Rebirth: The Muschamp Era

From the storied Swamp of Florida Urban Meyer announced on
December 26, 2009 that he would retire, due to health concerns, as the head
coach of the Florida Gators following the upcoming Sugar Bowl. We were in
shock.

The next day, he would change the word “retirement” to the phrase “indefinite leave of absence”. We were confused.

After the Sugar Bowl victory he said he planned “on being the coach of the Florida Gators”. We were hopeful.

On March 17, 2010 he recommitted himself back at the helm. Some were joyous, others skeptical (I was just relieved that Steve Addazio wouldn’t be “handling full responsibilities”, but that’s for another day).

This was our guy: he renewed rivalries; declaring beating the Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Bulldogs, and Tennessee Volunteers was mandatory. This was our leader: his bowl record was 5-1; his overall record was 65-15. This was our king: he brought to us Tim Tebow and a Heisman, three SEC East Division Titles, two SEC Conference Titles, and two National Championships.

And yet, even with all that success, his intentions were questioned.

Right before the second National Championship game, his friend, protégé, and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen announced he would be accepting the Mississippi State head coaching position. In December 2009, he lost another longtime friend to a head coaching position, that time, defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville. He would soon be losing Tebow to the NFL.

Once the 2010 season started, there were more questions than answers.  There always seemed to be off the field struggles, now, there were on the field struggles. There were three QBs – why was the one least suited to run his spread option offense starting? Why did he move Mike Pouncey from LG to Center when there was a highly recruited freshman Center? Why was the backup plan for an injured kicker to replace him with a punter?

Urban Meyer seemed more subdued, less intense. I chalked it up to Doctor’s orders. The Gators were undisciplined and sloppy. I said it was because there wasn’t chemistry yet between the seniors and the highly touted freshman. The offense was disastrous at times, and the play calling wasn’t much better. That was because Addazio didn’t know what he was doing, he wasn’t Dan, I reminded anyone in earshot. The defense looked unconditioned and lacked fundamentals. I argued if Charlie Strong was still the DC this would not be an issue. Their record was 7-5, the most losses in a season Urban Meyer had
experienced in 10 yrs. That was because Tebow was now wearing a different shade of orange and blue.

The excuses always came, no matter how many times I asked “What is happening?!” because I, and the rest of Gator Nation, had faith. We had an appreciation for what Coach Meyer had done, for what he had given us in the seasons before. If one thing will always ring true in the heart of a Gator, it is this: in all kinds of weather, we’ll all stick together.

On December 8, 2010, Urban Meyer retired once again. This time, we weren’t shocked, we accepted it. We knew. What we knew was that just one year ago, he was ready to walk away from coaching football. What he wasn’t ready to do was walk away from his players, the University, and Gator Nation. We knew he tried, one more time, for us. He bled orange and blue, just like we did. Suddenly, the 2010 season wasn’t what was important. What was important was the legend he became, the legacy he left behind. He was our guy, our
leader, our king.

The throne was now empty and whoever dare to claim it would face a fierce battle with boosters, fans, the media, the high school parents and recruits – at least, for a little while.

The rumor mill was on maximum grind when seemingly out of nowhere the heir to another throne stepped into the fire.

We all held our breath for the announcement: Will Muschamp was our new head coach. Upon exhaling, some rejoiced, others scoffed.

Coach Muschamp took to his press conference like a man on a mission. His mission? To gain acceptance, and to prove he was ready to be our leader.

I sat in front of my monitor with my heart pounding as he began to speak. He spoke with passion and poise; he said “I’m excited about the opportunity” and that “at the University of Florida, the expectation is to win championships”. He had already begun to soften me.

He went on to talk about leadership and mental condition. He said “If our kids don’t want to get their degree, they don’t need to be here”. He called it the “Florida Way”. With those words, he had won me over.

His opening statement lasted 20 minutes. At times he was rattling off the names of coaches he had worked with in the past, as if he was convincing us he deserved this sacred job on hallowed ground. He talked about Gator and SEC history. I officially welcomed him back to Gainesville with a hearty chomp, and mused at the excitement and intensity of our new guy.

Will Muschamp spent 10 years growing up in Gainesville, before heading back to his native Georgia where he played for the Bulldogs (I’m trying really hard not to hold that against him). He went on to Auburn where he received his Masters and became a graduate assistant. In 2001 he joined Nick Saban’s staff at LSU as the linebacker coach, then quickly rose to Defensive Coordinator in 2002. When Saban left the Tigers for the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season, Will left with him and became his Assistant Head Coach of Defense.
In January 2006, he left the Dolphins to return to the SEC, and Auburn, to become the Defensive Coordinator. Two years later, he would leave Auburn to accept the co-defensive coordinator position at the University of Texas. In November 2008, Texas announced that Muschamp would be Mack Brown’s successor, and along with the title “coach in waiting” came a hefty salary increase.

During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Texas went 25-2, and Muschamp’s defense was credited for most of that success. Texas played for the National Championship in 2009 and lost to Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide 37-21.
He is considered a “relentless recruiter” by Urban Meyer. He has been nicknamed “Coach Boom” by Longhorn fans for his enthusiasm and explosiveness on the sidelines.

Thirty arrests in 6 years? His alternate nickname is “Coach Blood” (he ignored blood pouring down his face after a cut in the first game of the 08 season). I have a feeling the guy can set undisciplined student-athletes straight. And if he can’t? Then you don’t play for him.

He has played on the big stage, recruited on the big stage, and been an assistant to some of the biggest names on the big stage – always waiting for his spotlight. He now has the leading role in one of the biggest productions.

To sit at the Gator throne, you must prove yourself worthy. You must exceed expectations. You must redefine greatness.

We will see if the legend continues with a new legacy, a new Prince, on Saturday, September 3, 2011 from the storied Swamp of Florida.

 

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