Monday, January 22, 2018
Colleges

Jones: Once green in Gainesville, Will Muschamp's now confident in Columbia

HOOVER, Ala. — In some ways, it's too bad Will Muschamp isn't coaching the Gators anymore. He's a heck of a nice guy. Funny, too.

During Thursday's SEC media days, the South Carolina and former Gators coach told one Florida writer, "Your voice could be used to torture prisoners of war."

Talking to another Florida scribe, he quoted country singer Justin Moore: "You look like I need a drink."

Even the targets of Muschamp's barbs got a kick out it, and clearly, Muschamp was a big hit. But he was not a big hit at Florida, and when you look back, you still wonder what went wrong.

He's a good recruiter. He knows X's and O's, certainly on defense. He runs an honest program whose kids get degrees. He knows how to do the things all coaches must do, such as schmooze boosters, the media and fans.

So how come he's not in Gainesville anymore?

The Gators took a bit of a risk hiring a guy who had never been a head coach before. Still, Muschamp came with an impressive resume as an assistant and a defensive guru. Texas thought enough of him that he was the coach-in-waiting to take over for Mack Brown.

SEC MEDIA DAYS: Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze: No hard feelings toward Houston Nutt.

When he arrived at Florida in December 2010, one could argue that he inherited a program from a disinterested Urban Meyer that didn't have a whole lot left in the cupboard. After Muschamp got his feet wet and put his system into place during a getting-to-know-you 7-6 first season, the Gators were off and rolling in his second season.

They went 11-2. They beat heavyweights Tennessee, LSU and South Carolina. Best of all for Florida fans, he beat Florida State — in Tallahassee, no less. Florida finished ninth in the Associated Press poll.

The Gators were back.

Then it all went poof. Seemingly overnight. The Gators inconceivably lost their final seven games in 2013, including an embarrassing loss to Georgia Southern in the Swamp, to finish 4-8.

The next season, you knew Muschamp was pretty much toast when Missouri blew out the Gators by 29 points at Florida's homecoming. A few weeks later, before the season was even over, Muschamp was let go. He left with a 28-21 record, though he was 6-12 in his final 18 games.

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On his way out the door, he was classy, but he also said he left the program in good shape. It's clear that he left Florida with a defense that continues to be the strength of the program. But he never found a quarterback, and his offense sputtered, and Florida is the last place in the country where you want to lose games because your offense is terrible.

After a year licking his wounds as Auburn's defensive coordinator, Muschamp is back for a second season as the head coach of South Carolina. And maybe those four years at Florida were valuable after all.

"Whether it's Florida or anywhere else, time as a head coach helps," Muschamp said of his time in Gainesville. "I don't look at it any different than playing a freshman. As you continue to get more snaps, the game slows down for you.''

For Muschamp, the game has slowed down, and he's not talking about on the field.

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"It's all the other stuff,'' Muschamp said. "It's public relations. It's recruiting. It's managing your football team. It's managing your campus. There are a lot of things, hats that you wear, in the role. And certainly, the more at-bats you get, the better you're going to become at it."

Muschamp might also have something else going for him that he didn't have in Gainesville: better facilities. There's no doubt that Florida was behind the times when Muschamp was there. He and former athletic director Jeremy Foley were in the process of updating everything when Muschamp was fired.

"At the end of the day, we don't believe in bells and whistles, but recruits do," Muschamp said. "That's a fact. They want to see new. They want to see shiny. They want to see progress. And there's no doubt that helps you in the program."

SEC MEDIA DAYS: It's still quarterback or bust for Florida.

For Muschamp, what happened at Florida is old news. Now it's about fixing South Carolina. The Gamecocks went 6-7 in Muschamp's first season. Not bad considering they went 3-9 the year before.

They could be a sleeper team in the SEC East this year but still likely are chasing the Gators and Georgia.

"I believe we're on the verge of some really good things,'' Muschamp said.

No one would be surprised if Muschamp's team does some really good things. The only surprise out of all of it is that the team is South Carolina, not Florida.

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