If you did not know entering Monday’s three-headed press conference with Florida Gators president Bernie Machen, athletic director Jeremy Foley and head football coach Will Muschamp that the purpose of the event was to discuss the dismissal of the third man on that list, you might have thought it was held to explain why Muschamp was receiving a raise and contract extension.
Over approximately 45 minutes inside the Florida football facility, Machen and Foley sung Muschamp’s praises. When Muschamp got to the podium, he shared similar sentiments about his employers and the program he was leaving behind.
“From my perspective as president, I have treasured – literally treasured – the last four years in working with Will. He was asked to come here and build a program, a program built on character and good academic values, and he was asked to develop young men that would be a credit to the Gator Nation. He has done that,” said Machen.
“Will and Carol and their family … are beloved by the people of this community, and we feel like they are ours. Never have I worked with a coach in any sport over three different universities that has been more supportive of the university mission and what we’re trying to accomplish. In the end, can you say that someone who has to leave has made a positive contribution? And the answer for that is definitely yes for Will Muschamp. In fact, I would love for my son or my grandson to have the opportunity to be coached by Will Muschamp.”
Foley admitted it was hard to follow Machen’s comments because it is how everyone within the Gators program feels about Muschamp.
“He gave his heart and soul tot his program. He loves this program. As you all know, he grew up following the Gators, he loves the Gators. Everybody in the program was in the fox hole with him. We respected him as a coach and a person and he respected us for the support we gave his program,” he said. “He’s as fine as person as you could ever meet and a friend to all of us. Will Muschamp is a good, good person, which is why this is so tough for everybody.”
Though Foley still to this day believes that Muschamp is a good football coach, it is obvious that things did not go the way that either he or Muschamp expected when he took over the program.
Foley sees Muschamp as a great friend but not the right fit for Florida anymore. It was an emotional moment when the decision had to be made Saturday night and related to Muschamp on Sunday, but Foley had no choice and Muschamp handled it with class.
“He’s a very good football coach. He has a track record. He’s won a lot of championships in his career, and he’ll win more, I promise you of that. It just was not working here as we all envisioned and certainly not as he envisioned four years ago when he came on board. And when things are not working, sometimes you got to make a difficult decision despite the tremendous effort he put in,” Foley continued.
“On a personal level, I’ll miss working with Will everyday. He represents everything that’s right about college athletics. That’s not just lip-service, it’s the flat-out truth. The environment inside our building is the best its ever been because of Will.”
He continued: “At the end of the day, this can be a tough business when you’re not winning, and we all get that. This may have been the most difficult day of all for us because of the type of person that Will Muschamp is. We wish him the best, and I’m proud he’s my friend.”
Muschamp joked about being “under-dressed for the occasion” when he took the podium in a Florida jacket as opposed to the suits donned by his school’s president and athletic director. Once the levity settled, Muschamp got down to business discussing his dismissal.
“I want to thank Jeremy and Dr. Machen for their support here at Florida; it’s been outstanding. I stand by my statement [Sunday] and that’s that we didn’t win enough football games. That’s the bottom line, you got to win games. We didn’t get that done. Very disappointed and frustrated that did not happen. Certainly had our opportunities, especially this year keeping a healthy roster and having opportunities to win football games, we didn’t get it done. Certainly Saturday was a great example of that,” he began.
“But I know this locker room is better than it was four years ago. There’s no question about that in where we’ve come. I appreciate our players and how they handled a very difficult season. You come off a 4-8 year, regardless of the circumstances from last year, you go into this yea rand there’s a low margin for error and there’s a bulls-eye on you and everything is magnified to the n’th degree. …
“[This is a] special place and special people, and I don’t leave with any regrets at all after being here with the relationships that have been built. … The people are what makes it a special place and this is a great place to work.”
Without breaking stride, Muschamp went from talking about no longer being head coach of the Gators to providing an opening statement about Florida’s next opponent, Eastern Kentucky. “I am going to start on EKU because it’s Monday and that’s what we do at our press conference.”
When the topic switched back to his dismissal, Muschamp eased right back in, offering nothing but praise for his administrators, players and the university as a whole.
Muschamp admitted that there are plenty of things he would do over again, though he noted that those decisions have to be looked at in the proper context of the situation because hindsight is always 20-20.
“It’s frustrating to see guys stand in this day and say, ‘I wouldn’t have changed anything.’ Well hell, you would’ve gotten fired again,” he said.
“It’s easy after its over with to say, ‘Well, that wasn’t a very good decision. Sure there’s things you do differently, there’s no question about that, but I don’t think that’s attributed to being a first-year head coach. I don’t think that’s it. I think there’s things that occur and happen that you got to be able to manage those situations better-slash-differently, however they are.”
Muschamp also said it was hard to address the team before noting that he – a Gainesville, Florida native – will always be a Gators fan. “You spend a lot of time with these guys and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do on and off the field. I’m going to root for these guys as hard as anybody. I want the University of Florida to be successful. I’ll always be a Gator…unless I’m on the other sideline.
“I always will want these guys to be successful in what they do, and I’ll always be there for them, there’s no question about that. You spend as much time with these guys as you do your own kids, that’s sad to say, but I do. I look at these young men as my own.”
Someone who has constantly preached hard work and effort to his players, Muschamp explained that used his firing as a life example when he met with the Gators on Sunday afternoon.
“You can work really hard and you can be really diligent in what you do, but you got to have results in life. Whether you’re in the business world or whether you’re in the coaching profession, it doesn’t matter. You got to produce,” he said. “It’s kind of like players tell me all the time, ‘Well, I’m trying hard.’ ‘Well, I know, but you’re not producing, so we got to go with somebody else.’ That’s kind of the message I had for them. Let’s learn a lesson from it and understand that you got to produce in life.
“If you’re a salesman, you got to sell. If you’re a football coach, you got to win. That’s the bottom line.”
Muschamp will be coaching the Gators for two more weeks, an opportunity he deserves and asked for during his meeting with Foley on Sunday. Though he will not coach Florida if it advances to a bowl game, Muschamp has Foley’s full confidence over the remaining two weeks of the season.
“That’s the last thing I’m worried about. You talk about a pro, a guy that’s all about the right things. If he didn’t think he could do it, he would have said, ‘I’m not gonna do it,'” explained Foley.
“I was here [Sunday] when he spoke with the team and he told the team, ‘You’re not going to see anything differently. He will coach his tail off and he will be the Will Muschamp we’ve all known. He will work very, very hard to be successful the next two weeks.”
Noted Muschamp: “I’ve been with these guys. I brought these guys on this campus. I told the football team, ‘You’re not going to see anything different.’ … We’re going to coach these guys hard. They deserve that, the University of Florida deserves that. I’m totally invested for two weeks to be the coach at Florida.”
Muschamp’s contract will be honored with the coach set to earn $6.3 million over the next three seasons, paid in even installments over the years remaining on his deal. He will take plenty of money from his split with Florida, but Muschamp will also value one friendship in particular that he made at UF.
“It’s been outstanding [to have Foley as a friend] and the support has been unwavering the entire time. He’s got to make tough decisions in what’s best at the University of Florida,” Muschamp said. “I understand and I respect the decision. I got great respect for Jeremy, number one, as an administrator and athletic director, but also as a friend. …
“I feel like I’ve been treated right and I’ve been treated fairly, so I don’t have any hard feelings or regrets.”