when Spurrier left during his contract window to leave, it is one more indictment of Foley.

    3. Everyone likes to mention Foley’s successful hires and he is to be applauded for them. On the other hand, Foley has flailed around with women’s basketball forcing out a somewhat successful coach to hire a succession of unsuccessful coaches and may not have that one solved yet. Foley also took several tries to stabilize the baseball program. Similar criticism could be made. Similar criticism could be made concerning his hires in some other sports where UF has some natural advantages. So it is not like Foley with a bigger budget OF OTHER PEOPLES MONEY than most other ADs has had nothing but successful hires other than in football.

    • 1. Florida would have hired Bobby Petrino if not for Urban Meyer. Nothing pointed out here is fiction or revisionist. I opted not to mention the Spurrier situation because it had nothing to do with the column.

      2. You can think he had a list if you want. But he and Machen both said he didn’t in 2011. That is neither fiction nor revisionist. And even if he did, which is plausible, he got his first choice. That was the point.

      3. Foley has had a really, really tough time with women’s basketball. That does not negate his success in other areas and sports. Florida has not won a championship in baseball but the Gators got awful close with multiple coaches. Talk about fiction and revisionist history on your part.

      I don’t mind differing opinions. But if you’re going to come here and insult my knowledge without offering up legitimate points than I’m not going to stand for it. Good day to you.

  7. JLS says:

    Sorry in point 2 that should be 2002.

    • OK, No. 2 makes more sense then. But again, that’s not really a hiring decision that was discussed at length in the column. The summation of that decision was that it was an abject failure, so going into details about it was irrelevant even if the “list” point you’re making is right. Spurrier leaving was still a shock and done relatively late in the process even if he might have given an indication in a prior year. Foley had time when he fired Zook (months, fired him mid-season) and a year when Meyer first resigned and then came back to try and save Addazio’s job (name his successor). Both were hires he was able to prepare for. He hit on Meyer. Muschamp is TBD.

  8. Gator boys says:

    Are you sure it’s popular consensus and not just loud disgruntled fans?

  9. JLS says:

    I” don’t mind differing opinions. But if you’re going to come here and insult my knowledge without offering up legitimate points than I’m not going to stand for it. Good day to you.”

    A. I did not insult your knowledge. I called some of your excuse making for Foley fiction and revisionist history.

    B. I did make legitimate points as even you conceded about women’s basketball. And when you end up firing several basketball coaches, you did not get it right even if one got close to a championship one year. I have no problem with crediting Foley with Donovan, Burleigh, etc.. It is just not a fair evaluation to pretend he has only stumbled in football.

    • By calling my entire column “fiction and revisionist history,” that’s exactly what you did. It was completely based off fact and history.

      I’m not sure how the information you came away with was that I was making excuses for Foley. Just the opposite. I was painting a picture of his career at Florida with a broad brush, not getting into specifics. If I decided to write a longer piece, I would have detailed all the national and SEC titles won under his stewardship, why some of his hires have been fantastic, etc. But my goal was not to praise Foley, rather put this particular decision in perspective.

      If you don’t like him or think he’s overrated, that’s fine. Totally entitled to your opinion. But that does not make what I wrote inaccurate.

      You’re picking on one program in women’s basketball though. Florida offers two dozen sports (combining men’s and women’s programs). He can’t hire people at a 100 percent rate. No one in the world could. That’s impossible. But he’s way above average – and the people that he’s hit on he’s hit home runs with.

  10. Joe says:

    Things I know:

    Our expectations are too high because of our success over the last 20 years

    We’ve landed two of the best possible coaches for our program in the last 20 years

    There aren’t Meyers and Sabans growing on trees

    We run a pro-style offense without an experienced top level passer at QB

    Our O- line is terrible and Tim Davis should resign

    We do not have a game changing player in our stable (P.Harvin – T.Tebow are not coming through that door so who’s next up to develop?)

    Muschamp is still working to establish players for his system, 5’-9” Solomon Patton while serviceable is not the type of #1 receiver we need (see Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin) This could potentially be Demarcus Robinson, Fulwood with more time under their respective belts. Same thing goes for Thompson and Kent at TE.

    Foley believes Muschamp is the next great coach and is willing to give him time, many Florida fans disagree

    Firing Muschamp is an easy answer, finding the next Meyer/Spurrier is not easy

    We will be worse off firing Muschamp this season than letting the next season play out with him at the helm

    We are building immense depth by playing so many Freshman and Sophomores at this stage…this bodes well for future seasons

    Florida fans are accustomed to high powered offenses and this is an issue (I’m personally accustomed to winning even if the method is smashmouth)

    I can go into far more detail on any and all issues but the important question is: do you stay the course and let a coach develop into the next great coach (Foley’s vision) or do you go on the hunt trying to find that 1 in a million shooting star every time someone fails?

    Just something to ponder

  11. Frank says:

    Everyone ought to check out Carlos Alvarez’ (Yes, THAT Carlos Alvarez) commentary on Gator Country (Sorry Adam, but at least I didn’t quote it ;) ). The jist is this: All the negativity is hurting the program, not helping. Let’s get through this disaster of a season and see what happens. I suffered through the 1979 season my senior year, believing we could win every game. It never happened. But the following year, we went 8-4. Call me naïve, but I think Coach Muschamp will turn it around next year.

  12. Mike says:

    Adam, for what it’s worth, had Urban not worked out (didn’t like UF or wanted to go to ND), the UF plane was fueled and ready to go pick up Bobby Petrino.

    I don’t disagree with you regarding the job Foley has done as the AD of ALL of UF’s sports programs, but what needs to be looked at under a bit more of a microscope is the job he has done when solely responsible for choosing the school’s most important head coach.

  13. Nick Norris says:

    This Silver Lining column is very good. I’ve been trying to figure out why I can’t think of WM in a positive way as the Gator head football coach. I posed this question while drinking coffee and solving world problems with friends. These guys are old Gator fans. One quickly said he didn’t much care for him because WM acted like Gator Fans weren’t a part of the team’s success or failure. That’s the way I feel. Kinda like an offense. Meyer came to Florida and began a public relations program that made Gator Fans understand that we are an important part of a winning football team. He went on a whirlwind tour of Gator Clubs and had the team sing the Alma Mater. The guy knew a team needs fan support for quite a few reasons. Maybe, WM has courted Gator Fan and I missed it. No matter. When you like your customers it shows.

  14. Ken (CA) says:

    While I don’t particularly agree with his decision to keep Champ, I can understand it, at least for 1 more year. Kind of giving him a mulligan due to all the key injuries after an 11-2 season. We will just see if recruiting holds together and gets some key holes filled and what happens next year. Not an easy decision especially with the big buyout. I don’t really understand the buyout considering his philosophy has always been “if you would rather coach somewhere other than here, so be it, we don’t want you”.

    As far as his legacy, I still think he is one of the top 2-3 AD in the country, right up there with the AD from Oklahoma. If he were to stick with a mediocre football program fro 2-3 more years, one might question his legacy, but giving one more year I don’t see huge impact.

    I don’t understand how he has such a complete lack of ability to find a quality WBB coach, unless there just are so few out there that it is a complete crap shoot.

    As you mentioned earlier when you are managing 2 dozen different programs, not every hire is going to be an Ace, but he has done remarkably well across them all except for WBB. We aren’t just considered an elite FB program, but are one of the elite NCAA sports programs. One of only a few in the nation that not only turn a significant profit, but also consistently generate elite results across the board.

    This is coming from someone who ever since the inane hire of Weis has said does this guy know WTF he is doing at all, and being a vocal proponent of the fact that I don’t think long term answer to the program is Muschamp.

    I do, however, believe that Foley has proven over a very long history of solid record and fixing mistakes. I have no doubt that his “1000% support” will be 0% support if Muschamp does any worse than 8-4 or 9-3 or so next year.

    • Ken (CA) says:

      I also want to point out that I understand the hire of Zook, even though I gagged when I heard it. A coach that was so bad, Spurrier demoted him while he was here. It is incredibly difficult to find someone, especially a great someone to follow a complete legend. Not just the only coach to lead UF to any kind of SEC championship or NC, but one of the most revered athletes in Florida history. Those are huge shoes to fill. Much easier to take a possible hit for 2-3 yrs and then take the pick of your choice than to bring in someone established with such huge shoes to fill

  15. gatorhippy says:

    Great piece…this is why I come here…

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