Muschamp Came Home to Gainesville

Will Muschamp took the podium Tuesday night in the press box of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium less than two miles from the house he grew up in. He spent many days at the stadium now known as The Swamp when he was a kid, sitting in the north end zone seats with his father and brothers. What he watched in the stands would soon translate to the backyard of their house on NW 22nd Avenue.

Muschamp spent countless hours playing backyard football with his two brothers, Mike and Pat. Each would choose their favorite player from the early 1980s Florida teams. Mike, now a successful high school coach in Georgia, was always former Florida quarterback Wayne Peace. Pat was former Florida wide receiver Tyrone Young.

Will's choice was different. He always has been that way. Instead of wanting to be an offensive player who got all the headlines, Muschamp would pretend to be former Florida safety Tony Lilly. He's been a defensive guy from the start.

Memories of backyard football are what makes it "fun to get back to Gainesville" for Muschamp. He returns to the place of his childhood, one that occurred walking distance from what has become one of the biggest college football arenas in the country.

The memories also come inside what used to only be known as Florida Field.

Muschamp had vivid memories of standing on the playing surface for picture day with the Florida players. He could never understand why, but his mom always had to wait in line for a picture with Cris Collinsworth. He joked that he understands why now.

However, there was one picture day that sticks out above the rest. An young, unknown linebacker named Wilber Marshall was new to the team, and there wasn't a big group of fans around him begging for pictures and autographs. Instead, the Muschamp family spent a large part of the day with him.

"It made you appreciate a guy -- talking to a young man and then a year later here he is on the national stage against USC and has a phenomenal game and then has the career he has with the Chicago Bears," Muschamp said. "That's a lot of fun to watch."

Muschamp remembers watching from the stands as the Gators upset USC 17-9 in 1982, citing Marshall's play in that game and Charlie Pell circling the field after the win.

Then there was James Jones' one-handed catch to beat Miami in 1982. Despite any controversy Muschamp heard from Miami fans that Jones was out of bounds, he wants to set the record straight.

"All the Miami fans make sure-- he was inbounds," Muschamp said.

Muschamp's family moved to Rome, Ga., just before he started high school at Darlington School, where he played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. Muschamp admits he wasn't a star football player, but he wanted to continue his career at the college level.

His parents spoke with someone in the Florida football office in 1991, and the family was instructed to drive down to Gainesville to meet with Coach Spurrier. They did so, only to sit and waiting for an "awful long time" and no coach was there to see them.

"He was 2-under at the turn," Muschamp quipped about Spurrier, drawing laughs from the crowd. "So I guess we didn't get a chance to see him."

Muschamp went on to play his college football at Georgia where he was a co-captain during his senior year as the starting safety.

He may have played his college football away from Gainesville, but he knows all about the tradition, even after he wasn't living in Gainesville anymore. Muschamp and Spurrier spoke on the phone Tuesday, as the former Florida coach just wanted to congratulate Muschamp.

When Muschamp was announced as the new head coach Saturday night, his phone rang with another Heisman Trophy winner on the line. Tim Tebow called him just to welcome the new coach to The Gator Nation. Muschamp also spoke about looking forward to reaching out to Danny Wuerffel.

Growing up in Gainesville and playing college football in Athens gave Muschamp an early look at the SEC. Coaching at LSU and Auburn only furthered that. He has a familiarity with the conference that was essential to Jeremy Foley in finding a new coach.

"I think you understand a little bit more before you walk into the stadium," Muschamp said. "It's different. It's hard to explain the SEC to be honest with you. It's hard to explain the venues you play in. Hatred is a strong word, but it's close for some of the places you go."


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