Foley's Risk/Reward Ratio is High

Say what you want about Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, the man has no fear. Almost nine years after turning the Gator football program over to a defense oriented assistant coach who had never been a head coach (Ron Zook), he's done it again. Foley hired Muschamp to replace Urban Meyer on Saturday in a move that is bound to generate strong responses in both directions.

Two years ago, Auburn targeted Muschamp to replace Tommy Tuberville at the helm of their football program, but Texas made Muschamp a lucrative offer to be their "coach in waiting" under Mack Brown, and Auburn moved on to another former Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Auburn partisans wanted to tar and feather the school's leaders over the Chizik hire, screaming that Muschamp would have been the better choice.

Last season, Muschamp's defense was again among the best in the nation, and the then 38-year-old assistant was one of the hottest names in the business, but he chose to remain with the Longhorns. But 2010 was a tough year in Austin. Texas suffered through a 5-7 season (and you thought 7-5 was bad!) and the Longhorns gave up 28 or more points six times. Muschamp's star was tarnished and he was rarely mentioned for head coaching opportunities.

But Foley looked past those numbers. Foley saw a defense that was again ranked among the nation's best in total defense (No. 7) and was handicapped by an offense that committed a ridiculous number of turnovers (26), setting opponents up with too many short field scoring opportunities.

Instead, he focused on a guy who in 2008 and 2009 was the jewel of assistant coaches in college football. He saw a guy who had both played (Georgia) and coached (Auburn, LSU) with a high level of success in the coaching ranks. Foley also saw a young guy who was nationally viewed as a rising star up until the recent struggles at Texas and he saw a guy who lived in Gainesville for 10 years and attended Oak Hall School.

It's easy to see the qualifications that kept Muschamp an attractive candidate, but that doesn't make this hire any less risky. Muschamp has never been a head coach before and the Florida job is among the highest profile positions in all of college football. He has never had to deal with this level of media scrutiny. He has never had to put together a coaching staff. And he has the added issue of trying to finesse a relationship with departed head coach Urban Meyer who may well have a significant role somewhere in the UF Athletic Association. That won't be easy to get just right by any means.

Will Muschamp has the background to be an excellent head coach, which is why Texas paid him so handsomely to be their man waiting in the wings for Mack Brown, but with the Longhorns mentor still not yet 60, there was no way he would stay in that role for another 5-10 years.

Jeremy Foley may have struck gold as he did with Billy Donovan who seemed to have a less than ideal background for a school as big as UF. Or he might have taken a big swing and a miss as he did with Zook. Either way, Florida's athletic director has made a gutsy move with the hiring of Will Muschamp and time will determine the result.

The first indications will come Tuesday when we see Muschamp in a formal media setting, but the more important indications will come from the coaching staff he puts together and the recruiting class he's able to bring in.

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