Before Florida's bye last week, Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports honored the anniversary of Ron Zook's termination by making an unflattering comparison between him and current Gators head coach Will Muschamp:
The clamoring for Zook to be fired seemed much louder than the current call to arms against Muschamp, presumably because of perception. Muschamp was a much sexier hire from the outset, and Gators fans emphatically convinced themselves that he might be their long-term future on the sidelines.
But the returns are tough to argue with. Even after leading Florida to a one-loss regular season last year—something Zook never even flirted with—Muschamp still owns nearly the same overall record, speaking to how poor the team has looked in his other one-and-a-half seasons.
And even last year, when Muschamp led Florida to the Sugar Bowl, things ended in despair with a blowout loss against Louisville—a team that couldn't beat Syracuse or UConn and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to steal a win from Southern Miss, which eventually went 0-12.
The wheels have continued to fall off in 2013, as Florida has (admittedly) been ravaged by the injury bug, but hasn't been able to cope with it. The Gators are 4-3 overall, 3-2 in the SEC and three-point underdogs in the annual World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party this weekend.
A loss would be Florida's third consecutive, giving Muschamp his second three-game losing streak in three years at the helm. Those are unacceptable results at a school with Florida's history (not to mention its resources).
Preseason whispers about Muschamp's hot seat seemed premature, but if he's unable to beat Georgia, and his team looks as hapless as it has in recent weeks, they will begin to hold some genuine merit.
This job is far less safe than it seems.
The concept of "Big, Dumb, Will Muschamp Football" was coined as a backhanded term of endearment. It perfectly summed up how UF played last season—ranking 104th in offense and fifth in defense nationally—but so long as the Gators were winning, the term was something to laugh about, not fume over.
Now it's not so funny. The delta of success has run dry, and the term has taken on new meaning. What once connoted winning in spite of playing ugly now just connotes playing ugly.
And something has to change.
"We're inept offensively right now," said Muschamp before last week's bye, per Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun. "We need to make some changes as we move forward."
He's right, but Muschamp probably should have chosen his words more carefully. He might have incepted an idea in his athletic director, Jeremy Foley's, head. If the offense is the problem, and something needs to change moving forward, the hammer won't fall on the players; it will fall on the coach who's proven so offensively dense.
Good coaches win. Period. Injuries or "transition years" are not an excuse for sustained losing. As John Tamney of Forbes astutely points out:
As modern college football history dictates, the big name coaches (Steve Spurrier, Bob Stoops, Lou Holtz, Pete Carroll, Mack Brown and yes, ex-Gator coach Urban Meyer, to name just a few) who’ve thrived usually had dominant teams by year three, and often year two.
Also notable about the successful coaches mentioned is that they replaced failed coaches, and in doing so, inherited relatively failed recruiting classes. In Muschamp’s case he inherited the blue chips lured to Gainesville by Urban Meyer; Meyer the Pete Carroll and/or Nick Saban of his time. Florida fans are not used to this kind of losing, and they’re surely impatient.
The upshot of Will Muschamp's style extends far past the field. Again, it would be one thing if the team was still winning, but losing with a boring brand of football (as opposed to an exciting one) only compounds the problem—especially in terms on recruiting.
Recruiting is never "easy," but doing so at Florida is hardly advanced thermodynamics. The state is lush with talent—more so than any state but maybe Texas—and the program carries a prestige that people care about. High school recruits want to don the blue and orange; to chomp the gator chomp; to wear the signature, cursive helmet.
Muschamp was behind on the Class of 2011, having accepted the Florida job in December of 2010, but his two full recruiting classes in Gainesville have gone well. According to 247Sports, the Gators ranked fourth nationally in 2012 and third in 2013.
This year, though, that prowess is starting to erode. Florida currently checks in at No. 12 in the nation and is well behind in-state rivals Florida State and Miami (which rank sixth and seventh, respectively).
There is still plenty of time to go, but if the 2014 rankings hold true to form, this will be the first year since 2005—Florida's relatively dismal class that ranked No. 21 nationally—that both Miami and Florida State placed ahead of the Gators, signaling an important change in how high school prospects view the Sunshine State schools.
That '05 class, by the way, was the last one Zook had a hand in, and he was fired before it was finished. In his two full classes in Gainesville, Muschamp has brought in an average of 6.5 players from the state of Florida's top 25. Here's a breakdown of the 2014 version:
|Top 25 High School Players in Florida, Class of 2014|
|Committed||No. of Players|
That quartet of unsigned players includes receiver Travis Rudolph (10), offensive tackle David Sharpe (11), receiver Johnnie Dixon (14) and defensive tackle Anthony Moten (25).
According to the 247Sports' "Crystal Ball," here is how their respective recruitments and leanings stack up:
|Unsigned Prospects in Florida's Top 25, Class of 2014|
|Prospect||No. 1||No. 2||No. 3|
|WR Travis Rudolph||UF – 50%||FSU – 50%||—|
|OT David Sharpe||UF – 58%||UGA – 22%||FSU – 19%|
|WR Johnnie Dixson||MIA – 94%||ALA – 5%||—|
|DT Anthony Moten||MIA – 100%||—||—|
Two of those players are all but locks to play for Al Golden at Miami, and while Muschamp has a chance at landing the top two, Florida State is lurking with a chance to poach both Rudolph and Sharpe away from him.
Which harks back to the concept of "Big, Dumb, Will Muschamp Football."
Do prospects really want to sign up and play for that? Now that they've seen it in action and witnessed its potential for failure, would they really spurn the apparent renaissance at Florida State to come play big, dumb football?
The Seminoles have all the momentum in the world this year, both on the field and off it. Rudolph is the prospect who could save this class for Florida, and right now he's choosing (theoretically) between joining Muschamp and Jeff Driskel in Gainesville or Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston in Tallahassee.
Eliminate your bias, Florida fans, and ask yourself: If you were a highly ranked teenage receiver, which one of those options would sound more appealing?