If you think the current state of the Florida Gator program is bad right now, you may have to lower your expectations even more.
Part of what has bailed Will Muschamp out enough to get him to this point- merely having a job for a fourth year- has been recruiting like a gangbuster. He does a pretty solid job scooping up a good amount of the talent from the talent-rich state of Florida, and does a decent job raiding nearby Georgia for some top prospects every now and then. Point blank, he recruits well enough to survive, and up until now, could hide behind the sheer talent he pulled in and the sky high recruiting rankings that followed as losses piled up like autumn leaves.
Imagine, then, how God-awful this program would be on the field if we didn’t have that type of talent, if we had a modestly talented team that actually had to rely on decent coaching to win games.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly where this team is heading. Last night, prized linebacker Jerome Baker decommitted from Florida and switched to sort-of rival Ohio State. And when being objective and honest, can you blame him? In all kinds of weather, we all stick together is a motto I try to live my life by- I’ll never turn my back on the Gators’ athletic program- but that phrase doesn’t apply to him because he’s just a high school kid looking for the best school for him to succeed personally and be on a team that succeeds. Look in the mirror and ask yourself: in our current state, with our current coaches, do you really believe Florida is a better program than Ohio State? No, right? You can’t possibly think it is. And even though deep down, I believe it soon will be again, can you see why top prospects think otherwise?
When recruiting- Muschamp’s last ace in the hole- starts to crumble, you know he’s done. We all know at this point that I wanted him gone after being humiliated by Vanderbilt last season, but the frustrating thing is, I’m not the one who decides this type of stuff. And as long as the man who does- Jeremy Foley- allows him to remain on staff, the program is going to continue to fall. I’m not saying Foley’s an idiot. He’s a lot smarter than any of us think. I’m sure he has some sort of plan for a new coach developing in his mind, if it’s not fully developed already. But the fact that it took him this long to even start to realize it is a problem.
That’s why I’m so irritated that Foley hasn’t said anything publicly. No matter what he tells a handful of recruits privately, the public perception of Florida- right now- is that the AD tolerates a losing culture. Going 3-10 over the last 13 games is bad by Vanderbilt standards; it’s completely unacceptable at Florida. To not even give any public indication that this sort of record is not acceptable scares recruits away. Don’t believe me? Look at Baker. Foley has the opportunity to do something to right the wrong of hiring Muschamp this very second- like FIRING MUSCHAMP- that could show recruits that losing in not acceptable at Florida. And his refusal to do so, even under the guise that he’s going to do it after the season, is agitating as hell. We know at this point that Muschamp isn’t beating Georgia next Saturday. He hasn’t in three tries; why is number four the lucky one? To make matters worse, this is probably the best Georgia team he’s faced in four years, and he’s going in to face the Dawgs with either his weakest or his second weakest team in his four years. I don’t care what firing him midseason “could do to recruiting”. That’s bullshit. It can’t possibly be any worse than what the on field results are currently doing to recruiting, and if anything, it will help.
So, OK. We know I want Muschamp fired now, and not even be allowed to coach another game. What’s the answer for the rest of the season, then?
DJ Durkin isn’t a bad defensive coordinator by any means. But he’s not a defensive genius the way Dan Quinn or even Muschamp is, either, and I don’t want him running the program for the rest of the year. I want an offensive minded guy to take control against Georgia. Florida’s going to need some points, and they won’t get them with Muschamp (or Durkin, because that’s how Muschamp taught him) slapping the cuffs on Roper’s play calling the way he did with Charlie Weis, Brent Pease and now Roper himself. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, if he does a good enough job on an interim basis and then finds success as a head coach at a smaller school… and Foley’s next hire doesn’t pan out either… three years later… who knows? If he has success now at Florida on an interim basis, he has to at least be considered in the future as the next Gator coach (for good) if he continues to be successful elsewhere. Meaning at a less prestigious school. Like the one he came from.
At Duke, you can’t recruit star players. You just can’t. You can recruit decent players, and with the right coaching, turn them into above average college football players. This is what Roper did, and guided a basketball school to an ACC Championship Game- in football. This is a Duke team that hadn’t made a bowl game prior to his arrival since 1995, and he came along to make the offense explode in 2013. In 11 of the Devils’ 13 games, Duke scored 27 or more points; in eight of those games, they scored 35+. In short, Roper does more with less, while Muschamp does precisely the opposite. But now that Roper actually has more to work with, why not give him the reins and see what he can do with it?
It’s not like Roper was a one trick pony at Duke, either. He has had success pretty much everywhere he’s gone as an assistant coach. He successfully developed Eli Manning at Ole Miss, Andre Woodson at Kentucky, Arian Foster at Tennessee and Anthony Boone at Duke. He’s a well rounded guy who knows the ins and outs of various positions, not just the QB. And with the talent that Florida has on offense, I’d love to see him try his hand at developing it, albeit in just half a season. I’d also love to see what he’s capable of doing with his play calling without Will Muschamp forcing him to dumb it down and be as predictable as Addazio, albeit in just half a season. Most importantly, I’d like to see how he leads a program, albeit in half a season.
But half a season to judge his merit is better than just a bowl game (if Florida even gets to one). You need a large enough sample size to evaluate him. Like the last five games of the season, two of which are rivalry games against teams I cannot stand losing to. If he fails, and the Gators lose both games big, then hey, at least we tried something different, which is what I alluded to earlier. That’s the worst that can happen. We tried something new because the old thing didn’t work for three and a half years, and we lost as expected. I’d take that over continuing to give Muschamp chance after chance and shrug my shoulders and say “I told you so” when he gets blown away by Georgia and FSU. I won’t even be mad. I’ll just roll my eyes like I would when somebody says something dumb when they’re drunk. I know it’s coming- not think, but know- and so when it happens, the emotions I express will be far less explosive.
Make no mistake, there’s still plenty for Florida to play for. Our chances at the SEC East are gone (thank you so much Will Muschamp for that egg you laid against Missouri) but we still have a chance to wreck the seasons of two of our rivals. A win against Georgia hands control of the East back over to Missouri, who has a decidedly easier remaining schedule than Georgia (Mizzou plays Vanderbilt, Kentucky, at Texas A&M, at Tennessee and Arkansas while Georgia plays at Kentucky and Auburn). Despite Every True Son’s unhealthy obsession with doing the Gator Chomp, I’d much rather see Missouri win the East than Georgia. And beating FSU in Tallahassee is guaranteed to knock them out of the national championship talk.
Neither of those things will happen with Muschamp. He is 1-5 against Georgia and FSU, a proven loser over a three year period. He’s also 17-19 against BCS level competition. That’s been my point all week, and I’ll keep repeating it until I’m blue in the face: we know Muschamp is incapable of winning big games. How do we know Kurt Roper will be any better, you might ask? We don’t. But the complete unknown is more enticing than what we know will fail. That’s what I’d love to hammer into Foley’s brilliant but stubborn brain- we don’t know what he’s capable of doing as the head of our program. Is it possible that he’d flop and the Gators would lose three more games? Can I promise that he’ll be worlds better than Muschamp at leading the team (nice job checking on your injured wide receiver against LSU and getting your players to sing the alma mater, by the way), not just in football, but all around? Yes, it’s possible, and no, I can’t promise that.
Last week, I wrote that Muschamp had crippled the Florida program. Well, I was wrong, or maybe just not strong enough. He is killing it. This program is dying right now, the way the Tennessee program died by giving Derek Dooley a third year after an ugly 5-7 season in 2011. Look at the state of the Vols’ program now. It’s a mess, and that’s being nice. Go ahead and blame some of that on Lane Kiffin if you want, but note that Kiffin actually made them better, taking the Vols from 5-7 in Fulmer’s last year to 7-5 and being notably more competitive in a lot of losses.
When the coach of a historically powerful football program fails to take them to a bowl game after he’s been there for at least one year prior, it’s a sign that you need to let him go. Foley has not seen that sign yet, and he needs to. And I’m sure he will soon, but soon isn’t good enough. It needs to be now. As in, before the sun sets tonight in Gainesville. This program is bleeding out right now, and it’s your job to stop it or at least put a band aid on it. Admit in public that you screwed up big time by hiring Muschamp, and give Kurt Roper the head coaching job on an interim basis.
It’s OK to admit you’re wrong. I’m wrong on plenty of things.
Now it’s your turn, Foley.