GAINESVILLE — Will Muschamp began a love affair with football as a 6-year-old ballboy at Oak Hall School in Gainesville — where he later played middle school football. He grew up a Gator fan and once dreamed of walking on with the Gators after a serious leg injury playing baseball hindered his chances of being recruited.
Now he will begin his career as a collegiate head football coach in Gainesville with the Gators.
Muschamp, the former defensive coordinator and coach in waiting at Texas, was hired Saturday night to become Florida's new head coach. He replaces Urban Meyer, who resigned this past Wednesday.
The 39-year old has 16 years of coaching experience, but has never been a head coach.
"This is a dream come true to be the head coach of the Florida Gators," Muschamp said in a statement released by Florida athletic officials. "I grew up watching the Gators and whatever other SEC team was on television. I have great memories watching SEC football with my father on Saturdays and playing football in the back yard with my two brothers right here in Gainesville."
Those who know him well describe Muschamp as fiercely determined, and someone who has always known what he wanted.
"Will has pretty much always been in control," said John Clifford, a longtime Gainesville high school coach who coached Muschamp in seventh and eighth grade at Oak Hall School and has remained friends with him and his family. "He always knew he was going to be good at football and always worked his butt off. He's always worked as hard as he could to be in control of his own destiny. His father Larry told me that was a direct quote from Will when he was about 7 years old: "I'm in control of my own destiny."
Muschamp has 12 years of experience in the SEC — eight as a coach and four as a former player at Georgia (1991-94) where he earned his way from a walk-on to a scholarship player by the spring of his redshirt freshman season.
In the mid 1990s, he was hired as a graduate assistant at Auburn. Muschamp worked his way up through coaching at smaller schools, eventually becoming linebackers coach and then defensive coordinator at LSU in 2001. As defensive coordinator at Auburn, he was a finalist for the 2007 Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach.
Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley said he would not shy away from hiring a coach without head coaching experience if he found the right man. He apparently believed all along in Muschamp.
"We are thrilled to have Coach Muschamp lead our football program," Foley said. "Coach Muschamp is someone we targeted from the beginning and he is the guy we wanted. He is the only person we met with and the only person we offered the job to.
"When we started the search for our next head coach we wanted a coach who was familiar with the Southeastern Conference. We wanted a candidate who was a relentless recruiter and was familiar with recruiting in the state of Florida. We wanted a candidate who was high energy and had been on the big stage. We wanted a candidate who was respected by his players and his peers and we wanted someone who had a passion for the University of Florida. Coach Muschamp is all of those things and more."
In his five seasons as an SEC defensive coordinator, Muschamp's defenses ranked among the nation's top 10 in total defense. In four of his eight seasons as a Division I-A defensive coordinator, his teams allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing per game and twice led the nation in rushing defense while giving up fewer than 75 yards rushing per game. His 2003 LSU defense led the nation by allowing 67 yards per game on the ground, the best mark by an SEC team in this decade.
"Coach Muschamp is a great hire for the University of Florida," Meyer said. "He is a relentless recruiter and brings a tremendous amount of energy and passion to the game. I would run into him on the road often on the recruiting trail and have always been impressed with him as a coach and a person."
Coincidentally, there will now be three head coaches in the SEC who were part of LSU's 2003 national championship team's staff — Muschamp, Nick Saban (Alabama) and Derek Dooley (Tennessee).
Muschamp is expected to have his first meeting with the team on Tuesday, when he will also hold his first press conference as Florida's head coach.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]