TAMPA, Fla. -- As much as the small but appreciative crowd attending last week's Gator Gathering at Raymond James Stadium enjoyed listening to new Florida coach Will Muschamp, they would rather not see him return anytime soon.
Because if Muschamp is back at Raymond James Stadium in January that means his first season as the Gators' coach will have resulted in another Outback Bowl appearance and likely a three- or four-loss regular season.
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Whether the Gators return to Tampa for the Jan. 2 bowl -- or slip further down the SEC bowl lineup or compete for an SEC title -- likely depends on how well Muschamp fares in his first head coaching job and also how well his biggest hiring pans out: offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
"The track record speaks for itself," Muschamp said of Weis. "From a play-calling standpoint, a developer of quarterbacks; Matt Cassel, Tom Brady, four Super Bowl rings and 16 years of NFL experience speaks for itself."
Weis returns to the college ranks after being fired at Notre Dame in 2009. Last year he was with the Kansas City Chiefs, marking his sixth season as an NFL offensive coordinator.
"Philosophically, he and I are on the same page with what we want to do," Muschamp said. "We want to be balanced on offense. You have to be able to run the football to win games in our league consistently. You can't be a one-dimensional team in our league and survive the season."
The Gators found that out first-hand last season. They were average, at best, running the ball and ranked 10th in the SEC in passing offense and total offense. Only LSU and Vanderbilt were worse offensively.
Last year's spread offense is gone in favor of a more run-oriented attack.
"You can count the number of plays we'll call with [quarterback] John Brantley running the option on zero hands," Weis said last month at UF’s spring game.
"Charlie knows how to run the football," Muschamp added.
Well, actually … it depends on which Charlie Weis offense you're referencing.
|Last season, with Weis calling the plays, the Chiefs had the NFL's best running attack. (US Presswire)|
During his tenure as an offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2000 to 2004, the Pats were among the NFL's six-worst rushing offenses in three of his five seasons and finished with the seventh and 13th-best rushing offenses the other two seasons.
While Weis will handle the Gators' offense from the sidelines and not the press box, it's unknown who will direct the defense. Muschamp, a defensive coordinator at Texas, Auburn and LSU, said he wasn't sure if he or defensive coordinator Dan Quinn would call the defensive signals. That was something he needed to determine before the Sept. 3 opener against Florida Atlantic.
In his five seasons as an SEC defensive coordinator, Muschamp's defenses ranked among the top 10 in the nation in total defense each season. He has worked for Mack Brown, Nick Saban and Tommy Tuberville and with Jimbo Fisher, Rick Trickett, Derek Dooley and Pete Jenkins, among others. Saban, however, was the one who changed his career forever when he hired him as LSU's linebackers coach in 2001 from Valdosta State.
The next season, Muschamp was promoted to defensive coordinator when Gary Gibbs left for the NFL. Muschamp spent five seasons working under Saban, four years at LSU and one with the Miami Dolphins.
"Certainly I wouldn't be in the shoes I am now if it hadn't have been for the opportunity [Saban] gave me at LSU," Muschamp said. "I'm very appreciative of that. Philosophically, we believe in a lot of the same things in running a football team and an organization and how you do it -- X's and O's and scheme-wise, philosophically and how you play.
"So there's a lot of similarities."
However, Muschamp said don't expect Florida to duplicate that exact style of play.
"Every job is a little different," Muschamp said. "I don't think you can just say because it worked at 'University A.' we're going to plug it in over here and it's going to work here. You have to evaluate where you are and the situation you're in, the culture, and evaluate the people you're around. What's going to work for you.
"I'm different from a personality standpoint of all those [head coaches he worked for]. I don't mean that in a negative or a positive. I'm just different."
Muschamp, 39, was viewed by some as a unique choice to replace Urban Meyer. Even Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley admitted Muschamp wasn’t on his initial list of candidates. Yet after Meyer announced his retirement on Dec. 8, Foley called Muschamp that evening.
Muschamp thought it was a hoax.
"I got a phone call on my cell phone from a 352 area code," Muschamp said. "When I lived in Gainesville [as a kid] it was 904. So as I look at the cell phone and -- as a football coach you never turn down a call you get coming in because it might be the next great player -- I said, 'Hello.' He said, 'I'm looking for Will Muschamp. This is Jeremy Foley, athletic director at the University of Florida.'
"Well I've got a lot of buddies that like playing jokes, so I, of course, said 'What do you want?' He said, 'Maybe this isn't a good time. I can call you back.' I said, 'No, no, no. What do you want?' Thank goodness I didn't say what I would normally say -- or I may not be standing here right now. As I continued talking to him, I thought, ‘You know what? This sounds like Jeremy Foley.' So I said, 'Yes, sir, what do you need?'"
Three days later, Foley flew to Austin. They met in person for the first time and Muschamp was offered the job hours later.
"I have obviously hired some coaches who have been successful and some who haven't been, but I do know the culture here," Foley said. "I know what I think is a fit here, I do know what I think will work here. And obviously Will fits all those."