By the third quarter of Florida’s homecoming game against Missouri, Gators fans were chanting, “Fire Mus-champ,” in reference to their head football coach.
It seemed like déjà vu. A similar thing happened in the previous homecoming game, which was a loss, as this one would turn out to be. Florida fell to Missouri last Saturday, 42-13, committing six turnovers.
This game was no anomaly. Florida, a national powerhouse when Will Muschamp took over in December of 2011, has lost 10 of its last 13 games.
Muschamp, who spent half of last season on a very hot seat, survived that scalding and an eventual 4-8 record. But it’s not certain he will make it to the end of the current season.
The support of his athletics director, Jeremy Foley, may be wavering. At the beginning of the season, Foley said Muschamp’s job was secure through the end of the schedule. After the Missouri debacle there was a subtle change in nuance in this prepared statement: “We said we would evaluate the season as it plays out. We will continue to do so.”
So Muschamp will not necessarily be evaluated at the end of the season, but as it goes on.
The clamor for his head intensified with the Gators now in bye week, preceding their annual rivalry game in Jacksonville against Georgia – the world’s biggest outdoor cocktail party.
Many alumni are screaming that this is the perfect opportunity to make a change. They point to Southern California last year firing Lane Kiffen during a midseason bye week. Ed Orgeron took over and led the Trojans to six wins in seven games.
Given that almost nobody in Gainesville thinks Muschamp will be coaching there next year, why wait? What hope is there for a strong recruiting class with Muschamp in limbo, a dead man walking, the lamest of lame ducks?
Even so, sources close to Foley insist this will not be bye-bye week.
Foley issued this limited vote of confidence: “Our sole focus right now is supporting our coaching staff and players as they prepare for Georgia.”
To many Florida fans, the demise of Muschamp is difficult to understand. He’s regarded as one of the country’s smartest defensive strategists. He was defensive coordinator and designated successor to Mack Brown as head coach at Texas before he bolted to Florida when Brown kept hanging on.
The Gators went 11-2 in Muschamp’s first year, but even then it was obvious he had no grasp of offensive football. He has recruited well, but he’s failed to develop his players. His quarterback, the 6-4 senior Jeff Driskel, was national Player of the Year in high school and the bluest of blue chips. He’s completing 53 percent, averaging 5.0 yards per pass, with 6 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
It’s often said that defensive coordinators rarely make good head coaches because they focus too much on helping the defense, using a conservative offense rather than opening it up for the sort of explosiveness it takes to win consistently. Cases in point – and not enough points: Buddy Ryan and son Rex.
True, there are exceptions: Tom Landry and Bill Belichick both rose from defensive backrounds to become Hall of Fame head coaches.
Muschamp at 43 has plenty of time to grow. Landry and Belichick were failures in their early years as head coach.
To his credit, Muschamp has withstood the attacks with grace. When his inevitable firing occurs, he will receive plenty of offers to be a defensive coordinator again. And he probably will get another head coaching opportunity.