Replacing a Legend

When Will Muschamp spent most of Friday on the phone with Jeremy Foley, there was something missing. They shared philosophies about how each saw the football program being built, one person seeming to always agree with the other. As their conversation continued, Muschamp realized what it was. He wanted to speak with the man he would be replacing.

Muschamp was expecting Foley to give him Meyer's phone number. Instead, Foley handed the phone to Meyer, who was already in the room.

Muschamp went into another room for the conversation. His six years in the SEC since 2001 meant he already knew who Urban Meyer was. The two competed against each other in 2006 and 2007, when Muschamp was the defense coordinator at Auburn, but they had never met face-to-face. The Tigers won both games, holding Meyer's usually explosive offense to 17 points per game.

The conversation was simple. They talked about building blocks for a program. Meyer gave advice for ways to ease the transition into becoming the head coach at Florida. The conversation went longer than expected, but Muschamp hung up the phone knowing that he was ready to coach the Gators.

"I talked about the things that I felt like were important in the program" Muschamp said. "It's a lot of the same beliefs in the program that he believes. The more we kept talking, the more and more I started to really like him. I've recruited against him and competed him against him but have never met him. But the more I talked to him, the more I liked him."

The conclusion at the end of the conversation was simple. Meyer's goal was simply to pass on advice that could help Muschamp get into the rhythm of the job early. The advice helped, as the new head coach noted he will use the failures that Meyer was open about, but he left thinking something new.

Meyer steps away as the team's head coach after the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, but Muschamp doesn't want him to go far. Some coaches would want the glow of a coach that won two national championships in six years to be away from the program as they begin to make it their own.

For Muschamp, he wants Meyer as close as he is willing to be.

"I can tell you this right now, as long as Will Muschamp is the football coach here, Urban Meyer is going to be involved in this program," Muschamp said. "I've invited him into the weight room, I've invited him onto the practice field, I've invited him to the meetings and whatever he wants to do because he'll be a great sounding board for me, and he needs to be involved in this program. He knows the players, recruited them all, and he's still helping us in the recruiting class that we've got going this year. He's a great sounding board for me and a part of this great tradition of Florida football."

The stress and long hours of being a college coach took a toll on Meyer. It's a worry that the Florida administration has now learned to help their coaches deal with. Muschamp isn't any different and realizes there is a time to slow down.

However, the next month will be a blur. He spent Monday on the road recruiting and showed up in Gainesville early Tuesday. He will be back on the road again soon to try and make up for lost time with instate recruits.

Muschamp acknowledged his wife, Carol, is a widow during football season. She takes care of their two boys, Jackson and Whit, during the season without Muschamp around the house often. Meyer's issues have Muschamp focusing on the health aspect of the job, but he also knows the way he is as a coach.

"I think when you end every season, you're burning the candle at the bottom," Muschamp said. "I can only speak for me. I can't speak for anybody else. It's something that you've got to work in balance with your family. You've got to work in balance with your health. You've got to make sure that you look after those things. I've tried to do better over the years, but it is tough. Some guys are able to go home at 7:00 and I'm just not. I'm not wired that way. I'm not smart enough. I've got to work longer than other people do and prepare longer than other people do, and that's the way I'm wired. And I'm not saying it's right for everybody, I'm just saying that's the way I do things."

The perception of having Meyer around the program might be tough for other head coaches to handle. All Muschamp wants to do is help his players. Meyer was the coach that recruited players on the roster to Gainesville, so the new head coach wants Meyer to remain in their lives.

It's not about attention from the press or the pat on the back after a victory. Muschamp just wants what is best for the Florida program.

"I'm more worried about perception than I am reality, so the perception can be whatever it is out there," Muschamp said. "I deal in real world-- I deal with reality. And I've got no ego. My agenda is the players and the University of Florida, and it's about winning. That's what the fun is. It's about winning football games and doing it the right way, and however we need to do that, that's what we're going to do."

And if Meyer gets to share in the success of a program built Muschamp builds, no one will have any trouble.

"His wife Shelley, Nicole, Gigi and Nathan will be a part of the Florida family, I can assure you of that. I'm excited to be able to work with him."


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