SEC football media days: Now 'a Florida guy,' new Gators coach Will Muschamp has deep SEC roots

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 21, 2011 

HOOVER, Ala. -- Forget his recent Texas ties. Will Muschamp is the SEC.

He grew up in Gainesville, Fla., played at Georgia, coached in two stints at Auburn and worked with Nick Saban and Derek Dooley while a member of the LSU staff.

So it isn’t a surprise that an 8-5 season, Florida’s record in Urban Meyer’s final year, is not something the Gator Nation expects.

“Yeah,” Muschamp deadpanned, “they’ve told me.”

These are the words of a man knows what he is getting into.

Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley knew it. He singled out Muschamp, the head coach-in-waiting at Texas, as his No. 1 candidate from the outset after Meyer resigned in December for health reasons. Three days later, the hiring was over.

Foley has no reservations handing the program to a first-time head coach, one who at 39 years old is the second-youngest in the toughest football conference in the country. Neither does the coach.

“I think it helps from the standpoint of understanding what you’re getting into,” Muschamp said of his SEC background. “When you go to Tiger Stadium, some of these places, and play, you understand what you’re getting into, number one.

“Number two, week in, week out, understanding the competition level. They’re really good. They’re well-coached, very talented teams. I think even Urban made a comment to me his first year at Florida. You’re kind of, ‘Wow, it’s every week.’ It is. Unless you’ve been through it, you don’t really understand the competition level week-in, week-out of what you’re dealing with.”

That’s not to say there won’t be challenges. Unlike most head coaching changes, which occur after a decline from the previous regime, Muschamp will attempt to follow Meyer, who went 65-15 in six seasons in Gainesville and won two national championships.

Muschamp said he won’t change what works -- “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he said -- while acknowledging he will do things his way.

And there are few like Muschamp. A picture of his crazed expression graces the cover of the team’s fan guide, described by the blog Everyday Should Be Saturday as the look of a “C-grade martial arts protagonist who just heard the improbable name of the man who killed his sensei spoken.”

A fiery and demonstrative sideline dweller, his antics are well-chronicled in a mostly not-safe-for-work YouTube catalog, a departure from the stoic Meyer.

But it’s a welcome change for the players he will coach.

“He’s a live-wired guy,” defensive end William Green said. “He’s not going to chest bump you in the hallway or anything, but he’s going to be himself.”

He will chest bump you on the field, however -- or join in some running, or jump in on a bench press session, occasionally out-repping some of the rookies.

“He gets crazy sometimes,” Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson said. “But we feed off of it. It starts with the head man on down. Like a sense of new energy around the facilities.”

Muschamp knows energy won’t do it alone, however. He hired ex-Patriots offensive coordinator and Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis out of the NFL, wanting to implement a pro-style offense while maintaining someone with recruiting experience.

He claims he won’t meddle, showing the kind of wisdom you would expect from someone tutored by successful head coaches such as Saban, Tommy Tuberville and Mack Brown.

“I’ve said it before, the worst thing you can do in a leadership position is be something you’re not,” Muschamp said. “I feel like you’ve got to lend your strengths, and that’s going to be coaching on the defensive side of the ball, coaching on special teams.”

As for his multi-SEC school background, there is no question about his loyalty.

Asked how it feels to be a Georgia guy coaching at Florida, Muschamp didn’t hesitate with his response: “I’m a Florida guy.”

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