You’re getting what you wanted
Over the last two seasons – and a little before that as well – my inbox, the @OnlyGators Twitter account and the comments section here on OnlyGators.com have each been inundated with requests and demands for Will Muschamp to lose his job. And while it may have taken longer than many of you have wished, it happened. Muschamp was fired, athletic director Jeremy Foley hired a new head coach Jim McElwain and – though some of you were not pleased with that replacement – the program is headed in a different direction.
Well, you know what happens when one head coach gets fired and another is hired in his place? The coaching staff changes, too. That’s the name of the game. It’s how this process works and thinking otherwise is absolutely foolish.
There are only so many scenarios in which a new head coach retains staff members from a prior regime. They could be too talented to let go with no better candidate available. They could be a great fit for the new coach’s system or a person the coach is familiar with from another point during his career. They could also be so entrenched in their jobs that uprooting them the season a new coach is hired could be too much shock to the system.
Charlie Strong fit all three of these categories for Urban Meyer. D.J. Durkin and Brian White hit the first one, as there were few better special teams coordinators and running backs coaches in the nation when Will Muschamp was hired.
But Durkin is no longer Florida’s special teams coordinator. The fifth-year assistant (White is the only one more tenured, as he is set to complete his sixth season with the program) was the Gators’ defensive coordinator last season, a defensive coordinator with only two years of career experience in that role. He was also a defensive coordinator who learned the job under Muschamp and who does not have anything on his resume pointing to the fact that he could succeed at the position without Muschamp basically running the defense, which Muschamp did during his four years with the Gators.
So when McElwain on Tuesday decided to replace Durkin – a good guy and great coach – with a veteran defensive coordinator in Geoff Collins who has a proven track record of success and plenty of in-state recruiting chops, Florida fans should have been overjoyed. Instead, there were questions about why Durkin was not being retained and how “dumb” of a move this was by McElwain. Had Durkin still been in his special teams coordinator role, keeping him on the staff would have been a no-brainer. But his job changed two seasons ago and so did the qualifications for his current position with an offensive-minded head coach replacing a defensive-minded one.
It was not a dumb or short-sighted move by McElwain, not in the least. New coaches usually fill out a staff with new assistants; they don’t just take the top job in an organization and allow everything else to remain status quo. The point of hiring a new coach is to shock the system, turn things around and change the direction of a team. Keeping an entire coaching staff in place does not accomplish those charges.
Nevertheless, McElwain recognizes that there is some talent on the current Gators staff. It is why he is seemingly attempting to keep a couple assistants in place, including defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson and offensive line coach Mike Summers (and possibly defensive line coach Brad Lawing, too).
A source confirmed to OnlyGators.com on Wednesday what recruits have been telling reporters for the last two weeks: McElwain has discussed with Summers the opportunity for the veteran assistant to remain at Florida, and Summers plans to do so barring an unforeseen change of heart by either party. The most recent reports on Robinson are that he would prefer to stay with the Gators but first wanted to meet Collins face-to-face on Tuesday, seeing as Collins will effectively be one of Robinson’s two new bosses. The coaching recruiting chops of both men make them extremely valuable to the Gators; plus, some minimal staff continuity is good during a coaching change, especially for recruiting.
Durkin has spent five years at Florida and had much success during his tenure. In fact, I believe he could step into a MAC head coaching job and succeed immediately. But there should be no one complaining about McElwain’s first big coaching hire, especially not if the issue at hand is losing Durkin, a coordinator who is still inexperienced (despite holding the job title for two seasons) and would be tough for a new coach to trust with managing his entire defensive unit.
The inside story that really wasn’t
When I awoke Wednesday morning and saw that Foley had sat down with The Gainesville Sun to provide specifics of the Gators’ coaching search that resulted in Florida hiring McElwain, I figured there would be some newsworthy tidbits that could be included in this column. Instead, it was mostly a rehashing of Foley and UF’s version of the events that transpired two weeks ago with little learned or truly revealed.
Let’s first look at the few points of interest.
– Foley said he did not think about firing Muschamp until the Missouri loss. After the South Carolina debacle, it was too much to bear. “I was disheartened,” Foley said. “There was a lot of negativity that was going to be hard to overcome, especially in recruiting. This business is hard when a big ball starts rolling downhill and you have to catch it and roll it back up the hill.”
– Foley initially checked McElwain off his list because of the $7.5 million buyout…until learning that it was negotiable, which put him back on the list and made him a candidate again.
– Foley gathered information about Josh McDaniels but not Chip Kelly because of Kelly’s desire to stay in the NFL…rather than the NCAA issues that many attributed to Foley’s supposed lack of interest.
Now here’s where there are information gaps and a lack of logic.
– Foley does not discuss why he decided to keep Muschamp on staff after the Missouri game, leading into a bye week and rivalry game against Georgia, insight that many desired both at the time and after Muschamp was eventually fired.
– Foley says “you really don’t know if anyone is interested [in the job] until you talk to them personally,” noting that it is important “to find someone who wants the [actual] job” rather than a coach looking to improve his salary or stability with a program. Two weeks was spent “eliminating coaches who either were happy where they were or were not that right fit.” How Foley would be able to eliminate candidates under those circumstances while claiming to not have spoken to anyone about the opportunity other than McElwain is puzzling, as is the fact that he claims to have only interviewed a single candidate for one of the top jobs in the country. That’s an overly limited process, is it not?
– Foley claims there was never an offer made to Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze. Foley says he never spoke with Freeze and did not even speak with Rebels AD Ross Bjork until Bjork rang him to ensure that was the case. Well, the last two parts of that may be true, but Freeze certainly believed there was an opportunity on the table to leave for Florida and that was not just created out of thin air.
– Foley reminds that he was well-aware there would be a high level of interest in the Gators’ search with plenty of rumors floating around. So the plan to “throw off” the media was to stop the booster plane (uncovered by OnlyGators.com) in Missouri despite Fort Collins, Colorado, already being part of the flight plan. “The one thing you didn’t want to happen did happen,” Foley said. Florida blacklisted its private jets after arriving back in Gainesville; had the Gators used those jets (instead of the booster plane) and gone to that length before takeoff, they might have succeeded in their goal to interview McElwain under the shade of night.
Look, the search is over and McElwain has been hired. Whether Foley got his first choice or not may never be known by the general public. But what is obvious is that no matter how much Foley wants to appear transparent, both in the coaching search and while making statements about facility upgrades, he’s only raising more questions. The only thing worse than not being transparent is pretending to be.
Not Only Gators: It’s not always personal
Much has been made ado about (mostly) nothing in regards to statements made by Muschamp and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen over the last week.
During a Saturday news conference in which he was introduced as Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, Muschamp mentioned how much he likes the improvements the Tigers’ have made from a facility standpoint since he was last with the program.
“All the facility changes and all the nice things that have happened within this campus is awesome to see,” Muschamp said. “I’ve seen the Wellness Center, and I know the student-athlete housing. On the recruiting trail, all the kids that would come to Florida would come to Auburn and tell me how nice the housing was here, so it’s good to be on that side of it now. I’m excited about that.”
Here are the headlines you’ve likely seen: “Will Muschamp fires rocket shot at Florida facilities,” “Did Will Muschamp take a shot at his former employer?” “Will Muschamp backhandedly rips Florida’s facilities” and so on…
How about: Muschamp praises improvement of Auburn’s athletic facilities? Because that’s what he actually said. Muschamp neither had a certain tone in his voice nor smirk on his face when answering the question. Did he perhaps insinuate that the Tigers’ facilities are better than those provided by the Gators? Maybe. But that’s no surprise considering the recent major upgrades Auburn has made. What Muschamp was specifically saying was that, in the eight years since he was last with the Tigers, he is impressed at how much the program has done and now understands what recruits were talking about when raving about Auburn’s new facilities. Period. End of sentence.
Similarly, Mullen made headlines on Tuesday for panning his former coordinator’s decision to leave Mississippi State for Florida. “I don’t like anybody leaving for what I would view as lateral moves, to be perfectly honest,” Mullen said.
Look, everyone and their mother knows leaving the Bulldogs for the Gators is not a “lateral move.” This does not need to be debated. Mullen was very much doing his job by making this comment, especially considering he is trying to put Mississippi State football on par with the big boys like Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Florida. So why should the head coach of a program like MSU, which is trying to improve its prestige, throw his hands up and say, “I guess he had to take that job, I would too.” He wouldn’t, especially considering the Gators went to lengths to inform everyone they could that Mullen was not even a candidate being considered for its head coach opening.
Was it a bit of “shade” (as you kids say) thrown at Florida? Perhaps, but there is still a bit too much being made of it.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, Mullen also expressed his appreciation for how McElwain handled the process of plucking Collins from the Bulldogs.
“Jim McElwain called me yesterday, said he’d like to talk to him, which I appreciate,” he said. “I’ve found out on the radio before that a coach left. I appreciate him handling things the right way.”
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