Saturday’s loss to Florida State was a microcosm of the Florida Gators over the last four years under head coach Will Muschamp.
Florida committed undisciplined penalties, was unable to take advantage of opponent miscues and could not find the end zone even with a short field, which it had often. The Gators were also plagued by uneven coaching and questionable decision-making, especially deep in the red zone and on their last offensive series when the passing game was for some reason suddenly preferred over the running game.
Similarly, Muschamp’s post-game press conference incorporated all of his maxims. In fact, many of them were thrown into a single five-sentence reply after he was asked about Florida once again having a chance to win a game but failing to take advantage of its opportunities.
“We’ve had our opportunities. You look at two other games where we had the game in hand and had our opportunities to get it done. We didn’t get it done,” he said. “It falls on my shoulders. And that’s why they’re going to be looking for a coach.”
Indeed, the Gators’ coaching search began two weeks ago when Florida lost a seemingly un-loseable game to South Carolina. Muschamp, though dismissed immediately after that loss, decided to man up and remain with the Gators for the rest of the season.
His players rewarded him with a 52-3 blowout win over Eastern Kentucky for his last game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and Florida seemed poised to repeat 2004 by walking out of Doak Campbell Stadium with its fired head coach up in the air on the shoulders of some of his players.
But that’s not what ultimately happened. With three timeouts in their pocket and 3:23 remaining in the game, the Gators needed to piece together a 78-yard game-winning touchdown drive. One would expect Florida to go back to its bread and butter with so much time left and run the ball. Instead, the Gators called passing play after passing play.
Even after Florida benefited from a pass interference penalty on 4th and 8 that gave the Gators new life at midfield with 2:16 on the clock and two timeouts remaining, Florida stuck with the pass. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris threw four-straight incompletions, the last of which was behind – and dropped by – an open wide receiver in sophomore Demarcus Robinson.
Muschamp, who noted after the game that the Gators do not “consistently throw the ball very well,” explained Florida’s decision to toss it around so much at that juncture. He then punctuated his comment with some recently-acquired who-gives-a-shit-anymore humor that was perfectly accurate and certainly well-received.
“In the situation, we got to go 80 yards. I thought it might be a good idea to try and get some vertical throws,” he began before pausing and realizing he was asked about UF throwing the football too much.
“Hold on now, you’re complaining about me throwing it? Seriously, I’ve been getting drilled for four years for running the ball, and I say we throw it and I get drilled for it?! You guys are amazing! Holy mackerel! Seriously!”
Saturday brought a lot of closure for Muschamp, though after the game he was still upset about the loss. But it is not the end of his duties with the Gators. In fact, Muschamp has one more task at hand that he still must fulfill before he can truly move on.
“I got to do my TV show [Sunday]. When you get fired, I’m not a good negotiator. I agreed to do that. That’ll be a blast,” he said with a jovial tone. “I get to hang out with Mick [Hubert on Sunday]. That’s part of the deal, I’m not a very good negotiator.”
Once that’s done though, Muschamp will finally be in the clear. He will make himself available for professional scouts, coaches and general managers that want his insight about Florida players, and he similarly will tell any Gators juniors that wish to get his opinion on their NFL future to call or text him at any time.
Where Muschamp’s career goes from here remains to be seen. If he chooses to coordinate a defense, he could very well be the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the nation by the time he is hired. That would go on top of the $6.3 million buyout that UF will be paying him over the next three seasons. Muschamp, whose head coaching chops have now been cut at one of the top programs in the country, could also be a candidate for a couple somewhat lower-profile jobs. A head coaching opportunity at a lower-rung Power 5 program he can build may be too attractive to pass up.
For now, he is not sure whether he will take too much time off but also said he’s in “no hurry” to find a new job. Muschamp would like to “get away for a little while” with his wife, Carol. He also said he’s moved on from his Florida dismissal and has a positive mindset going forward.
“Carol and I are excited about the next step, I can assure you of that. … That’s what we’re looking forward to,” he said. “I am extremely disappointed for our football team right now. They got a good team. They do a good job. We had our opportunities, and we didn’t get it done.”
In the end for Muschamp, it always comes back to football, and while he succeeded in so many other areas with the Gators, on the field is where his “buzzard’s luck” bit both him and the team – time and again – over his four years.
In many ways, Muschamp was the perfect fit for Florida. He was a disciplinarian who got the Gators back on the right track after Urban Meyer’s sloppy exit and (for the most part) kept his players out of police blotters and in academic honor rolls. But the head football coach at Florida needs to beat ranked teams, win home games, capture division crowns, advance to conference championships and contend for national titles, and Muschamp did not meet those goals either often enough or at all.
So when asked at the conclusion of his final press conference as head coach of the Gators, his hometown team, how he would like to be remembered in Gainesville, Florida, Muschamp did not ask for undue praise. He just hopes for respect for what he actually accomplished, which despite his other failings was in and of itself no small feat.
“Just a guy that did it the right way. I hold my head up walking out of here. We did things the right way,” he said.
“We didn’t win enough games. I was asked to clean up the program. We did that.”
For a coach who did indeed do exactly that, it is a more-than-fair final request.
Updated on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.: During his final coach’s show as Florida’s coach, Muschamp exited with the following last words.
“It’s been a great four years. Unfortunately, we didn’t win enough games and this is a bottom line profession. But we certainly made a difference here. … All the people we’ve met here at the University of Florida have been outstanding. Nothing but great memories. No regrets. No bad feelings. No bitterness at all. This is a great place; it’s a great school. I really wish them well for the next staff to come in. They’ve got a good locker room and a bunch of talented players – and a bunch of good kids. We’ve cleaned up the place, and it’s ready for somebody to go take them to the next step.”
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press