Will Muschamp grew up a huge Florida fan, regularly attended Gators football games with his family, loved former UF safety Tony Lilly and, by his own admission, bled orange and blue.
But during his nine years growing up in Gainesville, Muschamp never attended an annual booster gathering where Florida coaches give speeches and sign autographs.
Now he's not only attending, he's the star of the show.
Muschamp, 39, will continue his 10-city tour at a Gator Gathering tonight in Tampa. He will be at Raymond James Stadium (West Club) and is scheduled to speak at about 6:30.
Muschamp's first Gator Gathering in Lakeland last month drew more than 1,000 fans. He received two standing ovations (when he took the stage, and following his speech), and he has been well-received all over the state.
The attendance numbers, he said, show that Florida fans are, well, fanatical.
"I'm glad they are," Muschamp said. "It just shows the passion and energy. I've said it before, I've been in the Swamp before on the wrong sideline. There's no better place to play college football than that environment you walk into. And a lot of that goes to the passion that our fans have."
When Urban Meyer took over at Florida's coach before the 2005 season, he attended a record 22 booster club functions in his first year. Although the event was cut back drastically in subsequent seasons, it became too much of a chore for Meyer. In his final season he was on sabbatical and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio spoke at all Gator Gatherings.
Although it's still early in his tenure, Muschamp insists he considers traveling to meet and speak with fans and boosters a privilege. And the first-year Florida coach doesn't take the responsibility lightly.
"I think it's great," he said. "You want to be at a place like this. You want to coach at a place like Florida. The passion and the energy and the enthusiasm. When they get upset, heck I'm usually upset, too. I get it. I understand the expectations. I've got high expectations, too."
This may be his first job as a head coach, but Muschamp is not a rookie speaker on the booster circuit. As the coach-in-waiting at Texas, he said he did "an awful lot" of speaking engagements with fans and boosters, which may explain why he has been so well-received so far.
"I think it's important to get out and see everybody," Muschamp said. "A lot of these folks are the ones sitting in the stands buying the tickets. So I think it's important to get out and see them."
When this is all over, Muschamp and his family will take a few weeks in the summer to hang out on the beach, spend time together and rejuvenate.
Yes, in that beach house he co-owns with Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. The two now lead teams that are bitter rivals, but their friendship is intact and there are no plans for either to give up the house.
"We're fine," Muschamp said.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.
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When/where: 5-8 p.m., Raymond James Stadium (West Club). Muschamp is expected to speak at 6:30.
Admission: Reserved and VIP tickets are sold out. General admission tickets remain ($20), and walkups are welcome, but it may be standing-room only.