clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Will Muschamp Fired At Florida - What Lessons Does He Offer?

New, 249 comments

The former Longhorn coach-in-waiting is done after four years in Gainesville.

Sam Greenwood

Muschamp was let go after a brutal home loss to a substandard South Carolina team, dropping the Gators to 5-4 with a non-con gimme and Florida State still left to play.  This was Florida's sixth home loss in its last eight games. Muschamp will coach out the rest of the season, while Florida, still one of the best ten jobs in college football, evaluates a long list of national candidates.

Muschamp is currently 27-20 (17-15 in SEC play) at Florida overall.

After forsaking Austin - a place where the hard-charging and fan-beloved Muschamp frequently came into conflict with a stagnant culture of meddling complacency and grew less confident each year in an indefinite Texas succession plan to succeed Mack Brown - Muschamp took over Florida, struggled to 7-6 in his first year, went 11-2 in his second and seemed to have the program headed in the right direction.  The preseason magazines agreed.  Florida was back.

The Gators went 9-12 over their next 21 games.  There are plenty of lessons to be gleaned from Muschamp's failure at Florida and for power programs like Texas, it's the most informative of cautionary tales.

If Charlie Strong doesn't pan out here (I hope and think he will), his epitaph will probably look eerily similar to Coach Boom.  Impeccable coaching background, great success as a defensive coordinator, highly motivated and passionate, honest and hard-working.

How could it go so wrong when so many sleazebags and nitwits succeed?

Why Did Will Muschamp Fail?

Urban Meyer's Legacy.  Urban Meyer is probably the best coach in college football.  He's also an amoral mercenary, if not an outright charlatan, when he and the media start peddling his St. Urban shtick.  A Bill McCartney redux.  He quit Florida when he fully realized the number of ferals, mental midgets, sociopaths and well, actual murderers (alleged), he'd assembled in Gainesville. Coaching MS-13 isn't much fun.  So he quit to concentrate on family and recover from stress (he created for himself - that part is always omitted).  Only to immediately take the next top ten job where he could start anew while painting himself as Ohio State's reformer.  Brilliant.  The national media was just credulous enough to buy it.  He got out while the getting was good (Pete Carroll nodded in appreciation) and left behind a legacy of dominance, high fan expectations and a horrific locker room.

The Gator arrest record was impressive when they were kicking ass, but that team became insufferable and un-coachable when focusing agents like Brandon Spikes and Tim Tebow moved on and left unproven coddled ingrates who'd learned from watching Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez that any behavior was acceptable if you balled on Saturdays.  The problem was that they increasingly could not.  The talented idiot to good guy roster ratio tipping point balance is a delicate one.

Muschamp's necessary deep purge eroded the base of Florida's depth.  There's now a reasonable vein of young talent that can function in normal society in Gainesville, but the next coach gets to mine it.

Takeaway?  Once you lose a locker room completely, don't stick around.  And be careful who you follow.  And if you take over that rotten locker room, understand that your sacrifices for long term culture - applauded at first by most fans - will turn to resentment very quickly if it means actual losses piling up like cordwood.  Fans, like voters, vastly prefer symbolic gestures to ones with actual consequences.

Injuries/Bad Luck. Muschamp slapped a leprechaun gypsy woman and ran under a ladder while chasing a herd of black cats some time in late 2010.  Fact.  The Gator litany of unlucky injuries at QB and on the OL over four seasons is something only a 2014 Texas fan can truly appreciate.  I'll spare you the butcher's bill, but suffice to say, Florida rarely started an acceptable OL and their QB play ranged from bad to...unbelievably bad.  Last year, Florida lost EIGHT STARTERS to season-ending injuries. Combined with Muschamp's massive purge two years earlier, their replacements were wanting. Playing those youngsters too soon will pay off in 2015/2016.  For another coach.  It's also a sad fact that bad OLs result in more injured skill players.

Takeaway?  If you ever see your OL systematically depleting from simple neglect, fire everyone immediately.  I can tell you what's coming.  And the clean-up is long and ugly.

Quarterbacks Matter.  A Lot. The long-honored paradigm of winning big with the gutty leader QB (read: talentless) who doesn't make mistakes, hands the ball off a lot and throws the occasional wide open play action touchdown is no longer practicable unless every other aspect of your program is absolutely elite.  The rules favor offense and constant offensive innovation means that teams with inferior talent will no longer consent to "playing proper football" and running dives repeatedly into the teeth of your NFL DL, allowing you to eke out manly 20-10, 17-13 and 21-3 wins.

Good college quarterbacks are the giant eraser on your offensive pencil.  They can fix a lot.  Bad quarterbacks make your offense write in ink. Florida wrote everything in permanent crayon.  Left-handed.  It's not that Florida's highly rated QB prospects didn't pan.  It's that they were so consistently bad it's difficult to conceive that they'd ever received any form of evaluation outside of their 40 time, frame and how they look in jeans. And unfortunately, their gutty two and three stars played like one stars behind wanting OLs coordinated by puzzling hires. Some of this was inherited, some it was simple bad luck, some of it was an evaluation model screaming for an overhaul.  The lack of QB quality interacted with the bad OL and questionable coordination in a constantly reinforcing loop of terrible.  The only way to disrupt that loop was to upgrade one of those three components.  Or all of them at once.  It never really happened.

Takeaway: Learn how to evaluate and develop the QB position.  And luck into a Colt McCoy, Doug Flutie and Aaron Rodgers from time to time.  It'll add five years to your contract before you're found out.

Will Muschamp's Coordinator Mentality. This is the most important factor.  Coordinators who can't think holistically like head coaches rarely flourish in the big job.  Former elite Florida DC Bob Stoops approached his offensive hires from the standpoint of what would keep him up at night as a defensive coordinator?  This is the proper attitude.  You don't hire a young Mike Leach to run your offense in 1999 without conviction and Lake Tahoe-like clarity about your goals.  Most defensive coordinators think in terms of ball control, comfort and protecting their precious defense.

Will Muschamp appears to have not thought at all.  Charlie Weis was a proven fraud and tone deaf hire, Brent Pease had exactly one year of successful offensive coordination under his belt at Boise State (where teasing out program effects and coaching acumen is a fool's errand - he also OC'd at 1-AA Montana - see Boise State program effects, please) and Kurt Roper is a derivative Cutcliffe disciple who hasn't had a chance to demonstrate his real mettle yet. Will Muschamp didn't have a clue of what he wanted to do on offense.  Still doesn't. Even a suboptimal, but clear plan (with accompanying recruiting built around that idea) is vastly preferable to inarticulate floundering.  Muschamp never thought seriously in any way about a key aspect of his program.  He'd have done better with a dart board or outsourcing to Bangalore.

Takeaway?  Florida played four years of good to elite defense under Will Muschamp.  He cleaned up the culture. Recruited well. And now he's fired.  Because he never stopped thinking like a coordinator.  Or thought about his goals on offense at all.  This is kind of important.

**

I'm enormously sympathetic to what Muschamp faced at Florida - he inherited Barry Switzer's circa 1987 OU locker room, had heavy helpings of horrendous luck and couldn't unearth a good QB who could make the offense passable enough to turn numerous heart-breaking losses into two touchdown wins.  He also repeatedly slit his own throat in his coordinator hires, making unearthing that magical QB all the more unlikely.

Ultimately, Muschamp will get another chance as a head coach.  There's too much there to not afford him that chance - his ability to recruit and relate to players, his integrity, his defensive acumen, his passion.  But if Muschamp doesn't spend the next few months and years thinking seriously about the lessons learned at Florida, it'll be I've Got You, Babe on the morning radio alarm and another day in Punxsutawney.