Coaching for pride (again): Muschamp gives it one more go against FSU

As I wrote a few weeks ago before the Georgia game, pride is a powerful incentive, maybe even more so than tangible objects, like paychecks or trophies. Everybody in the world wants money, and everybody who plays sports or competes in some way wants treasure to add beside their name.

But pride- wanting to win because you want to win- separates those who win the prizes and those who dream of winning them.

And now, with one final game to coach as the head Gator, Muschamp is going to be coaching for pride.

Pride carries people toward goals regardless of the stakes. Pride is what drives professional and college players to play their hardest. Pride is what drives a 6-4 team to victory over an 11-0 team. Pride is what gives the offensive line that big push on 4th and 1 in a game that has no real implications for them.

And believe it or not, it’s Will Muschamp who understands this most. Yes, his win/loss record is a sickly 28-20. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is a proud man.

Let’s go back in time a few decades to when Muschamp was a kid. As a junior in high school, he played left field for his high school baseball team. In the middle of his chase for a fly ball, Muschamp crashed into his shortstop and broke his leg, apparently ending his football career. A metal rod was inserted into his leg to hold the bones together- but it was only really intended for him to just walk around again. His various offers to play college football vanished, including any interest that then Gator coach Steve Spurrier had in him, which crushed Muschamp- Florida was his favorite school growing up, since he was raised in Gainesville. So without any scholarship offers, he walked on at Georgia.

Muschamp was well aware that the majority of his fellow Bulldog teammates were there on scholarship, and he wasn’t. They were all being paid their college tuition just to play football, while Muschamp was no different than any other non athlete who applied to UGA undergrad. If you play college football as a walk on, it means you’re a hard worker, and good for you… but it’s as certain a sign as there is that you’re not playing professional football. It means that college sports is the highest level you will ever compete in. The NFL is a tiny window, but everybody who gets a scholarship to play for an SEC school- even Vanderbilt- has at least the faintest glimmer of hope that his career will continue professionally.

Muschamp did not care that he would not play in the NFL. He knew his football career was about to end, but that didn’t stop him from playing with all he had. He played in every game at Georgia from 1991-1994 and was named a captain in his senior year. Quite a jump from being a walk on, but that’s what happens when you give it your all, literally every day, for years. And lots of people can read that and shrug and say, “good, he played with all he had. Big deal.” But anybody who has ever played football knows that it really is a big deal.

Playing with all the energy and effort you have when the door to an NFL future has been tauntingly closed on you is pride. Merely playing as a walk on is pride. Leading the secondary of a 6-4-1 Georgia team in tackles his senior year is pride. Finishing fifth on the team in interceptions is pride. Muschamp played his entire career at the University of Georgia for pride, bottom line.

Now it’s 17 years later. Muschamp accepted the head coaching job at Florida, and once he got settled into Gainesville, he set about decorating his office. One of the first things to go up, nicely concealed in a glass case, was that steel rod doctors inserted into his leg in the spring of 1990. It’s a reminder of adversity, Muschamp says. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, he continues. He’s faced adversity all his life, most recently the last two years of his coaching career. Sometimes, the adversity was too much to overcome, whether it be on the field like against South Carolina (kidding) or in real life off the field, like not getting any scholarship offers to play college football.

That’s one of the bad parts of life. Sometimes, the situations you are dealt cannot possibly be overcome in the way you’d like. It sucks, but it’s true. But if you are able to erase the original goal you were shooting for and just give it everything you’ve got without thinking about a tangible reward for your effort- i.e. do the best you can just because- good things may happen that you don’t expect.

Yes, he is a dead man walking. And unless Jimbo Fisher hires him as a defensive coordinator at FSU, he will never get another chance to participate in this rivalry.

But he has one more shot now.

Muschamp can’t think about the future, because short term, it’s not very bright for him. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for Muschamp as the Florida coach. There’s no SEC Championship he can still win, not even a trip to Atlanta to play for. There’s no contract extension awaiting him. Like everyday people playing a game of pickup, Muschamp has no tangible reward to hope for, no trophy or title to shoot for.

Once again, all Muschamp has left is his pride. And now, the proud native of Gainesville has to summon it, the way he did at Georgia to go from a walk on to a team captain, in order to save face and salvage something from a forgettable four year tenure at Florida.

Focus for the week should be on FSU, not next head coach

Florida is going to have a new head coach next season. We know that. But for this week, Florida has a coach, and it’s Will Muschamp, and his Gators face their biggest rival of all this Saturday.

I know, I know. I wanted Muschamp out last year. And yesterday, I was told that Bob Stoops was the favorite to be the next Gators’ head coach (which my source tells me that as of this publishing remains the same).

But the fact is, he’s not right now. (And he may never be, unfortunately). So instead of spending the entire week debating who will be, won’t be, could be, should be, or shouldn’t be the next head coach, we need to instead focus on the game we have at hand. It’s Florida State. You know. That sketchy school to the northwest that just about the entire country has labeled “evil” and is now begging Florida to beat and keep out of the College Football Playoff. (Actually, the words Saturday Down South used were: “Help us, Florida Gators. You’re our only hope.”) The team that has won 27 straight, but has looked mighty vulnerable all season.

Ten years ago, Ron Zook was a dead man walking, but he guided his Gators to a victory over 8th ranked Florida State in Tallahassee. Now, the circumstances are eerily similar. Florida has another lame duck in Muschamp, FSU is chasing another national championship… etc.

Can Florida pull the upset? I’ll say this for now: I think they have the ingredients to do it. FSU’s biggest threat all year has been its offense, while its defense has been suspect at best. Meanwhile, Florida’s defense has been outstanding all year, and could pose some problems for Jameis Winston (remember, they harassed him early in last year’s game). In fact, Florida’s defense is probably the best FSU will have faced all year. Combine that with a solid running game and the fact that Florida has nothing to lose, and I really do believe that Florida has a chance.

So let’s worry about that this week. This is, after all, one of the game’s biggest rivalries. And Florida has a history of ruining FSU’s seasons, such as 1991, 1996, 1997 and 2004. The opportunity this current team has to wreck another one should be the primary focus of the week. We’ll have the entire month of December to debate our next head coach.

For now, let’s focus on doing the world a favor, and beat FSU.

Source: Bob Stoops is the favorite to be the next Gator head coach

A source has told me that Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops is the “definite favorite right now” to succeed Will Muschamp at Florida.

It makes sense on a lot of levels. After three great years as Florida’s defensive coordinator, including a national championship, Oklahoma hired him as its head coach. He guided the Sooners to a national championship in just his second year (2000), but after that, things sort of soured. With the national title he’d brought in Year Two, Oklahoma fans have demanded similar success each and every year, and even though Stoops’ teams have always been good, they haven’t won the biggest prize since. That may be starting to wear on him, and even though Florida fans are just as impatient as OU fans (if not more so), he’ll be embraced because whatever he does will be better than what Muschamp did.

Before you set off the fireworks, though, I am going to caution you. Nothing is finalized at this stage of the year, with a week to go in November and two more games for Stoops’ team to play. No contracts have been signed (obviously). Things can change.

But if this turns out to be true, it’s going to be a fantasy come true for Gator fans.

A big factor in hiring the next head coach is previous head coaching experience, and Stoops has that. In his 16 years at Oklahoma, Stoops has built a dynasty, winning a national championship and eight Big 12 championships. Another factor Jeremy Foley is looking at is his ability to run a clean ship off the field, and Stoops has done that too, at least to the best of his ability. Obviously, no school is lily white, but you don’t hear Oklahoma in conversations regarding dirtiest football programs in America.

Now, onto the technical reasons.

Stoops is primarily a defensive coach, which on the surface doesn’t really sound too good after our last two defensive coach hires turned out to be failures (Zook and Muschamp). But Stoops has a lot more going for him than Muschamp.

First, Stoops knows how to surround himself with great assistant coaches, especially on the offensive side of the ball, which has always been a problem for Muschamp. In particular, his last three offensive coordinators have been outstanding. Kevin Wilson ran a high flying no huddle attack for nine years, highlighted by a Heisman Trophy for Sam Bradford, five Big 12 Championships and three national championship game appearances, and he was followed up by a pair of co-coordinators in Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, who have also been quite successful. So while Stoops is a defensive guy, his offenses have always been very effective because of his ability to put guys who know what they’re doing in charge of the offense (and because he can recruit).

Next, Stoops wins rivalry games, and big games in general. Sometimes, the things that make fan bases happy are just as important as the x’s and o’s schematics. And after Muschamp’s sorry 2-5 record against Georgia and FSU (next week’s game against the Noles still pending), that in of itself is a major upgrade. Stoops is 12-3 against archival Oklahoma State, and 10-6 against border state rival Texas. Those teams are the equivalent of FSU and Georgia, respectively. Of course we can’t count on going something like 23-9 against our two biggest rivals, but we can at least sleep the night before knowing that Stoops will always have his teams ready to play.

And yes, Stoops does have a bit of ignominious history in big bowl games. But there was a stretch in which he had his Sooners play for the national championship in four of nine seasons. How many big games do you think he had to win to get his team to that position year in and year out? That’s right, a lot. Yes, he lost one BCS Championship to Florida, another to LSU, a third one to USC and he lost that crazy Fiesta Bowl to Boise State. But Stoops’ teams have maintained their dominance in the Big 12 throughout his tenure, which makes me giddy if he does indeed come to Florida.

Florida 52, Eastern Kentucky 3: We’re going bowling

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It’s weird to say with such joy, but: the Florida Gators are going bowling.

On senior day in the Swamp, Florida crushed hapless Eastern Kentucky 52-3 to get their sixth win of the year. Without the Idaho game to bolster the record, Florida now sits at 6-4 for the year. Again, it’s kind of sad to be relieved to clinch bowl eligibility, but… I’m relieved.

Jeff Driskel actually threw for more yards than Treon Harris did, but by the time he came into the game, it was all over, courtesy of two Harris TD passes and a nifty run by Kelvin Taylor. Harris looked good for most of the game, hitting several deep balls and putting some nice touch on the intermediate routes that have to be perfect. He did under throw Quinton Dunbar on one deep ball, but Dunbar adjusted, caught it, broke a tackle and scored anyway.

Defensively, it was a joke. Eastern Kentucky got a long field goal off a 36 drive that started at their own 30; aside from that, the Gator defense was flawless. Eastern Kentucky never scored again, and didn’t even really threaten to. The Colonels were held to 142 yards of total offense. That’s a damned good last defensive performance by Will Muschamp’s group.

In any case, it was no surprise that Florida blew Eastern Kentucky out of the water in a fashion that was only slightly less convincing than what we did to Eastern Michigan. Then again, Florida did lose to Georgia Southern last year… But this is a much better team than the glorified hospital ward the Gators rolled out last year. And that gives us hope looking forward, both next year and more importantly for now, next week.

Florida State appears to be obscenely overrated. The Noles have struggled every week against even the worst of their opponents. Yet they find ways to win every week, kind of like Florida did in 2009. This is a decent FSU team, but decent is about equivalent to being about the fifth or sixth best team in the SEC. The Gators may not be world beaters, but I am convinced that they can beat FSU if they play their best game. Treon Harris is throwing the ball with some confidence, the running game is beginning to flourish and the defense is playing better football now than they were in September and October. And hey, this team has nothing to lose, while FSU has literally everything to lose. Just like in 2004.

There’s much more to come during the week about the big rivalry game. For now, let’s just enjoy the fact that we’ll be playing around Christmastime.

Top Five Candidates to Replace Will Muschamp

Here’s a look at our list of potential candidates to replace Will Muschamp so far.

“The Bone’s” list

My list: 20-16

My list: 15-11

My list: 10-6

And so we conclude our master list with my top five.

5) Art Briles

Current Job: Baylor Bears

Current age: 58

Overview: Art Briles has worked wonders with Baylor since a disastrous 8-16 start in Waco. Since 2010, he’s 42-17 as the Head Bear, and his teams play an exciting style of football that has me jumping at the bit to get him. Before he coached Baylor, he led the Houston Cougars for a few years, and led them to several seasons that were above their expectations. OK, so that’s not a ringing endorsement, but this was a Houston program that hadn’t won eight games in a year since 1990 until shortly after his arrival a decade ago. And his teams look good on the field, too.

Pros: His offenses are always outstanding and his QB’s are almost always wildly successful. Between RG3, Nick Florence and now Bryce Petty, Baylor has always been outstanding at pitching it around under Briles. All that talent we keep bringing in at the skill positions would finally be utilized in his machine like offense. He’s also done about all he can at a small private school like Baylor, where recruiting is limited because of the small size and strong religious affiliation. There’s no such ceiling at Florida. With the way he recruits, Briles could have his pick of players from the Sunshine State (and he’d still have ties to the state of Texas).

Cons: He’s a bit younger than Spurrier, but the age is a similar concern. Briles would be 59 years old by the time he’s hired- not exactly over the hill like Bobby Bowden at the end but too old to count on to stay at Florida for very long. The current Gator program is a mess; fixing it would take time even with the talent currently in place, and though I have no doubt he would do it just the way he did at Baylor, you’d have to wonder how long he’d stay and enjoy the glory years before retiring.

Chance he takes the job: 10%. Briles would have to be a little intrigued by the idea of recruiting at a place that basically recruits itself- SEC, facilities, state of Florida, 3 national championships in the past 20 years- but he’s set up his roots in the Lone Star State now. Luring him out would take a great pitch from Jeremy Foley. I think that ship has sailed.

Overall Grade: 95%. Again, though, there’s the age thing. He’s a great coach, but just like with Stoops, I believe Jeremy Foley missed his chance to hire him after 2010. Now he’s a Baylor man, and even if he does take the Florida job, he’s at the age where he could suddenly retire any day. Are we really willing to bring on the possibility of enjoying six years with Briles only to have to do this all over again then? I want a coach for sixteen years, not six.

4) Gus Malzahn

Current Job: Auburn Tigers

Current age: 49

Overview: Malzahn is another offensive mastermind (starting to feel a pattern here? You’re right!) with an impressive track record at multiple schools. He helped develop Cam Newton into a Heisman Trophy winner 2010, and guided the Tigers to a national championship. In their first year without him, the Tigers fell into a terrible depression in 2012, going 3-9 and firing head coach Gene Chizik. Malzahn immediately left Arkansas State (where he went 9-3) and returned to Auburn… and poof, they were a play away from a national championship. He worked wonders at Auburn, he can definitely work wonders at Florida.

Pros: Malzahn employs a hurry up, no huddle offense. You know, like the one Will Muschamp promised to run successfully but never really did? Yeah, that. Except Malzahn’s actually works. He specializes in mismatches, getting elusive players the ball in space, and he can turn almost anybody with speed into a dangerous player. See former Georgia defensive back Nick Marshall, who is now Auburn’s QB. He’s also proven to be an exceptional play caller. On top of that, he’s a master recruiter, which would translate into even more success on the recruiting trail at Florida. So, yeah. Lots of pros.

Cons: Hard to really find one. The only reason he’s not higher on my phone call list is because I don’t think he’ll leave Auburn for Florida- it’s a lateral move. If I had to nitpick to find a weakness, I’d say that his defenses are not always the best.

Chance he takes the job: 2% And that 2% is based on the assumption that Auburn suddenly gets nailed for some obscure violation committed under Tommy Tuberville and he’d have to pay the price. Really, that percentage should be lower, but I’m not doing fractions or percents of a percent. It’s worth the phone call, but Foley better have some other phone numbers in hand as he dials up Malzahn.

Overall Grade: 99%. Malzahn can make a national championship team out of nothing overnight. That’s not to say he’d automatically do it again at Florida, but the intrigue is enough that I’d take him in the snap of a finger.

3) Kevin Sumlin

Current job: Texas A&M

Current age: 50

Overview: Kevin Sumlin and Art Briles have quite a bit in common, working their way up through the ranks in the state of Texas to finally land a premiere job. Sumlin’s stock as a coach has taken a hit with the recent struggles of his Aggies. But he’d still be a phenomenal get for Florida if they could reel him in. The argument that Johnny Manziel made Kevin Sumlin is starting to look less foolish and more legitimate, but remember that he also developed Case Keenum at Houston. He’s no one trick pony, as he likes to say, and I recall that both “The Bone” and I had him as a potential candidate to replace Urban Meyer in 2010 (though he was way further down on my list than The Bone’s). But yes, he’d be a great hire- if Jeremy Foley could get him.

Pros: The Air Raid offense, when run correctly and with good enough players, is impossible to stop and very difficult to even slow down. Nobody knows it better than Sumlin, who really put himself on the map when Johnny Football rode it to a Heisman Trophy in 2012. This was after Houston’s Case Keenum was at the controls at Houston and guided the Cougars to a perfect regular season. If not for Southern Miss spoiling the part in the Conference USA Championship Game, the Cougars might have crashed the BCS party that year. Oh, and Sumlin can recruit pretty well, I’m told, which will work out both locally and in terms of importing talent from Texas. Anyway, Sumlin could be an instant success at Florida if the recruiting rankings over the last four years are even somewhat accurate.

Cons: The only knock against Sumlin that holds any water is his lack of building defenses. People say that it’s always been a problem at Texas A&M, but it goes back with him to Houston. The reason they lost to USM in the conference title game is that the defense surrendered 49 points. That can’t happen at Florida. But this can be fixed with a solid defensive coordinator.

Chance he takes the job: 6%. Pick a percentage between 5% and 10%. Texas A&M’s recent struggles could make him bolt, I suppose. But that’s really all I have to offer in terms of hope. He’s settled into the state of Texas, and as attractive a job as Florida may be, I don’t think he’s willing to leave A&M to rebuild another program.

Overall grade: 95%. Sumlin would build this Florida program into a runaway locomotive that not even Nick Saban would be able to stop. OK, so his team’s defensive struggles are a tad bit concerning. They’re not nearly concerning enough to stop me from wanting him as the next Gator coach to resurrect this crippled Gator program.

2) Bob Stoops

Current Job: Oklahoma Sooners

Current age: 54

Overview: Other than his three years as Florida’s defensive coordinator, Stoops appears to be a very enticing candidate. He’s a defensive minded coach, unlike the rest of the guys on this list, but he always surrounds himself with solid assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson (now at Indiana). Yes, Stoops is an Oklahoman now, and I really think Jeremy Foley missed a great shot to snatch him up after Urban resigned in 2010. But sometimes, second chances come around…

Pros: Stoops puts out winning teams year in and year out at the highest level of college football outside the SEC West. Bottom line. Other than in a few major bowl games, his teams have always proven to be elite. And even though he has a defensive background, his offenses are always dynamic. Whether it’s Sam Bradford, Landry Jones or Trevor Knight at the controls, the Oklahoma offense is always one to fear. Plus, he can recruit as well as anybody in the business. And he’s 12-3 against archival Oklahoma State.

Cons: Nothing really glaring, except that he has a history of losing big bowl games. But that’s a silly reason not to hire him. I was just trying hard to find something wrong with what I believe is a great fit. And unlike Muschamp, at least he can get to them.

Chance he takes the job: 35%. Stoops came really, really close to taking the Florida job following Steve Spurrier’s resignation. I never thought there would be a chance he’d take the job again after being spurned in 2010, but something I was just told leaves me to believe there’s a real chance now (more on that next week).

Overall Grade: 98%. Stoops would be a fantastic get for Florida. In terms of combining realistic options and dream options, Stoops is second in line behind only one. I’d be beyond thrilled if we got him.

1) Chip Kelly

Current job: Philadelphia Eagles

Current age: 50

Overview: Kelly is yet another offensive genius, and the one I’d like the most. The four years he spent as the head coach at Oregon were magical for Ducks fans, and I’d often catch myself impatiently awaiting the really late kickoff times the Ducks were relegated to as members of the Pac 10 (and later the Pac 12). Even before he became the head man, I loved watching his offense when he led them as the offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. The offense he runs is much more exciting than the Grunt N’ Punt employed by Muschamp, with the speedy guys he recruits getting the ball in space and making guys miss. It’s all about mismatches, and Kelly is a genius at exploiting them.

Pros: Uh, his teams can score points? I don’t think I need to get into the schematics of why Chip Kelly would be a great hire for Jeremy Foley. He’s the dream hire for the consensus- 65%- of Gator fans because of what his offenses can do. In addition to that, he doesn’t take any shit from anybody. His star running back, LeGarette Blount, punched a Boise State player who was mocking him, and Kelly immediately banned him for the season (though he would reinstate him for the Civil War at the end of the year). You misbehave, you get punished. So basically, Kelly is a combo of Muschamp’s discipline and Urban Meyer’s utilization of talent on offense. With pretty damned good recruiting abilities, I might add.

Cons: If by some miracle he does take the job, I’m not sure how long he’d stay. The only reason I can see him leaving Philly in the first place is that the Eagles do something to make him unhappy, and then he’d only come to Florida if no other pro job opened up. Four years was enough for him at Oregon. I’m thinking he’d be even less patient at Florida.

Chance he takes the job: 2%. And that’s being optimistic. He appears very happy in Philadelphia.

Overall grade: Since I’m not doing decimals, 100%. Chip Kelly would be the second coming of Jesus, a dream hire. There is nobody else I would rather have at the University of Florida than Kelly.

Florida Gators Coaching Candidates: 10-6

We’re halfway through the week, and we’re hallway through with the master list of who should be the next Gator coach. Or, should I say, who I believe would be the next Gator coach.

This is the stage of the list where you’ll start to see some of the guys Gator Nation has been clamoring for. Now, that doesn’t mean Florida will get these guys, or even call out to them (in fact, Jeremy Foley has even ruled out one of the guys you’ll see on this list). It’s just who I feel would be the best fit for Florida going forward.

Here’s a rundown of the official In All Kinds Of Weather list so far:

The Bone’s list.

My list: 20-16

My list: 15-11

So here’s numbers 10 through 6 on my list:

10) Steve Spurrier

Current Job: South Carolina Gamecocks

Current age: 69

Overview: C’mon, it’s Spurrier. Anybody reading this knows exactly who he is. And if you somehow don’t, he is a folk hero among Gator fans, bringing us our first national championship in 1996, which highlighted a magical 12 year run as our coach. He also won the Heisman as a Florida QB in 1966. So yeah, he’s Gainesville’s favorite son.

Pros: Spurrier runs an offense that can finally utilize the speedy playmakers that we continue to import from the sugarcane fields of south Florida. He is a wizard in the art of recruiting. He surrounds himself with great assistant coaches. There would be a brief rebuilding period of maybe a year or two and then the team would pick up where it left off when Spurrier stepped down after drubbing Maryland in the Orange Bowl. Also, he’d beat Georgia. Remember how that feels? Me neither. End of discussion. Spurrier is a fantastic fit for Florida.

Cons: One has to wonder how long Spurrier would stay. He’s going to be 70 by the time next season rolls around, and who’s to say he won’t decide he’s had enough after four short years? I really don’t want to have to go through this all over again for at least a decade. That should be your minimum intended span of a coach’s tenure.

Chances he takes the job: 20%. If Jeremy Foley would just… frigging… listen… to me… he has a chance to get Spurrier. The situation would have to handled very carefully. Here’s how the phone call would have to go. Foley says, “Screw the interview, the job’s yours. You want it?” An interview with Spurrier- arguably the greatest coach in Gator history already- would serve absolutely no purpose other than to further damage Spurrier’s trust level with Foley (no doubt Spurrier was pissed in 2004 when Foley passed over him). Anybody with a grain of common sense knows what he’s capable of doing as a head coach. Foley would need to throw away his ego and bow to Spurrier’s. And then I think there’s a chance.

Overall Grade: 90%. Four years ago, I’d be jumping for joy at the prospect of replacing Urban Meyer with Steve Spurrier. But now that the Head Ball Coach is approaching 70, I’m a bit more leery. He’d work wonders for Florida, and probably right away. And yet while I’d reach out to him before the 42 year old Mullen, I’d prefer a longer term solution if I could get it.

9) Hugh Freeze

Current Job: Ole Miss Rebels

Current age: 45

Overview: We probably first heard of Freeze from the Blind Side, when he coached Michael Oher at Briarcrest high school in Memphis. But since then, he’s built a solid name for himself as a college head coach (Lambuth, which is NAIA, Arkansas State and now Ole Miss). Like a lot of other young head coaches on this list, he has exceeded expectations wherever he’s been. Now he’s got Ole Miss at 8-2 in the ultra-competitive SEC West, and coached the Rebels to a huge upset win over Alabama earlier in the year. But at the same time, I’m not sure how much higher Freeze can take them. Tough losses to Auburn and LSU may be proof that he’s hit his ceiling.

Pros: Freeze very well may be the best recruiter in the country. You measure a coach’s recruiting skills by what he does with what he’s working with. Ole Miss is by no means a national powerhouse, and they weren’t very good when Freeze took over for Houston Nutt, but he immediately went to work recruiting and now the Rebels are pulling in top five classes every year; imagine how well he’d recruit in the state of Florida with UF to sell. On top of that, Freeze is an excellent coach, so he develops that talent and turns it into wins on the field. He is an above average schematic coach, and his players love him and want to win for him.

Cons: I can’t really find one. If I have to throw one out there, I guess it would be that he hasn’t ever coached at a place with really high expectations. But that’s a weak reason not to hire him, because neither did Spurrier, or Meyer.

Chance he takes the job: 10%. It’s worth the phone call, but he’s dug some deep roots in Oxford. The only reason he would leave would be if Foley offered him the world. Which he might do. But I’m still not sure that would do it. Sometimes, a coach just wants to stay at a school because he feels it’s right. That’s what I fear will happen if and when Foley makes the move at Freeze.

Overall Grade: 95%. I’d be doing cartwheels if he took the Florida job. Recruiting ability plus fertile recruiting grounds plus a great school to recruit for plus great coaching equals success. But I just don’t think he’s going to leave Ole Miss right now. That’s why he’s as low as he is.

8) Charlie Strong

Current job: Texas Longhorns

Current age: 54

Overview: If Steve Spurrier is Gainesville’s favorite son, Charlie Strong is next in line. Four stints at UF spanning a total of 14 years and his ability to recruit like few others have me jumping up and down at the mere thought of hiring him. But not hiring him after 2013 could prove to be the fatal blow in ever getting him to return to Gainesville. He took the Texas job instead after four successful years at Louisville.

Pros: Charlie is easily one of the game’s top recruiters. Strong getting to recruit the state of Florida… for the University of Florida… would almost be too easy. It’d be like a kid on a moon bounce for the first time, giggling at how much fun it is and never wanting to stop. Also on his resume: he’s spent a long time in the SEC, he can build defenses, he can hire great assistant coaches, he can coach on the field and he can instill discipline into his program. Yes, I’d love to have Strong.

Cons: Hard to find one with Strong. I guess if I had to nitpick, I’d say that his offense at Texas isn’t too great right now. But his offense at Louisville was with Teddy Bridgewater… yeah, I’d say there really aren’t any red flags with Strong.

Chances he takes the job: 15%. Oh, Jeremy Foley. If only you could have seen the problem with Will Muschamp a year ago like I did. But nope, you were too stubborn and stuck with what you wrongly believed to be a home run hire for another year. Your foolishness and inability to admit you made a mistake (and your subsequent failure to correct that mistake) cost us more than a decent season of promise in 2014; it also cost us the chance to land any of a bevy of great coaches, including our long time assistant Charlie Strong. I guess it’s possible he takes the job now, but being spurned by Foley can’t leave him with a good feeling with Florida. And I doubt he leaves Texas after one year.

Overall Grade: 95%. Foley owes him a huge apology for failing to even give the man an interview after Urban Meyer resigned in 2010. Strong would be an excellent hire. The only reason he’s as low on my call list as he is is because he’s a defensive mind, and both Florida fans and Jeremy Foley are seeking an offensive mind.

7) Dan Mullen

Current Job: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Current age: 42

Overview: Hey look, the second former Urban Meyer assistant in a row! Unfortunately, Jeremy Foley has said that he wouldn’t consider him, and that’s a shame. Luckily, people change their minds sometimes. Anyway, up until 2009, Dan Mullen was Urban Meyer’s right hand man at Florida. He was the guy that called the plays and ran the offense with Tim Tebow. Make no mistake; that was Mullen’s show, the way it was Addazio’s (awful) show in 2009 and 2010. Mullen has also proven he can be successful without Urban looking over his shoulder. He went to Starkville and built a worthless program into a national championship contender. Part of that is recruiting extremely well. And part of that is knowing the x’s and o’s of the offense he runs so, so well.

Pros: There are really no expectations at Mississippi State. All you really have to do to win over your AD and fan base is win ~7 games a year and beat Ole Miss. Check both of those off; Mullen is 4-1 in the Egg Bowl and has reached a bowl game in his last four seasons (and will again this year). Imagine, then, at a place like Florida, how successful he would be calling all the shots. He would clean up the state of Florida in recruiting, and Gator fans could just about always count on him to put out an exciting offense. He’s also got an extremely rare combination of positive traits working for him: he’s 42, and has already proven that he can be successful at the highest level.

Cons: His sometimes gruff personality suggests he might not get along with the boosters. But really now, if he wins games and turns raw talent on offense into results the way Muschamp never could, do we care in the least bit? He’d also cost a lot of money to hire… another thing that winning games would make irrelevant.

Chances he takes the job: 35%. I put it as just under 50/50 because of the fact that Jeremy Foley passed over him in 2010, and then decidedly more under 50/50 because of Foley’s public admission that he wasn’t looking for him. Mullen can be a spiteful man at times, and while I think he would certainly listen, his resentment would make him think twice. But let’s be real here; all the talk from Mississippi State fans about him “having roots” in the Magnolia State is bullshit. That’s just a delusional MSU fan base trying to tell themselves he’ll stay forever. The fact is, he’s going to leave at some point, and possibly very soon. It’s either Florida or Michigan this year for Mullen, or he waits another year and after 2015 is less successful, he will bolt. And again… Jeremy Foley has said that he wouldn’t be considered. But a change of heart could always be in the cards.

Overall grade: 90%. Mullen is not the perfect hire in my opinion, but he’s a great one nonetheless. As far as logical coaching hires go- guys that I think have a legitimate chance to take the job (should Foley change his mind and make the call)- he’s at the top of my list.

6) Jon Gruden

Current job: ESPN analyst

Current age: 51

Overview: Why not throw up a Hail Mary with Gruden? He hasn’t coached since 2008, and I just know he’s itching to get back out there. He was definitely a bit intrigued in 2010 when Urban Meyer stepped down, and though he seems to enjoy being an analyst on Monday Night Football, you can just get this feeling that he wants to coach again. A successful 12 year run in the NFL with the Raiders and Buccaneers, including a Super Bowl ring, is all I need to see on his resume to want him.

Pros: Gruden is among the top schematic brains in football, and he knows how to direct a high flying offense and develop quarterbacks as well as anybody out there. And with his name, combined with the school itself, he wouldn’t even need to recruit that hard. Can you imagine Jon Gruden as the head coach of the flagship university in the most talent rich state in the country? Good lord, the place would literally recruit itself. He had the best results in Tampa from 2002-2008. No doubt some of the kids he’d be recruiting for the first several years or so would remember him for the success he had with the Bucs, particularly considering how bad they are now.

Cons: Gruden has never been a college head coach before. In fact, he’s only spent three years as a paid assistant coach at the collegiate level. It might take some time for him to adjust to the whole recruiting thing, which is a big deal- even at a place like Florida, which recruits itself.

Chance he takes the job: 5%. There’s a chance, perhaps, but it would take some improvement on the horrible attitude Jeremy Foley has in terms of letting his ego get in the way of things, and the right pitch from Foley. And then I still wouldn’t bet on it.

Overall Grade: 94%. In terms of knowing the game and instilling discipline into his players, few even come close to Gruden. I’d take him in a heartbeat. It’s just a matter of getting him. And I don’t think Florida will.

Dante Fowler announces he will leave for the NFL

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Whatever else you have to say about him, Will Muschamp was dearly beloved by his players- and perhaps by nobody more than Dante Fowler.

Yes, this is his declaration for the NFL Draft. It’s no surprise, and he was out the door whether or not Muschamp came back, as we told you a few weeks ago, but it is rather touching that Fowler would announce it publicly like this. That’s some loyalty by Fowler right there, and it speaks volumes about Muschamp as a leader of men and role model to his players.

Fowler projects to be taken in the first round by most pundits, and I’d argue that he’s a top ten talent. He carries an explosiveness out of his stance that few other defensive linemen are blessed with, which puts him at about number two or three on the list of defensive ends I’d take in the draft. I could definitely see him having an immediate impact at the NFL level.

In any case, good luck, Dante. I wish you the best.

Will Muschamp reminded us why he was so well liked by those close to him

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Many did not know what to expect before Monday’s press conference. Dr. Bernie Machen approached the podium and delivered a speech that sounded more like Coach Muschamp was receiving a lifetime achievement award instead of what was his farewell press conference. AD Jeremy Foley promptly followed that with what sounded like an announcement that he had just fired his son. Those two made it quite easy to see the impact that Coach Will Muschamp has made to those around him.

Will eventually stepped up to the podium and did not sulk, did not throw blame on anyone, or anything. He had a piece of candy in his mouth and even cracked a half smile from time to time. He had just been fired from a job he had for 4 years at a school he loved, in the town he grew up in. He took it on the chin like a man and was as humble as any man could hope to be. He spoke about how he didn’t win enough games, but you could tell that what was important to him was the impact he made on the lives of the children he was responsible for. He was proud of the job he had done turning high school kids into men, whether it be in the classroom or molding their character into what men should be. The Florida football program on the field may have been worse than it was when Muschamp stepped on campus, but off the field there aren’t enough words I can use to describe how much better the program became.

What was labeled as a “broken program” after former head coach Urban Meyer left for his ESPN gig, and then Ohio State job, turned into what is now an accountable program with high GPA’s and a high graduation percentage. We know that Will was scorned for his offense and for his “stubborn ways” of coaching, but sometimes we all have to take a step back and realize the impact he has had on not only his team and assistant coaches, but the men and women that work in the University of Florida athletic offices. When I spoke to Gatorzone.com’s Scott Carter recently, he was glowing about how passionate everyone at UF was about Muschamp having success. He was kind to everyone. He loved his two sons Jackson and Whitt, his beautiful wife Carol, and most importantly he loved his job. Yes, we in the media have criticized him for some of his coaching decisions in the past, including his decision to stick with quarterback Jeff Driskel. But there was a lot more to Will Muschamp than X’s and O’s. It was about integrity, humility, and good character. I had the chance to meet Coach a few years back after he was first hired. He made me feel like I was important when I spoke to him. He didn’t have the ego of his predecessor.

But at the end of the day, the University of Florida had no choice but to move on in a different direction. Winning is what’s most important in the wild world of college sports, and he didn’t do enough of it to satisfy Jeremy Foley and the Florida fan base. Some things in life are permanent and others are just for a time, but both are meant to be. As a passionate Florida fan and former student, I take pride in my school’s success and I knew it had to make a change. But I will be forever grateful for the positive impact Coach Will Muschamp had on the University and this team. Coach Muschamp as a football coach made some bad choices (which even he admitted yesterday), but as a man and leader, we could only hope that our children have a coach and role model like Will Muschamp. Good luck and God Bless, Coach.

Gators coaching search – who should be included.

Yesterday, Neil Shulman began his list of candidates to replace Will Muschamp. I agree with some of them… but not all. So, I’ve made up my own list for diversity purposes.

I am not going to bother with the obvious names. Bob Stoops. Kevin Sumlin. John Gruden. Mike Leach. Chip Kelly. Art Briles. We have heard those names mentioned repeatedly. We know their credentials and you don’t need me to puke them back to you. Stoops makes the most sense and he might be ready for a move. Or, he might love Oklahoma. Who knows, but he should be Foley’s first call.

Be that as it may……

I also am not interested in rattling off Coordinators. While there are plenty of great OCs out there, this is more about people with head coaching experience. We have learned that Florida and OJT don’t work out, so I am sticking to head coaches.

Larry Fedora – The man knows offense. He has HC experience now. Most importantly, he is well familiar with how to navigate the waters at Florida in a pressure situation, having been Ron Zook’s OC. Sure, he is a bit weak on the defensive side of things, but he can hire a good DC to max our Florida’s talent. Gene Chizik is a Florida alum, currently out of work.

Dave Doeren – Young. Bright. An up and comer who has a future beyond NC State. Perhaps most importantly, the guy knows how to adapt; he made his name at Northern Illinois using Jordan Lynch who was a Tebow type player (read: giant fullback who can throw the ball) and now has Jacoby Brissett tearing it up as a pocket passer. Clearly he can adapt his scheme to the talent on hand. He is from a small school so there might not be an “dream job” hopping from him.

Mark Hudspeth – Young. No power alma mater. Winner. Everywhere he has been. Check his record. He wins . Period. One of the other advantages is he was Dan Mullen’s WR coach so he not only knows the SEC but he also has a varied skill set i terms of offensive experience he can deploy at Florida.

Sonny Dykes – What a lineage. Father was Spike Dykes, Texas Tech legend. Look at his track record as an OC. He ran Texas Tech’s O with Dana Holgorsen. He produced Gronk at Arizona. he has been at the helm of two programs grow. In all reality, he or Hudspeth would be my favorite choice simply because of the Air Raid and his youth, but given his lifelong ties to Texas Tech, I think he might be inclined to want a Texas job and might not be long for Florida. Unless Kingsbury starts tearing it up at Tech, Strong dominates at Texas and Patterson stays at TCU.

Matt Wells – Up and comer in the coaching ranks. I won’t spend too much time fawning over him simply because he is coaching Utah State, his alma mater. He may not be inclined to leave.

Matt Campbell – He might be the best possible get. Another small school guy who might not job hop as Florida would be a destination job for him. he also cut his coaching teeth in a great way; he learned under Gregg Brandon at Bowling Green. You may remember, Brandon was Urban Meyer’s right hand man and OC at Bowling Green which means he is well versed in an offensive philosophy we know will work at Florida.

Pete Lembo – Young. Successful. He is 44 years old with 13.5 years worth of head coaching experience and he has been successful every step of the way with gradual increases in success which tells the story that he is a builder, not just an inheritor. He too might not job hop as his alma mater is not a football school.

Gary Patterson – Winner. Period. His first two years in the Big 12 were a struggle, as he was still working with “lower rated” recruits. However, now that he is in his third year he has his team humming, currently ranked in the CFP with their only loss being a 3 point loss on the road to Baylor. One thing of note, TCU’s strength program is arguably the best in the country. It’s how he got his “lesser” players to play with the big boys. So, what happens when the top tier athletes get into his program ? Well, we are starting to see, aren’t we ?

Bronco Mendenhall – Why not ? He wins and he has managed to field some pretty competitive teams while facing some of the more restrictive conditions in FBS. Because of where he is, he would also be apt to run a “clean” program as well.

 

 

 

Torched by an Angel: Canes shock 8th ranked Gators in Gainesville

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It was just another typical day in the O’Dome. Florida was crushing an inferior opponent, and appeared to be very much on their way to their 34th consecutive home victory.

Then along came Angel Rodriguez, who exploded for 22 seconds half points. And in a flash, the seemingly comfortable 54-40 lead the Gators had built over Miami was gone- just like the Gators’ aura of invincibility at home.

You’re damned right that sounds familiar. The Gators made this a habit two years ago. Going up by double digits and then blowing it in the end was the trademark of the 2012-13 Florida team. Big leads against Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi wasted, and a disappointed locker room instead of the joyous one the players unanimously but prematurely expected to enter. Defensive collapses. Going cold and faltering down the stretch on offense. We’ve seen it all before, and it never fails to frustrate me to no end. Giving up 48 points in the second half isn’t going to win many games, bottom line.

Part of was just a good player getting really hot at the right time, granted. Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez simply couldn’t be stopped. He hit several key threes, some of which came with a defender right in his face, to pull Miami back into it… and for that you just have to shake his hand and say “good game”. Not every team is going to shoot 50% from three point range, including 70% in the second half. Rodriguez and the Hurricanes just couldn’t miss.

But Rodriguez also wouldn’t have won the game for the Canes without the help he got from Kasey Hill, who committed two incredibly foolish fouls that should have never been committed. On one, he fouled Rodriguez shooting an off balance three, and on the other, he fouled a dribbling Rodriguez 40 feet away from the hoop. Those are the fouls that Billy Donovan will not tolerate.

So combine all of that, and this one stings. Badly. Florida seems to be cursed against Miami in recent years, having lost in football last year and now in basketball at home, where the Gators never lose. We just can’t ever get that sweep of our two in-state rivals, something we haven’t done in basketball since 2005-06. So yes, I’m extremely irritated by the loss. I’m frustrated.

But at the same time, the consequences of losing this game are minimal. Florida was playing without Dorian Finney-Smith, Chris Walker and Alex Murphy. That’s two starters the Gators were missing, and the third- Murphy- will at the very least get some significant playing time. And go look at the Gators’ upcoming schedule: with the Battle 4 Atlantis (in which the Gators will play Georgetown, either UAB or Wisconsin, and either UNC/UCLA/Butler/Oklahoma), road trips to Kansas and Florida State, a rematch with UConn, and two games against Kentucky give Florida plenty of opportunities to bolster their resume.

The worst part about this loss is the simple irritation that comes with it. We don’t get to claim that we’re “state champions”. We cede some bragging rights to a team that we own 45-23, five Final Fours to none and two national championships to none. And none doesn’t even come close to describing Miami’s historical futility on the hardwood.

Of course, there’s a lot of work to do. But Billy Donovan has proven to be more than capable of getting his team to do that work in the past, and while this is far from his best team, even once we get Walker, Murphy and Finney-Smith back, I’m confident that he’ll turn this team into a much better one than the team we saw tonight.

I’ll leave you with this. Florida has now lost the second game of its season in four of the last five years. And as we all know, the Gators have gone to the Elite Eight in each of the last four seasons. That’s how much this game matters in the long run.