Will Muschamp: Why He Was The Right Choice For The Florida Gators!

Gerald BallCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2010

GAINESVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 14:  Former defensive coordinator for the University of Texas, Will Muschamp speaks to the media after being introduced as the head coach of the University of Florida on December 14, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida.  Muschamp is replacing Urban Meyer who resigned on December 8 after a 7-5 season.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

A lot of people — including Gator fans — didn't like the Will Muschamp hire. Instead, they wanted someone with head coaching experience, and "the big name." They did not want a 39-year-old defensive coordinator, even if he was the head coach in waiting for the Texas Longhorns. A lot of people are calling him "the next Ron Zook." 

First of all, the Ron Zook comparisons are unfair. A lot of people forget that Ron Zook was a horrible defensive coordinator for the Gators. Steve Spurrier employed Zook in that position during Spurrier's "petulant" phase only because of his conviction that defense - and the running game - were unimportant because with his fun-n-gun offense, he could outscore everybody. So, Zook was only on Spurrier's staff for recruiting purposes. But after the losses in big games due to defensive failures began to mount up, Spurrier "reassigned" Zook to special teams' coach, and Zook ultimately went to the NFL, where he performed poorly at that level also, until he was brought back to Florida largely because no one else wanted the daunting task of following Spurrier. Rather than being a successful coordinator who can't handle the top job, Zook is just a guy who somehow gets opportunity after opportunity despite his failures. He has no similarities with Muschamp whatsoever.

Second, for the people who wanted "a big name", well, name this "big name" that actually wanted the job. More to the point, when was the last "big name coach" to take ANY job. Nick Saban? Different situation: he was leaving the Dolphins before he got fired. Anyone else? Rich Rodriguez I guess, but he was leaving a situation at West Virginia that was going bad due to his conflicts with the athletics director. Bobby Petrino? See Nick Saban: leaving a bad NFL situation before he got fired. Bottom line: proven "big name coaches" changing jobs are rare, and for Florida fans (and Miami fans) to expect that they can be able to bring out the checkbook and hire Bob Stoops, Bo Pelini, Jim Harbaugh, Chip Kelly etc. are unrealistic. And to think that you can go and hire a guy who can have an NFL job tomorrow if he wants one like Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher, instead of a guy who just got fired (Bill Callahan) or is about to get fired ... when was the last time something like that happened?

Look, going after "big names" was a major reason why Foley wound up with Ron Zook in the first place. Foley listened to the Florida fans and went after the Bob Stoops' and Mike Shanahan's and got turned down, publicly humiliated. And when that happened, top coaching candidates — ego driven guys that they are — don't want to be seen as "second choice." If anything, the demand to get a "big name coach" is just ego: wanting to be able to pound your chest and say "our program is better than that program, because we went and hired their coach!" Well, as much as hiring the head coach of Oregon, Oklahoma or Nebraska would have done for the Gators' bruised egos after a 7-5 season, Kelly, Stoops, Pelini and similar have better, more important things to do than be balms for Gator egos. 

OK then, what about a mid-major coach? On the surface, that seems all well and good since Meyer was hired from those ranks, but truthfully it's way harder than that. The only mid-major hires that Gator fans would have accepted would have been Chris Peterson of Boise, Gary Patterson of TCU and Kyle Whittingham of Utah. Anybody else ... well do you know who the head coach of the team that won the MAC is? Or the team who finished No. 2 in Conference USA? My point exactly. Hire those guys and the response would have been "who is he and why is the Gators' coach? Wasn't there somebody else we could have gotten?" All right, what about Peterson, Patterson and Whittingham?

Well ... first off, if you don't think that the Gators' sent feelers out to those guys, you're crazy. They either didn't want the job, or didn't want it on the terms that the Gators were willing to accept. Peterson in particular has let it be known that he is willing to leave Boise (because the WAC and the Mountain West are falling apart) but he wants to retain a lot of guys from his current staff. Keep in mind: Florida did hire Urban Meyer from the mid-major ranks, but Meyer for the most part didn't bring his Utah staff. Instead, he assembled an all-star team of guys with coordinator and head coaching experience. As far as Patterson and Whittingham go, let's just say other schools have attempted to hire them and gotten "thanks but no thanks." 

Also, with the exception of Meyer, small college coaches haven't had a good track record in the SEC anyway. Hal Mumme failed at Kentucky, Jim Donnan failed at Georgia, Bobby Johnson failed at Vanderbilt, Terry Bowden failed at Auburn, Dennis Franchione failed at Alabama (and at Texas A&M), and Houston Nutt had a mixed record at best at Arkansas. And it is not unique to the SEC. The truth is that for every Urban Meyer or Jim Tressel that succeeds in the big time, there are five John L. Smiths that don't pan out. This pattern, by the way, includes TWO former Boise coaches: Dirk Koetter (who failed at Arizona State) and Dan Hawkins (who was absolutely atrocious at Colorado).

Also, many of the small college coaches that do pan out have backgrounds at major schools. Urban Meyer, for instance, was a position coach at Ohio State and Notre Dame before going to Bowling Green and Utah as a head coach. Similarly, Jim Tressel was a position coach at Syracuse and Ohio State before moving onto Youngstown State.

What about a coach that has done a great job at a lower profile AQ school like Nick Saban at Michigan State and Les Miles at Oklahoma State? Fine, name the guy that you want. Art Briles from Baylor? In a couple of years maybe. Jim Harbaugh? Yeah, right ... that guy will either be at his alma mater Michigan or in the NFL in a couple of years, and has a smoother path to the BCS right now in the Pac-10. Randy Edsall of UConn? He gets offers every year and turns them down. The coaches at Missouri, Northwestern, Arizona, Maryland, Oklahoma State ... any of those excite you? What about Butch Davis at North Carolina then, underachieving team and NCAA troubles and all? Exactly.

Then there is the Dan Mullen thing. Sorry, but if Mullen were a big time candidate, he'd have the Miami job right now. Miami never even seriously considered Mullen, and there's a reason for that. Mullen has become something of a cult figure due to the Gators' struggles this year, with some taking it to absurd levels, claiming that Mullen was the real reason for that program's success (never mind that Mullen is only Meyer's THIRD offensive coordinator) and would outdo Meyer at Florida. Fortunately, Jeremy Foley, as Florida's athletics director, well knows that Mullen was only PART of the huge cast of outstanding coaches that contributed to Florida's success during the Meyer era.

As a matter of fact, Florida's defense played a bigger role for the two national titles than did the offense, and so did the recruiting in getting guys like Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin to Florida. And when you consider that Charlie Strong was the constant in the great defenses (even after Greg Mattison left for the NFL) and also in the great recruiting classes, he played a much bigger role than did Meyer. If Strong, Meyer's assistant head coach and had been a defensive coordinator in the SEC since 2002 (and also an assistant head coach under Spurrier in the early 90s!), was never a serious candidate for the Florida job - nor should he have been - what on earth would have justified the lesser experienced and accomplished Mullen's being hired?

Also, please don't overrate Mullen's accomplishments at Mississippi State. Mullen has one victory over a ranked team at Missisippi State in two years: over Ole Miss in 2009. It is not for lack of trying, but instead Mullen's teams are 0-8 against Arkansas, Auburn, Alabama and LSU. Also, they lost out of conference games to Georgia Tech and Houston (both at home). And it isn't as if Mullen hasn't had anything to work with at MSU.

The truth is that his predecessor, Sly Croom, recruited a pretty good bunch of athletes to Mississippi State, and his teams consistently fielded good defenses. Croom's only problem was trying to run a pro-style, west coast offense in Starkville. Had he run an offense that was better suited to his talent, Croom would still be at Mississippi State. And even there, Mullen's 13-11 record his first 2 years at Mississippi State is only slightly better than the 12-13 record that Croom produced in his last 2 seasons (and it can certainly be argued that the SEC was tougher and deeper in 2007 and 2008 than it was in 2009 and 2010). 

Another key element: because of Urban Meyer's high profile as having been the first "BCS buster" at Utah (and doing so before the extra rules were added to make it easier for the non-AQ teams, and against a much tougher schedule than Boise and TCU have played since), he was able to assemble that "all-star team" of assistants. Mullen doesn't have anywhere near the profile that Meyer brought to Florida, so he would not have been able to assemble a group of veteran, accomplished well-known assistants.

Mullen would have the task of trying to hire and manage a bunch of guys who would consider themselves to be more qualified — and more deserving of a big time head coaching job — than Mullen is. It would have been a recipe for failure, especially after people would have seen that Brantley would have done no better in Mullen's offense than he would have in Meyer's. (It isn't the playcalling; against SEC defenses you need a QB that can both run and make plays throwing the football while on the run ... let's just say that Florida fans simply refuse to acknowledge just how good Chris Leak was in getting Florida to 9-3 in Meyer's first season, and leading a national title team the next year.)

Ultimately, Florida was somewhat left in a lurch with Meyer's stepping down in a season where there were no obvious up and coming guys (like Brian Kelly last year) and no NFL refugees with a track record of college success like Nick Saban or Butch Davis a few years ago. (The only possible exception: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, but he has health issues.) When you look at what was out there, the realistic candidates who would have actually taken the job and done so on terms that Florida could accept (again, meaning guys who wouldn't demand to bring their own staffs or who didn't pitch some plan for Florida that actually had a good chance of success), Will Muschamp was the best guy out there. When looking at the candidates available in 2010, Muschamp really was the guy available who gave the Gators the best chance to succeed.

The only other guy who comes close: Brian VanGorder, defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, former defensive coordinator of the Georgia Bulldogs, and head coach of Georgia Southern and some other smaller schools. Only problem: VanGorder is trying to win a Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons, and if that happens, VanGorder will be the head coach of an NFL team in a couple of months.

Now of course, this does not mean that Muschamp is guaranteed to succeed. Sometimes, guys who are extremely qualified on paper do horribly. Example: FSU offensive coordinator Brad Scott. And sometimes, guys who seem like horrible hires do great. Example: Gene Chizik and his 5-19 record at Iowa State when Auburn hired him. And some of Muschamp's initial moves don't inspire confidence ... his claims that he has not offered anyone a coordinator job and statements that there is no timetable ... excuse me but haven't you heard of this thing called RECRUITING? Even more disconcerting is his suggestion that he might either serve as his own defensive coordinator or call the plays on defense.

But the fact remains that Muschamp was the best hire that could have been made this year. He deserves the full support of the Gators, and time to get his own system and players in. Honestly, it could be a rough first couple of seasons. Things are totally a mess on offense, as the Gators merely have talented bits and pieces. Who would be the top WR or the top RB? And does Brantley automatically deserve status as the incumbent QB? No matter what scheme the Gators run on offense, it is going to take time to get an identity and talent. Defense: more of the same. The Gators lose 6 senior starters from that side of the ball, plus juniors like Jaye Howard (whose backup is a senior), Janoris Jenkins and Will Hill may not stick around. Also, Florida's defense will have their third coordinator in 3 years, and Muschamp's philosophy (a hybrid of the 4-3 and the 3-4 with man-pressure coverage in the secondary) doesn't mesh with the talent on hand ... for instance who on the Gators' current roster would play the DE/OLB hybrid position that Sergio Kindle did for Muschamp's better defenses at Texas?

Also, why on earth would he offer 34-year-old Kirby Smart to be defensive coordinator and basically be tasked with implementing Muschamp's defensive philosophy, especially with Muschamp considering calling his own plays? (Note to Smart: you'd be nuts to take that job; you have a better one already.) And why does his offensive coordinator need "NFL experience?" 

But those are the sorts of things that will work themselves out. The key is for Florida fans to expect the rough patch, to not view Muschamp as a "carry over coach" until they can get the next big name (which is basically what Alabama shamefully did to Mike Shula, who carried that program through death-penalty type sanctions only to be unceremoniously dumped for Nick "Overbook" Saban). And Muschamp has sounded some good notes, including strongly hinting that Florida's severe off-the-field problems (why this hasn't been a bigger concern for Florida fans is a mystery) won't be tolerated under his regime. 

Ultimately, Florida hired the best coach available, and Gator fans should treat this hire accordingly.