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Questions surround Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp

Steve Spurrier, left, coached had won 34 SEC games before losing his fifth. Will Muschamp has needed just eight to lose his fifth.

Associated Press

Steve Spurrier, left, coached had won 34 SEC games before losing his fifth. Will Muschamp has needed just eight to lose his fifth.

COLUMBIA, S.C.

He was the first one off the field, the first one into the locker room. As Florida players trudged, and as Steve Spurrier cele­brated, Will Muschamp seemed to be the only person in the stadium walking with a purpose.

Maybe he was hurrying away from the disappointment. Maybe he was rushing toward a new day. Either way, the first-year Florida coach left a lot of questions in his wake.

This is the way it goes at big-time programs. If you're not collecting victories, then you're picking up critics. And right now, Muschamp's wins are not stacked real high.

For the first time in 25 years, the Gators have a losing record in the SEC after falling 17-12 to South Carolina on Saturday. Their streak of losses against ranked teams has risen to nine.

So is this Muschamp's fault? Sure, some of it. Maybe a lot of it.

When you're the most penalized team in the nation, when you're 110th in turnover margin, when you've lost this many close games, it's hard not to look at the coach.

It's even worse when you've never been a head guy before and you're with a program that could justify a full-time employee just for trophy polishing.

But blame is not important today. There is enough of that to go around.

The bigger question is whether Muschamp has justified or damaged UF's faith in him. It may be way too soon for a referendum on Muschamp's fortunes as a head coach, but a 5-5 record at Florida tends to look a lot like chum.

Eight games into his SEC career, and Muschamp already has five losses. Galen Hall didn't lose five until his 14th league game. It took Ron Zook 17 SEC games. Urban Meyer was in his 19th, and Spurrier played 38 SEC games before losing five.

"I hate this for Gator Nation. I hate it for our coaching staff. I hate it for Will," said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley. "The guy is a competitor. He's got a fire in his belly. I've had to tell him, 'Will, I can't help you. It's unfortunate, but I can't help you get through this. The future only comes one day at a time.'

"For successful coaches, and I've been around them, the Billy Donovans of the world, the Kevin O'Sullivans of the world, the Urban Meyers, it's always one day at a time. We can't just fast-forward tomorrow and it will be next year. We'll go back to work. And we'll be okay. We'll be fine."

Suggest to Foley that the sniping is bound to grow, and he dismisses the thought with a wave of his hand. He has been through it before and understands the feeding of the beast.

If anything, he says, he is more impressed with Muschamp today than 11 months ago, when he hired him to replace Meyer.

"He's a hard worker. All of his coaches are," Foley said. "I like the way Will handles himself. He doesn't make excuses. He accepts responsibility. 'It's all on me.' He says it every time we lose. 'It starts with me.'

"He doesn't blame the youth. He does say we need more numbers, but that's a fact. We have less than 70 on scholarship. Saying that is not an excuse."

If you are so inclined, this is where Muschamp deserves some slack. The Gators have lost some players early to the NFL, some to transfers and some to injuries. Some hotshot recruits have turned out to be busts.

The receivers look pedestrian, and the defensive line does not appear to have many prospects. There is also the issue of Meyer recruiting specific types of players who do not seem to fit the offense being run by new coordinator Charlie Weis.

All of this is true. All of this is valid.

At the same time, shouldn't Florida be able to rise above that? A 10-2 record might be unrealistic every year, but then again, .500 has to be unacceptable.

So yes, there is room to criticize how the roster has been used. And there are legitimate doubts about the team's discipline on the field and its identity on offense.

Now in his 22nd year as a college coach, Spurrier has never been in charge of a more futile passing attack. Yet he has adapted. He's winning with defense. With a running game. He's lost his No. 1 QB and No. 1 running back and is still alive in the SEC race.

Muschamp and Weis have not yet shown that ability to rise above shortcomings. Maybe their roster problems are more acute than Spurrier's at South Carolina. And maybe, at this point next season, Muschamp will be looking like the brightest young guy in the SEC.

"He's going to keep working. He's going to keep grinding. There is no woe-is-me," Foley said. "He'll probably be back in his office tonight. When you work that hard, you have a chance to be really special."

Muschamp still has plenty of time to prove that.

Even if it's a little less time than he started with.

Questions surround Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 10:19pm]

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