Monday, February 19, 2018
Colleges

Will Muschamp earns rite of passage by beating Steve Spurrier

GAINESVILLE

This is where the measurement starts. Against the statue standing in front of the stadium. Against the trophies sparkling in the case. Against the immense shadow looming from the other side of the field.

You want to be a successful coach at Florida?

First, you have to be superior to Coach Superior.

This is where the judging begins. With a young ball coach throwing down against the Old Ball Coach. With a patchwork game plan that dares the other guy's visor to stay on his head. With a big victory in the Swamp against the guy who named it that.

And here's a question:

There in the glow of another winning scoreboard, has Will Muschamp ever looked better?

This is how a Gators coach wins the undecided vote. He leads his team onto the field against Steve Spurrier, and he wins going away. Say what you will about Urban Meyer, who won two national titles here, but in Gainesville, Spurrier remains the most popular coach of them all. And it was memories of how good Spurrier has been on the sideline that made many of his old fans a little nervous going into Saturday's game with South Carolina.

And by the end?

Muschamp 44, Spurrier 11.

And furthermore, blammo.

For Muschamp — for any Florida coach — it will always be a big deal to beat Spurrier, who won the Heisman here, who coached the Gators to their first six SEC titles here, who defined the swagger shared by so many fans here.

"It has nothing to do with me being the Florida coach," Muschamp said. "It has to do with the respect I have for him. Not necessarily what he did at Florida. What he did at Duke. What he's doing at South Carolina. The guy's been good to me since I've been here, and I appreciate that. I have as much respect for him as anyone who has been a coach."

In life, don't you want to be impressive in front of coaches who have impressed you? Think of it like this: If Muschamp hadn't throttled back at the end of the game, the No. 3 Gators could have run up 50 on Spurrier.

In the end, Muschamp will be measured by the titles he wins. Everyone understands that. But here in late October, what more could Gator fans want from a head coach? Muschamp has now beaten two Top 10 programs in three weeks, and his team is 7-0 and ranked second in the BCS standings, and his program is about two years ahead of where anyone suspected it would be by now.

There have been prettier Florida teams, of course. There have been teams with more accomplished quarterbacks and teams with more relentless running attacks and teams that intimidated the opponents at first sight.

Still, there is something to be said for a coach who can win with a mix-and-match offense that often seems as if it is going uphill. For instance, the Gators had the ball for 26 plays in the first half against the Gamecocks, and they gained only 29 yards. For the game, Jeff Driskel completed only 11 passes, but four of them were for touchdowns.

Here's the thing, however. The Gators are winning the only way they can win. They cannot afford for Driskel to drop back and play bombs away. They are not the Fun 'n' Gun with Danny Wuerffel, and they are not give-it-to-Emmitt, and they are not move-out-of-Tebow's-way.

When you get down to it, isn't that how you define "coaching?"

"We are what we are," Muschamp keeps saying. "We don't have a lot of margin for error here. We're a team that's playing defense pretty decent at times. Offensively we're doing what we can to take advantage of the other team."

Of course, it helps if the other team leaves the ball lying on the turf as frequently as South Carolina did Saturday. The Gamecocks set up the Gators for 21 points with three of their four turnovers, which is sort of like filling a bus up with gas right before it runs you over.

"Maybe we just need to say 'Hey, we can't throw the ball anymore. We need to run three times and punt,' " Spurrier said.

Yeah, you remember grumpy Spurrier, too. Wouldn't you be grumpy if you brought your No. 9-ranked team home with you and it laid an egg?

"The only thing you can hope for is that your guys give it their best and don't just lay the ball down and basically say 'Here, Florida, we don't want to win. You guys take this fumble and this fumble and this fumble,' " Spurrier said. "It was a sad performance by a lot of us."

Last year Muschamp had a few of those himself. His first season, it is safe to say, didn't convince a lot of fans.

This year is better. This year his team is stronger and better. The future looks better.

Who knows? Someday Muschamp may get a visor of his very own.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7 the Fan.

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