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For now, Florida Gator fans need to have faith in hire of Will Muschamp

New Florida coach Will Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator at Texas, spent 10 years in Gainesville as a kid, graduated from Georgia and coached at Auburn and LSU. “This is a dream come true,” he says.

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New Florida coach Will Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator at Texas, spent 10 years in Gainesville as a kid, graduated from Georgia and coached at Auburn and LSU. “This is a dream come true,” he says.

Somewhere down the line, you will require more details.

Eventually, you will want to know about defensive schemes and locker-room speeches and recruiting successes. One of these days, you will care more about all of the days in Will Muschamp's life that ultimately led him to the head football coach's office at the University of Florida.

This morning, however, you will have to make do with faith.

Your faith in UF athletic director Jeremy Foley.

And Foley's faith in a rookie head coach.

Because this is a bold move. You might even say a dicey move. Among college football jobs, Florida's is easily one of the top five in the nation. A coach in Gainesville has resources. He has tradition. He has a state full of magnificent recruits.

And so you would assume this job would attract the best and the brightest the NCAA has to offer. That's not to say Muschamp, 39, isn't among them. There are those who believe he is a future legend just waiting for the right campus on which to build his statue.

He certainly has the look of a rising star. He is personable. He is driven. He is known for chest bumps and tirades on the sideline and for 16-hour days and relentless studying in the office.

Muschamp sports a resume and pedigree that scream success. A walk-on safety who became a team captain at Georgia. A defensive coordinator for a national championship team at LSU at age 32. A job as assistant head coach for the Miami Dolphins, and a $900,000 salary as the head-coach-in-waiting at Texas less than a year after hitting campus.

But few people ever make the walk from apprentice to aficionado in the lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Muschamp is going from assistant coach to being in charge of a place where national championships and Heisman Trophies are part of the annual to-do list.

So, yes, Foley could have gone safer. He could have found a name that would not have invited as much scrutiny.

Start with Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. Hiring him would have been second only to finding more eligibility for Tim Tebow. From there you had Boise State's Chris Petersen or Stanford's Jim Harbaugh or TCU's Gary Patterson. They have names, they have success at less-renowned programs, they have the same up-and-comer whiff Urban Meyer had when he arrived in Gainesville.

And maybe Foley discreetly looked into those possibilities. He says Muschamp was the only person he offered the job, and I believe that is true. But I also believe Foley is far too smart to have been suckered into a high-profile meeting when he knew the potential for success was slim. He was not going to let Jon Gruden do to him what the former Bucs coach did to the University of Miami.

Perhaps Foley was focused on Muschamp all along. He certainly has had enough time to prepare for this moment. Although Meyer tendered his resignation last week, Foley has known since the end of last year that he might soon be looking for a new head coach.

So I would assume Muschamp's name was near the top of the list that Foley presumably kept in his top drawer.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

Muschamp is an intriguing hire. A potentially great hire.

He's just not a slam-dunk hire.

No matter how good the references are, and no matter how impressive the work history has been, there is still a risk when a coach has never had the chore of being a program's CEO.

Even so, don't necessarily assume this is Nightmare on Zook Street, Part II. For there is a major difference.

You see, when Foley hired Ron Zook, he had never been a hot coaching commodity. His name was not at the top of lists whenever a major vacancy appeared. His resume as a coordinator wasn't even that impressive.

Muschamp, on the other hand, has been forever's rumor. Along with being the coach-in-waiting at Texas, Muschamp was briefly linked to Notre Dame. And to Tennessee. And he has often been rumored to be Georgia's first choice should things go sour in Athens for Mark Richt.

At the very least, Muschamp has just made things more interesting with some of Florida's biggest rivals.

He went from being a nondescript coach at Division II Valdosta State to being one of the most in-demand defensive coordinators in the nation because of his five-year apprenticeship under Nick Saban at LSU and with the Dolphins.

And he can thank Jimbo Fisher for his relationship with Saban. For it was Fisher who introduced Muschamp to Saban 10 years ago on Christmas Day. Muschamp had been a graduate assistant at Auburn in the mid 1990s when Fisher was an assistant on Terry Bowden's staff. Muschamp had moved on to other jobs but was visiting family in Atlanta in 2000 when LSU was in town preparing for the Peach Bowl.

Fisher was Saban's offensive coordinator, and Muschamp asked if he could visit to watch a practice. Fisher introduced him to Saban that afternoon, and a month later Muschamp was hired at LSU.

Now Fisher is the head coach at Florida State. Saban is the head coach at Alabama.

And Muschamp is the head coach at Florida.

I'm not sure anybody could have seen this coming.

It would have taken a real leap of faith.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

For now, Florida Gator fans need to have faith in hire of Will Muschamp 12/11/10 [Last modified: Sunday, December 12, 2010 12:10am]
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