Will Muschamp is learning the hard way the same lesson that Ron Zook learned at the University of Florida a few years back: Following a super-successful coaching legend is never, ever easy.
Especially not in the hyper-competitive SEC.
Muschamp has served as head coach at the University of Florida since 2011. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he arrived in Gainesville in December of 2010 and was tasked with succeeding Urban Meyer as the Gators' coach. Muschamp's appointment came roughly two years after he it was announced that he was the so-called "coach in waiting" at the University of Texas--a distinction he earned after an impressive career as an assistant that saw him thrive as defensive coordinator at Texas, Auburn, LSU and Valdosta State. He served in the same role for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League. At the time of the coach-in-waiting announcement, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said he was confident that when the time came for Mack Brown to step down as the Longhorns' coach, Muschamp would be "the right guy to step up into that position and continue to build on the great things we're accomplishing."
Brown himself added: "This is first and foremost about keeping Will at Texas," Brown said. "He's had several opportunities to interview for head coaching jobs, but we wanted him to stay here. I'm going to continue coaching as I'm enjoying it. I have eight years left on my contract, I am not thinking at all about moving on, it's simply that I think Will is a great young coach, a perfect fit for this place and he wants to stay. Nothing will change in our structure. He will continue in his role as defensive coordinator and when the time comes, will be ready to step in and take over the program.
It seemed a perfect arrangement for both Muschamp and Texas. But after seeing Brown keep on coaching--and after, apparently, coming to the conclusion that Brown wouldn't be leaving any time soon--Muschamp, who had been rumored to be a candidate for several other openings at the time, went ahead and made the jump to Florida.
With the Gators, his charge was simple: To build on the incredible success that Meyer had enjoyed during his successful tenure, one that saw the Gators win two national titles and become the unquestioned power of the SEC.
But after his first season with Florida--a program that, according to many, was already on the downturn by the time Meyer retired--it probably became clear to Muschamp that he faced a more challenging job that he may have anticipated. The Gators struggled their way to a mediocre 7-6 record, only salvaging a winning record by virtue of a win over an average Ohio State team in the Gator Bowl. It was a disappointing season by most every measure, and even Muschamp acknowledged as much. In the wake of a sluggish performance against Florida State in a 21-7 season-ending loss, the coach said he was unhappy with his debut season in Gainesville. Speaking to the media at his weekly press conference, the Florida State said:
"[I'm] just extremely disappointed again with today and the season overall. Didn’t do a very good job with this football team. At the end of the day when you’re not able to run the football, you’re going to have a hard time winning games against a good defense. ... We’re a soft football team. That’s the bottom line. I told our guys, ‘We’re not a physically tough team and we’re not a mentally tough team.’ And self-evaluation is hard sometimes, but that’s the facts. That’s the facts. Hard to say it. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but soft is not one of them. And we are. And that’s my fault. ...
... I told our football team, ‘We need to build depth on this team. We need to get better on both lines of scrimmage, because until you do that it’s gonna be very difficult to beat the teams in our league.’ So, disappointed with that.
... We need to improve. That’s what recruiting is for. And that’s what bowl practice and the offseason and the spring’s for, and that’s what we’re going to do as a program. We’re going to move forward to build on what we need to do. We didn’t improve our football team from last year’s record and I felt like we should have."
Entering the 2012 season, Florida was expected to improve upon its 7-6 mark in 2011. But how much improvement the team would see was open to debate. This much, however, was clear: Even though he was only entering his second season with the Gators, the clock was already ticking.