If you think Jeremy Foley ever considered cutting Will Muschamp loose last season after the Gators sunk to depths lower than the whale poop on the bottom of the ocean following the shocking loss to Georgia Southern, think again. Foley stood by his man and continues to stand strong by Muschamp, whose fourth year as Florida’s head coach kicks off in a week against Idaho. Speaking on the Paul Finebaum Show Thursday afternoon, Foley made it perfectly clear that he’s (a) got plenty of confidence in Muschamp and (b) he’s got his head coach’s back.
Here are some excerpts from Foley’s conversation with Finebaum.
On what Foley learned last year about Muschamp: “You find out a lot about people when you go through seasons like that. One thing I’ve told you and I’ve told a lot of people: I’ve watched Will and again, when you’re 11-1 like you were the previous year, it’s a different deal. When you’re 4-8 it’s a totally different deal and then you find out what people are made out of. I like what Will’s been made out of through this past year and I like what the University of Florida and my staff has been made out of. There’s been a lot of resolve, no excuses, we own it.”
On the anger of some of the fans after last season: “You have to do what you think is right for the place you work for. We’ve always tried to do that at the University of Florida. I think that if you listen too much it can distract you; it can cause you to make decisions that are not necessarily the right decisions. You have to believe in what you’re trying to get done. You’ve got to believe in people and you’ve got to make decisions. We’ve tried to do that. Obviously you want to pay attention to your fans. They’re the ones paying the bills, writing the tickets, so there is a balance there but if you spend your entire time reading that stuff, listening to that stuff ... you wouldn’t get your job done. It would get too fatiguing. At the end of the day you’ve got to put your nose to the grindstone, you go to work and you have to do what you think is right for the place you work and for me, that’s the University of Florida.”
On what went into the decision to keep Muschamp on the job: “You evaluate. It’s not all based on one game, one win, on one season. You get a sense of what’s working and what’s not working and that comes with experience. We’ve made decisions that are good and we’ve made decisions that are bad, that haven’t worked out. That’s the nature of being in a leadership role but you try to get as much input as you can to make whatever decisions you have to make and at the end of the day you make a decision. That’s part of my job.”
On the outcry after the loss to Georgia Southern: “You can’t be based on one game. I’ve never believed that. You have to look at the totality of what is going on. You have to look at the man, you’ve got to look at what he’s building, you’ve got to look at his players, you’ve got to look at his staff and you’ve got to look at how he’s reacting to a difficult situation. You get input from people who are around him every day, people who are around me every single day. That was another difficult day on a bunch of difficult days last year. The best I felt about last year was after the FSU game because now the season was over and now we can begin to fix this thing. We can make whatever decisions we need to make and Will made some decisions on his staff ... we can begin to try get our message out to the Gator Nation that this wasn’t acceptable, that we were going to get it fixed.”
More about what he (Foley) was thinking at the end of the season: “I’m a guy who likes to see a situation, deal with it, fix it and then move on. I wasn’t able to do that during the year. But the Georgia Southern game didn’t change the way we felt. It was a disappointment, a tough one. Tough for your fans, tough for your coaches, tough for the Gator Nation. I try to evaluate coaches based on where we are headed, where I think we are headed. We don’t do that in a vacuum. We have a lot of people advising me. Where are we going to be two years from now? Where are you going to be a year from now, those type of things. It all goes into the equation.”
On the message it would have sent if he had fired Muschamp: “First of all you had a coach who was SEC Coach of the Year, 11-1, one game away from playing for the national championship. No excuses. Last year was what it was, but now you’re changing coaches? I don’t know what you sit down and talk to the next coach about when he asks you about what kind of environment you have, what kind of support will I have, will you be in the foxhole with me? Yeah, I’ll be in the foxhole with you when you’re 11-1. That’s what the message would have been. I didn’t waiver at all because I believe in Will and my staff believes in Will, my president (Bernie Machen) believes in Will and we’re excited about where we’re heading.”
On Muschamp taking responsibility for 4-8: “Owned it. He’s the boss. He’s the head football coach and he has to own that. He did. Never pointed fingers, never made an excuse. That’s what leaders do. I think Will’s a real leader and I think he’s going to be our football coach for a long, long time.”
On what he likes about Muschamp: “He’s confident. To be honest with you, last season the best I ever felt about where we were headed with our football program was when I was talking to him. He always has a plan. I like his demeanor around people. I like his demeanor around our players. I like the fact he has been around obviously one of the all-time greats in Nick Saban. I like the fact he had coached in this league. To be honest with you, and I understand we’re not putting up enough points on the board to satisfy a lot of people nor to win enough games last year, but I like the fact he coached defense and I think that in the Southeastern Conference you have to play defense with the best of them. He’s really good at that and his track record has shown that. The more you’re around him you see his passion for the game. I like the fact he was going to be the next coach at Texas. I like the fact he grew up in Gainesville, Florida. He grew up a Gator fan. I think there is something in his blood.”
On what will determine Muschamp’s fate at the end of this season: “What is the number that we have to win this year? What is the magic number? I’ve just told people we need to be better. We need to be moving in the right direction. Everybody will know if we are or not. Will will know, we will know, you will know. I’ve never put expectations on a coach on how many games they have to win or how many championships they have to win. We just need to be better as a football program and I have every confidence in Will that that’s what’s going to happen here. I’ve seen the way we’ve worked, I’ve seen the way the staff has worked, I’ve seen the way the players have worked this preseason. I’ve seen Will. At the end of the day we have to win some games. The Gators need to be better and moving in the direction that will put us back where we want to be and that’s in the hunt for SEC titles and obviously national titles.”
Comment: Foley made it perfectly clear that Muschamp is his guy and he expects Muschamp to be the coach at Florida for a long time. If you go by pedigree, Muschamp certainly has what it takes to get the job done, but the proof will be on the field. As long as the Gators make progress this season, Foley will be happy, but what if the Gators go 8-4 or 7-5 this year and then do the same thing next year? What happens if the Gators go two more years without making it to Atlanta? Florida hasn’t won the SEC East or made it to Atlanta since 2009. At some point winning enough games to get to the SEC Championship Game will factor into the equation, but that won’t be this year. It will be soon, however.
Brett McMurphy, the excellent college football reporter for ESPN.com asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five Plus Notre Dame to describe their teams in one word. The word from Florida coach Will Muschamp was perhaps exactly what you would expect from a coach whose team endured an incredible rash of injuries, couldn’t put the ball in the end zone and came away with 2013 with a season to forget. Muschamp’s one-word description: “Hungry.” A hungry team is a dangerous team and barring something unforeseen such as another unheard of rash of injuries, the Gators will indeed be dangerous in 2014.
#2 Alabama: Nick Saban’s one-word description -- “Untested”
Comment: There’s plenty of talent. Will talent trump a lack of experience?
Arkansas: Bret Bielema’s one-word description -- “Motivated”
Comment: The Hogs probably are motivated but if they lay another egg like last season will they stick with Bielema?#6 Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s one-word description -- “Experienced”
Comment: Auburn made it to the national title game with a quarterback who was learning on the fly. This year Nick Marshall actually knows what he’s doing.
#12 GEORGIA: Mark Richt’s one-word description -- “Wow”
Comment: Is that “wow the offense is off the charts” or is it “wow, our defense really sucks”?
Kentucky: Mark Stoops’ one-word description: “Improved”
Comment: If the ‘Cats are 100% improved they win four games. That could happen. Maybe.
#13 LSU: Les Miles’ one-word description: “Unknown”
Comment: LSU puts so many players into the NFL you can always say unknown, but at the end of the year, the Tigers will have at least 10 wins and everyone will know the name Leonard Fournette.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen’s one-word description: “Hungry”
Comment: We will know September 20 (LSU in Baton Rouge) if the Bulldogs are for real. If they win, the rest of the SEC West better buckle their chinstraps.
#24 Missouri: Gary Pinkel’s one-word description -- “Confident”
Comment: Confidence is a good thing. So is having experienced offensive linemen and receivers. Unfortunately, the Tigers don’t have those things.
#18 Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze’s one-word description -- “Relentless”
Comment: The Rebels have a starting 22 that can match up with just about anyone in the SEC. It’s that second 22 that is cause for concern. If they stay healthy, they’ll be really good.
#9 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier’s one-word description -- “Decent”
Comment: Stevie Wonder hasn’t been this confident about a team since 2001 Florida.
Tennessee: Butch Jones’ one-word description – “Committed”
Comment: The Vols are so young that they’re probably going to drive Butch crazy. So yes, he might feel like it would be a good thing to be committed – to an institution – many times this year.
# 21 Texas A&M: Kevin Sumlin’s one-word description -- “Eager”
Comment: Yes, but can the Aggies actually stop anyone. You would think that with all the athletes they’re stockpiling in College Station that someone could actually tackle and cover.
Vanderbilt: Derek Mason’s one-word description -- “Audacious”
Comment: Derek Mason seems to think the Commodores can win the SEC championship. This year. Now that is audacious.
In one word, how would you describe the Florida Gators?
The Main Squeeze is a Chicago-based funk/soul band that is just as comfortable playing its own very cool music as it is bringing its own style to some rock and roll and soul classics. This is a terrific live band that spends a lot of the winter playing clubs in Florida. They’ve put out two albums of their own music, but I do like their version of songs such as the Jerry Garcia-written, Grateful Dead staple, “Eyes of the World.” These guys will be performing at the Bear Creek Music Festival at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park November 13-16 and it’s a show worth taking in as long as it doesn’t interfere with football.