We got a lesson in classy to the end Monday when Will Muschamp turned what could have been a pity party or a chance to vent into a display of how a real man handles adversity. By never pointing a finger at anyone but himself or breaking down into tears or letting nerves frazzled by the events of the previous 36 hours get the best of him, Muschamp turned the Monday press conference in the south end zone meeting room of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium into something other than one of those country and western somebody done me wrong songs.
This couldn’t have been pleasant. How can it be when you have to face the media and talk about how you’ve failed in the single most important professional undertaking of your still young life? But instead of allowing the moment own him, Muschamp owned the moment. Totally. He seemed far more in control of the moment than Dr. Bernie Machen or Jeremy Foley. You could see the agony on their faces as they announced that Muschamp would no longer be Florida’s football coach after the FSU game. Machen and Foley looked like they had been dragged face first down a rough gravel road. It hurt and it had to because Will Muschamp is a genuinely likeable guy who does so much the way you wish everybody would do it. He just didn’t win enough football games. Everything else he did right.
Unlike Machen or Foley, Muschamp didn’t look like a man released from indenture, rather he sounded like the man who will let this adversity become the foundation for something more positive in the future.
More coaches fail than succeed the first time they have to call all the shots as a head coach. For some, like Pete Carroll, it takes a couple of failures before all the right buttons are pushed. Pete was a fine defensive coordinator who lasted one year as the head coach of the New York Jets in 1994. Critics said he had no clue about offensive football. Sound familiar? Carroll went back to his defensive roots as the coordinator for George Siefert and the San Francisco 49ers before landing a second head coaching job with the New England Patriots. In three years with the Patriots, his defenses were again good and his offenses were better, just not good enough. He was fired after going 27-21.
When Carroll re-emerged as the head coach at Southern Cal in 2001, he suddenly had all the answers. The Trojans went 97-19 in his tenure, won a couple of national championships (one stripped because of Reggie Bush) and did it with a combination of excellent defense and dynamic offense. The coach who didn’t know offense had three Heisman winners in four years. In his second tour of the NFL, he already has a Super Bowl ring with a stout defense and another dynamic offense.
What happened with Carroll is what I expect will happen with Will Muschamp. Carroll took some lumps as a head coach before he got pragmatic and re-invented himself. In his time at USC and his second go-round in the NFL, Carroll has allowed himself to be a part of the defensive game planning but he’s taken a hands off approach to the offense by hiring good people and giving them the keys to the Caddy.
As some point, I fully expect Will Muschamp to follow the Pete Carroll route. I think he’ll be somebody’s high-priced defensive coordinator the next three or four years and if he makes the right choice, it will be somewhere that has a dynamic offense with young coaches from whom he can learn. I fully believe he will get another chance to prove himself worthy of being a head coach at a big time program. The way he handled himself Monday almost guaranteed it. There are too many slimeballs in a profession that needs more good guys like Muschamp. When he gets his second shot, expect him to be every bit as good in handling discipline and academics while being a father figure and example to the kids that play for him. And expect him to figure out how to turn the offense over to somebody, too. If he does that, you can almost bet his chance at redemption will have a most positive ending.
This is the perfect scenario. Money is not an object, but stopping people is. The Gamecocks don’t lack for talent, but it’s obvious the defensive coordinator isn’t getting the job done. The yards per game have increased each of the last three years to the point the Gamecocks are giving up 442.3 yards on the average this season and they’ve endured three horrendous fourth quarter collapses in which they blew two-touchdown leads to lose games they should have won. Spurrier needs a new DC desperately and Muschamp would be an ideal fit. Spurrier would turn the defense over and wouldn’t worry. This is a combination that could put the Gamecocks over the top and it would be an extraordinary place to rehab Muschamp’s head coaching possibilities.
Jimbo and Will co-own a beach house on the Florida Gulf Coast. They’re best of friends dating back to their time at LSU when they were coordinators on Nick Saban’s staff. The Seminoles aren’t nearly as good defensively this year as they’ve been the last four. They’re giving up 385.8 yards per game, which is more than 100 yards per game more than any year since 2011. The Seminoles have the talent and they’re recruiting at the highest level. Muschamp would have athletes and unparalleled speed. He could also be a high character addition to a football program whose image is at the bottom of the septic tank.
Any Sumlin-coached team is going to put points on the scoreboard. It’s also true that every Sumlin-coached team at Texas A&M has had its problems keeping the other team off the scoreboard. It is fairly obvious that DC Mark Snyder isn’t getting the job done even with so many high profile recruits on that side of the ball. It’s rumored that only God has more money than the Aggies – their boosters did give $300 million a couple of years ago – so Sumlin would have no difficulty plunking down a multi-year contract worth $1.5 million a year or so to land a guy who knows what it takes to stop SEC offenses. Muschamp was a terrific recruiter when he was the DC at Texas so he’s still got the relationships and now he’s got the inroads into the Florida talent pool.
Bob Stoops has already disavowed interest in the Florida job and by tomorrow you’ll likely hear several others claim they are perfectly happy where they are. You’ll also hear dozens of reports about whose buyout is too expensive and whose bad blood with Jeremy Foley will preclude him becoming the next head coach at the University of Florida, who is too old and who is too inexperienced, etc. You’ll hear every reason in the world why the coach search list has cornered Foley and limited his options.
Here is the reality: If Foley thinks someone is the right fit for the Florida program he will do whatever it takes to land him and money will not be a factor. Just as the Alabama people continue to pony up the bucks to ensure that Nick Saban will grow fat, old and happy in Tuscaloosa, Foley has the same options and without the mountain of debt that they have to shovel their way through at Alabama, you could say Foley won’t be the least bit disadvantaged.
Foley is the best athletic director in the country at managing the bottom line. Florida has an easily managed debt load and there are no strains on the budget. Throw in the added cash bonanza of SEC Network money and it tells you there isn’t any coach out there he can’t get if he deems that coach the ideal fit.
Also, consider this. Foley, more than anyone else, understands that this hire has to be a home run, not only in name but in production after the hire. The last thing he wants or needs is for Florida to become the next Tennessee. Since Tennessee fired Phillip Fulmer after the 2008 season, that football program has dug itself a hole that is still a year or two from seeing level ground again. The Vols have become irrelevant because they made a bad hire and followed that up with another bad hire. Because Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin and followed that up with the Derek Dooley disaster, Butch Jones was something like the seventh or eighth choice because no one wanted to deal with all the problems. It turns out he’s a very good football coach who is going to turn things around in Knoxville, but the fact that so many people said no before Jones accepted the job tells you just how far Tennessee slipped.
That is a mistake that Foley can’t afford to make. The last time Florida made it to the SEC Championship Game was 2009. How many more years without a championship before the Gators are considered a second – or even third – tier program?
That question tells you exactly why Foley has to go for the big hire and won’t let money stand in the way.
So when Bob Stoops disavows interest, pay no attention. He might not be interested now, but if and when Foley calls, Stoops knows that he’s probably going to get an offer he would be crazy to refuse, therefore he will definitely listen. And if Stoops is crazy enough to say no, then it wont take long for Foley to fill in the blank with whoever it is that is Florida’s next football coach.
It’s either pony up or allow Florida to fall another rung or two down the SEC ladder of relevance and further behind Florida State. Jeremy Foley can’t afford to allow that to happen.
College: < DB at East Central (OK) 1983-86 (2-time NAIA All-American)
Assistant coach under: Steve Kragthorpe (Tulsa); Rich Rodriguez (West Virginia)
Head coach at: Rice (7-6); Tulsa (36-17); Pittsburgh (6-6); Arizona State (26-11)
Arizona State salary: $2.7 million
Contract runs through: 2018 season
Buyout: $1 million
Why he would stay at ASU: He has taken a program from mediocrity to on the verge of becoming a real national power. He’s close enough to Los Angeles and San Diego to lure top players to Tempe. They want a winner at ASU but there isn’t the pressure of winning national championships.
Why he would leave ASU: At a school like Florida, he would have no problems getting top tier talent. At ASU he gets the kids that Southern Cal and UCLA pass over. Florida could offer much more money. There are beaches in Florida, lots of sand but no ocean in Arizona. The odds of winning a national championship at Florida are far greater than winning one at Arizona State.
Stats that tell the story: The Sun Devils have averaged more than 450 yards per game in each of the three seasons Graham has been the head coach. This year’s team is averaging 464.8 yards per game and 35.7 points. Arizona State averages more than 280 yards per game and more than 180 on the ground. Quarterback Taylor Kelly missed three games due to injury, but he averaged 214 yards per game, 7.6 yards per pass attempt and 14 touchdowns. Tailback D.J. Foster has run for 872 yards (5.63 per attempt) and six touchdowns. Wide receiver Jaelen Strong has 71 catches for 982 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Gators played with only six scholarship players and a 7-man rotation Monday night when they dropped a 69-67 decision to Miami at the O-Dome. With Dorian Finney-Smith out with a fracture in his hand, Chris Walker serving the last of his three-game suspension, Dillon Graham transferring out and Alex Murphy ineligible until December 14, Donovan played mix and match with odd combinations the whole night. It worked for the first 30 minutes of the game when the Gators built a 15-point lead, but the lack of bodies and size took its toll as Miami hit six 3-pointers in the last seven minutes of the game to come back to win. Donovan hates to lose with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns, but he will turn this into an advantage. The extended minutes were good for freshmen Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza. John Horford used the time to build confidence in his game, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds and Eli Carter showed that he’s fearless with the ball in his hands, scoring 21 points while hitting 8-9 from the field. It was a loss, yes, but things will get better. Even shorthanded you could see how this team is going to be lethal on the defensive end when they have all their moving parts and scoring won’t be a problem.
If you had to guess, where do you think Will Muschamp will resurface next year?
Muschamp’s Monday press conference could have played out like a country and western song but it didn’t. Still, what better inspiration for Tuesday’s music than the B.J. Thomas classic, “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.”