On Friday, it seemed as if Boise State’s Chris Petersen would be the next Florida head coach as rumored swirled that he was meeting with athletic director Jeremy Foley. For the first half of the day on Saturday, rumors pointed to Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops returning to the Gators and agreeing to a mind-shattering 10-year, $55 million deal. Then on Saturday evening, the surprise announcement came. Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp became the 22nd head coach in Florida history.
Sure the announcement came as a surprise, but it shouldn’t come as a disappointment. While rumors circulated citing Petersen, Stoops, and a number of other current head coaches as serious candidates, Foley was working hard on inking a coordinator to a deal. The surprise is because while many had Muschamp on their list of possibilities, almost everyone expected the Gators to go with someone who had pervious head coaching experience. And not just some head coaching experience, but a good amount. In Jimbo Fisher-esque fashion, that wasn’t the case in the end. Florida went with a guy who has yet to be a head coach.
This might be where a little bit of nervousness sets in. The last time Florida named a head coach who hadn’t been a head coach before brought on the Ron Zook era. Remembering that era is sickening to Gator fans and one they work hard to forget. Zook had been in the NFL for the previous six seasons and had never been seriously mentioned as a head coaching candidate anywhere. Not many considered him to have a realistic shot at getting a top job. At times, he was even questioned as an assistant. The same can’t be said about Muschamp.
The now former Longhorn assistant has been linked with a number of head coaching jobs over the past few years and Texas even went as far as to name him their coach-in-waiting. But that’s where the Longhorns went wrong. There was no timetable, Mack Brown was signed through 2016 and had no plans to leave, and there was no buyout clause in Muschamp’s contract. While it made sense for Muschamp to agree to the deal, there was nothing stopping him from leaving for the right job. That job came.
While we’ll never know how much truth there is to this, supposedly Foley only offered one man the job. From the moment Urban Meyer resigned, Foley went after Muschamp. And he got his man, agreeing to a six-year deal with the new Florida head coach. A head coach who knows the city (he lived in Gainesville for 10 years), knows the conference (Muschamp played at Georgia and coached at both Auburn and LSU), and know big games (plenty to mention here). He’s definitely a high energy guy and one that has been given the label of “great” when it comes to recruiting.
Critics will look at Texas’ 2010 season and yell out “huh?!?” but there’s more to that number than Muschamp’s leadership. The Longhorns had a number of problems and Muschamp didn’t suddenly become a bad coach this season. If you’re worried about the 2010 numbers, look back further. In 2008, 18th in the nation in scoring defense. In 2009, 12th. In 2003 – while the defensive coordinator at LSU – the Tigers won the National Championship while Muschamp led the nation’s number one defense in terms of points and yards allowed. 2010 wasn’t ideal, but it was also an extreme outlier.
Muschamp isn’t Stoops. He isn’t even Petersen. But he also isn’t Zook. He’s a solid choice who has a chance to put together a good, young staff that kids love to play for, love to win for, and respect. Muschamp also won’t be the two-year fix type if it works out. Many mentioned Jim Harbaugh as their top choice. Harbaugh wouldn’t have come to Florida, first of all, but he also wouldn’t have stayed after the NFL offers started pouring in. For Muschamp, this is THE job. He, like Fisher at FSU, could find himself with the Gators for the long term if he can get off to a good start. And there’s no reason to believe he won’t. Or at least won’t have every opportunity to.
Florida will always be Florida when it comes to talent. Even Zook pulled in elite players year after year. The problem was Zook couldn’t translate that ability to the field. Even as an assistant, Zook’s abilities were questioned (he was demoted from defensive coordinator to special teams while under Steve Spurrier at Florida). The same can’t be said about Muschamp. Many have been waiting for him to get a head coaching job. It was only a matter of time and he was always linked to substantial programs – Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee, and Washington. Muschamp remained one of the top coordinators to watch over the last few seasons. A program was going to get him and Florida ended up being the one.
As with every hire, time will tell how this plays out. There’s visible nervousness over hiring a man without head coaching experience, but if you’re going to go that route, Muschamp is one of the few you would want. There are those that are disappointed and those that are excited. The same could have been said regardless of who was hired, but this could turn out to be a good one. And one we didn’t have to wait weeks for. That Foley got his man as quickly as he did is extremely important. With recruiting a year-round function of the job, major programs can only be without a coach for so long. Days at the most. Weeks cause problems. Programs such as Florida need to move on and move on quick. The mourning period has to be brief. So in only days, the Gators got a new head coach. One we should all welcome.