GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In 1990, Will Muschamp was a walk-on player at Georgia who overcame an early injury, eventually earned a scholarship, a starting position and ultimately finished his career as a defensive captain for the Bulldogs.
Anybody who met the relentlessly driven kid from Rome, Ga., immediately knew two things about him:
1. Someday, and it would be sooner rather than later, he was going to be a head coach.
|'It's all about ball to me. I'm not a CEO. I'm a football coach,' Muschamp says. (Getty Images)|
Last December Muschamp, only 39, was the head coach in waiting at Texas. He thought his future was set. But after the Longhorns went 5-7 in 2010, it became evident that Muschamp was going to wait a while longer to become a head coach. There was no way that Mack Brown was going to exit the stage after a losing season. In fact, Brown was in the process of completely reshuffling his coaching staff.
So when Muschamp got the call from Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, he was ready. In fact, he was more than ready.
On the night of the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York, Muschamp was named Florida's head coach, replacing Urban Meyer. Meyer, who had briefly retired the season before only to come back for 2010, left after winning 65 games, two SEC championships and two national titles in his six years in Gainesville.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Muschamp, who lived a short walk away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as a young boy. His parents moved the family to Georgia when he was in the eighth grade.
It is not exactly the kind of job that a first-year coach gets at 39. But Muschamp was not the least bit intimidated by replacing Meyer at Florida because he had a plan that had been years in the making. In fact, when Muschamp arrived on campus he blew the staff away with a plan for his first 100 days as head coach. And now he would execute it.
That plan called for going out and hiring the best offensive coordinator he could find.
"It's all about ball to me. I'm not a CEO. I'm a football coach and I coach on the defensive side of the ball," said Muschamp, also a former defensive coordinator at LSU and Auburn. "I always knew when this situation happened I wanted to be able to hire talented people and give them the opportunity to do their jobs. I had to hire somebody I could turn the offense over to."
That somebody turned out to be Charlie Weis, the former head coach at Notre Dame with a long track record of running successful NFL offenses and developing quarterbacks.
Both men have very strong personalities. Muschamp sees it as a plus.
"Yeah, a lot of coaches would be intimidated by hiring Charlie Weis. I have no intimidation factor at all," said Muschamp. "When you have a chance to hire someone of his background, that's what you do."
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Weis makes it clear to his visitors that he understands the chain of command and is very comfortable with it. "This is not my offense. It is Florida's offense," he says.
Muschamp made it very clear in his first news conference that the spread offense of the past was just that -- in the past. That's because Muschamp has a very definite idea of how the game should be played and has conveyed that to Weis.
"The SEC is a line of scrimmage league and if you can't dominate the line of scrimmage you're going to have some long days," Muschamp said.
Muschamp convinced Dan Quinn, the defensive line coach of the Seattle Seahawks, to become his defensive coordinator. The two worked together in 2005 as part of Nick Saban's staff with the Miami Dolphins.
"We have the same core of defensive beliefs," said Muschamp, who will coach the secondary.
With the cornerstones of his staff in place, Muschamp then executed the most important part of his plan: His strong belief that players need to be told exactly what is expected of them and to know that they will be held accountable. He consulted with IMG on some team-building concepts and has narrowed his message down to one simple sentence:
"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional," said Muschamp. "You either want to grow with us or you don't. You make that decision. But you are either for us or you're against us. And if you're against us you're not going to be here. Jump on with us now or leave."
By all accounts the players have bought in. Quarterback John Brantley, who was woefully miscast in Meyer's spread offense, has been reborn under Weis. Weis spent a good chunk of the spring rebuilding Brantley's confidence because it took a beating in 2010. The Gator Nation, which loved Brantley (whose father played quarterback for the Gators) so much as a backup to Tim Tebow, was clearly not happy with last season's results. Brantley's spring game was less than exciting (he completed four of 14 passes), but with all the injuries he had precious little protection. Brantley has an NFL arm but now he must prove he can play consistently against SEC competition.
"My teammates tell me I'm a lot more comfortable behind the center," said Brantley, who completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,061 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. "It's not just me. Everybody is off to a fresh start and that is good."
Spring practice is over. The team has been turned over to strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti and come August the preparations begin for the Sept. 3 opener with Florida Atlantic. Is Muschamp nervous about the months to come and his debut as a head coach? Nope. He's still executing the plan.
"Now we want to build an identity as a blue collar, overachieving team," said Muschamp. "If we recruit good players and they buy into that work ethic we will be fine. Do I wish we could have done more in spring practice? Sure, but you know what? Nobody is going to feel sorry for the Gators."