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New Florida Gators football coach Will Muschamp sounds good; now he has to back it up

GAINESVILLE — When he finally got around to saying hello, Will Muschamp ran up the score.

Four days after he agreed to become the football coach at the University of Florida, Muschamp spoke as if he were prepared to talk for the next four. He was suddenly part coach and part street preacher. He stood in front of the room, the words spilling out of him, and he took time for neither breath nor blinking. He was bold, he was confident and in a 42-minute opening argument, he managed to hit every right note.

Muschamp spoke, and you could see why Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley decided to offer him a job on the spot. He spoke, and the Gator players in the room seemed ready to follow him to the field to play right then. He spoke, and you could imagine a key recruit or three nodding along to the passion in his voice.

He spoke, and you thought … Maybe.

This is the easy part, of course. The worst football coach in the history of chinstraps knows what to say at an introductory news conference. He knows to talk about championships and academics and meeting expectations. He knows to reference legends and tell stories and to stress the importance of recruiting. After all, hellos are easy, touchdowns are hard, and no coach ever lost a game while being introduced to the media.

So what are Gator fans to expect of a coach whose last name includes the words "us" and "champ?"

Except, well, everything.

No, this was not a slam-dunk hire. This is not the hiring of a favorite son who is ready to come home, the way it was when Steve Spurrier decided to come home. This is not the hiring of the hottest prospect in the country, a head coach who had had successes elsewhere, the way it was when Urban Meyer hopped on board. This was the hiring of an assistant coach who has never been a head coach.

On the other hand, this was not the mystifying hire of a head coach that no one in the Top 20 was set to hire, the way it was when Ron Zook came on board.

In other words, this is a wait-and-see hire. Whether the Gators won or lost depends on, well, whether Muschamp wins or loses.

Let's face it: If Foley had chased Boise State's Chris Petersen or Utah's Kyle Whittingham or TCU's Gary Patterson, things would feel a little less nervous in Gainesville this week. But Foley sees Muschamp as the perfect fit for the program.

Guess what? Muschamp sees it, too.

When the two talked for 7-8 hours on Saturday, Foley kept talking about how he wanted someone with a high work ethic, someone who could recruit, someone who knew the SEC, Muschamp found himself getting excited.

"I felt he was describing me," Muschamp said. "I know there will be critics or whatever talking about not hiring a guy with head coaching experience. I certainly understand that. Again, I feel I'm the right fit for Jeremy, and I can certainly tell him he's not going to regret that."

For Florida, Muschamp had better be the right fit. These are difficult times for the Gators. They lost five times this season, three of those at home. They lost to FSU. They had the wrong quarterback playing for the wrong offensive coordinator, and along the way, a program got lost.

Muschamp must try to restore order. He has to save a recruiting class, and assemble a coaching staff, and unite a fan base that splintered as Meyer seemed to grow more and more distant. He has to restore the swagger that separates Florida fans from most, and he has to make high expectations seem realistic again. At some schools, the fans are with you, win or tie. Here, the faithful are with you right up to the point where you win by less than 17. Then they get grumpy.

"When you're 7-5, you've lost a little of your mojo," Foley admitted. "If Urban hadn't been through the things he's been through, he was capable of getting that mojo back. When you're 7-5, you've got some fixing to do. I think Urban made that comment. There are some things broken around here. We've got some work to do."

And is Muschamp the repairman the Gators need?

"There is no doubt in my mind," Foley said.

Put it this way: If Muschamp's game plans are as expansive as his speech, he's got a chance. Muschamp made a point to remember every coach the Gators have had in decades except Charley Pell and Zook. He referenced every Gator in the ring of honor except Emmitt Smith. He talked of playing games as a child on 22nd Street Northwest where his brother Mike was Wayne Peace and his brother Pat was Tyrone Young and he was Tony Lilly. If he had another three minutes, he would have broken into the alma mater.

Blue collar, he said. Physically tough, he said. Championships, he said. A new offensive coordinator, he said, and that alone will win him points among Gator Nation. In other words, Muschamp said everything that Gators fans wanted to hear. Now, we will see if he can provide them with everything they want to see. After all, the hard part of the job comes once they start keeping score.

Look, Bob Stoops went to Oklahoma as an assistant who had never been a head coach. Bo Pelini did the same at Nebraska. On the other hand, Charlie Weis and Zook were assistant coaches who fizzled in the spotlight.

So what happens with Muschamp? Can he be a CEO? In Foley's words, can he sit in the chair? Does he have the qualities that separate good coaches from bad ones?

We'll see. At Florida, where there is enough tradition, enough money, enough of a recruiting base, there is no reason to expect anything less than excellence.

For now, Muschamp has a chance.

What else could a coach ask for?

New Florida Gators football coach Will Muschamp sounds good; now he has to back it up 12/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 7:14am]
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