Three years ago Will Muschamp was the hottest coaching prospect in college football. Defensive coordinator of the Texas Longhorns, who in 2009 were national runner-ups, he was head coach-in-waiting of the program that is the most lucrative and, overall, perhaps the most attractive in the sport.
But Muschamp could not wait. When the Florida Gators called to offer him their head coaching job, Muschamp said farewell to Austin and made sure to burn down the bridges, boasting about the superiority of the league he was entering.
A year ago, he no doubt thought he made a wise move. His Gators were 11-2 and proving very competitive in the Southeastern Conference
But now, in the wake of a 34-17 homecoming loss to a homecoming-type patsy, Vanderbilt, Muschamp is hearing all sorts of disturbing noise from the swamp. He sees the writing on the wall — and elsewhere — advocating his firing. One such marking is within a first down of his office on the Gainesville campus.
He sounded a bit snippy with this comment about his growing chorus of critics: “I need to do better and I don’t need to hear from any fan from the outside telling me what we need to do with this football team. I can assure you of that.”
Several facts are causing problems for Muschamp. Overall, he’s hardly been a disaster, with his 22-13 record since joining America’s greatest amateur league. But he’s 4-5 this season with an offense ranked 110th in the country. He will need upsets over South Carolina and No. 2 Florida State to achieve a winning record. A bowl game looks doubtful for a college that counts on its bowl-game partying.
Most annoyingly of all, Florida is sinking to fourth place among its greatest geographic rivals: Florida State, Miami and Georgia. The Gators lost to the Hurricanes early in the season and have lost their past three Jacksonville border battles with Georgia.
In Muschamp’s defense – and a month ago it was considered the best in the country — he has been unusually unlucky with injuries. He’s lost several key players including his dual-threat quarterback, Jeff Driskel.
But the Vandy debacle, with the crowd booing at the end of the third quarter, is inexcusable, in the view of many Florida alumni. The Commodores are traditionally the doormat of the exalted but probation-prone conference, standing as the paragon of academic excellence and moral virtue.
They had lost 22 straight times to Florida and had not won in Gainesville since 1945.
Never mind that Vanderbilt has upgraded its football program with coach James Franklin, who along with Louisville’s Charles Strong is drawing speculation as Muschamp’s succesor.
Florida’s athletics director, Jeremy Foley, hasn’t given Muschamp a recent vote of confidence. Anthony English of the Tampa Bay Times wrote: “Losing to Vandy might well have turned his coaching hot seat into an electric chair.”
And yes, the electric chair still is operable in Florida, should the condemned desire it.
Meanwhile, back in Austin . . .
The job Will Muschamp was waiting on in Austin looks like it finally will be available in a couple of months.
For Mack Brown to be welcomed back for another year of coaching at Texas, it’s understood he needs to get his team into the Big Twelve Minus Two Championship Game. The Longhorns’ overtime win in West Virginia offered little evidence they’re capable of beating Baylor in Waco – or anywhere else.
The new athletics director at Texas, Steve Patterson, was a smart hire, a man who’s not only highly capable but is utterly fearless. When he was general manager of the Houston Rockets, he dared to call out Hakeem Olajuwon for faking an injury. That confrontation ensured he would not long remain with the Rockets but proved his backbone.
Patterson is going to get the football coach he wants, because that is the most important element of his job. He has no ties to Brown and is not going to plead with him to hang on. Brown has too luminous a resume to be fired, but he, like his would-be successor Muschamp, can see the writing on the wall, if not so literally in Brown’s case.
The hot rumor in Austin has Brown’s successor being none other than Nick Saban, who has a knack for upward mobility and may be looking for riches that only the University of Texas can bestow.
Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, who offices in Memphis, has said UT is the one place that could lure his client away from Alabama, where he’s seeking his third consecutive national championship.
Sexton made those comments in a 45-minute phone conversation with UT regent Tom Hicks, and the contents were included in an e-mail obtained by the Associated Press through open-records request.
Word is that Saban made some unsuccessful real-estate investments in Alabama and that if the money’s right at Texas, he might go there. Adding much to the fire of that rumor are multiple reports of Saban’s wife house-shopping in Austin.