Recruits first priority for new Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp

GAINESVILLE — Will Muschamp will be officially introduced as Florida's head football coach today, but during the three days since he was hired, Muschamp has spent his time trying to impress the people who matter most right now: the 17 players who have orally committed to the Gators.

Muschamp has been methodically making his way around the state, introducing himself to recruits and reassuring them that Florida is still the place they want to be. Though he has not publicly named any new staff members, recruiting analysts say that has to be his first focus.

"Any time there's a coaching transition, it's tough whoever you are because recruiting is about relationships," said Jamie Newberg, national recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. "And it's tough to do in a short amount of time, especially considering that Muschamp and Texas weren't recruiting the same kids that Urban Meyer and Florida were. So it's new, different kids. Having said that, it's Florida. They have so much to offer, and it's one of the A-list programs in the country.

"I think the critical thing with this one is that they have potentially 11 early enrollees. These kids are graduating from high school in a few weeks, and especially from the offensive perspective — what is he going to do, who is he going to hire, what's his philosophy going to be? Those are a lot of big questions that need to be answered."

Several recruits said Muschamp, who was the Texas defensive coordinator, told them he was considering being UF's defensive coordinator. Monday night, the Tuscaloosa News reported that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a teammate of Muschamp's at Georgia, was offered the Gators' defensive coordinator job. Reports that Texas running backs coach Major Applewhite had been hired proved false, but Texas secondary coach Duane Akina and defensive ends coach Oscar Giles are reportedly being considered for Muschamp's staff.

Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who has expressed a desire to remain on staff, denied reports Monday night that he has been contacted by Texas and said he hasn't had formal discussions about his status with the Gators. UF co-defensive coordinator Chuck Heater could be retained because he's invaluable as recruiting coordinator. Surprisingly, some recruiting analysts believe keeping offensive coordinator Steve Addazio in some capacity (he was also offensive line coach) might be needed for recruiting.

Replacing Meyer will have a hefty financial price. Meyer will receive his $1 million retention bonus, which was scheduled to be paid after Jan. 31. If Smart joins the staff, he'll have to be compensated based on the $750,000 annually he earns at Alabama. Florida's highest-paid assistant is Austin, who earns a base salary of $440,000 annually. And the price for quality assistants might go up with Monday's reports that Auburn more than doubled offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's annual salary to $1.3 million.

The Gators' current eight assistant coaches combine to earn about $2.4 million in base salaries and have one year left on their contracts, which athletic director Jeremy Foley said the school will honor for those who are not retained if they don't acquire jobs.

For Muschamp, who has never been a head coach, hiring a dynamic staff is imperative, because the Gators are rebuilding from a 7-5 regular season.

"I don't think that anybody at Florida would expect a time-consuming turnaround," ESPN analyst Chris Fowler said. "I don't think at the University of Florida you are expected to need multiple years to retool and rebuild."

Muschamp has one week remaining before the NCAA's dead period begins.

"The key is one you want to keep the committed players committed," Newberg said. "This is a really good class that Coach Meyer and the previous staff have built, so you want to keep those guys committed. No. 2, the guys that are on the fence and maybe are going to explore their options, visit a couple of schools to make sure, you've got to keep those guys on board. And then you've got to figure out what do I need to do finish up this class, what areas to do we need to target?"

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Recruits first priority for new Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp 12/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 7:24am]

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