|Will Muschamp couldn't hide from all the misfortunes during his first season in Florida. (Getty Images)|
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp is a passionate coach who wears his emotions on his sleeve during a game. He's not going to apologize for that and he doesn't plan to change.
"But I don't get emotional when I'm evaluating where we are," Florida's second-year head coach said. "You simply watch the tape. What did you do well? What did you not do so well? And what do you need to do to get better? There is no room for emotion there."
There are coaching transitions and then there is what Muschamp, 40, went through in his first season at Florida:
• He inherited a team built to run the spread offense under Urban Meyer, who won two BCS titles (2006, 2008) in five seasons. But when he got the job, Muschamp made it clear Florida would move to a more power-based offense, a la Alabama. He didn't have the personnel to do it.
"But I still felt we'd be OK as long as [quarterback] John Brantley didn't get hurt," he said.
• After Florida started 4-0 and rose to No. 12 in the polls, Brantley suffered a high ankle sprain just before halftime against No. 3 Alabama. The Crimson Tide rolled 38-10.
• Brantley's injury meant that true freshman Jacoby Brissette had to make his first career start the following week at No. 1 LSU. The Gators never had a chance, losing 41-11.
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• In the next two weeks Florida played at Auburn, the defending national champions, losing 17-6 as Brantley hobbled back to play. Then against Georgia in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs converted two fourth-down plays into touchdowns and won 24-20. It was Florida's first four-game losing streak since 1988, two years before Steve Spurrier arrived.
• When all the smoke had cleared, Muschamp's first Florida team was 7-6 and five of those losses had come against No. 1 Alabama (12-1, national champions), No. 2 LSU (13-1), No. 9 South Carolina (11-2), No. 19 Georgia (10-4, SEC East champs), and No. 23 Florida State (9-4).
"We lost to two great teams in Alabama and LSU [in back-to-back weeks] and they were just better than us. It doesn't take a genius to see that Alabama and LSU are just different than everybody else," Muschamp said. "But in three of the other losses we have an opportunity at the end of the game to win with one score or one stop. And we don't get it done. That is where we are."
The tape does not lie, Muschamp says. With a roster that was 70 percent freshmen and sophomores, Florida simply didn't have the bodies up front that are necessary to play at the highest level of the SEC.
"It was a very frustrating year in terms of our numbers on the line of scrimmage," he said. "We had to change the way we practice. We had to practice like a pro team, and that's not going to get it done in the SEC."
And here was another place where the tape does not lie. In losses to Auburn, Georgia, and South Carolina, the Gators scored only one time in seven trips to the red zone.
"The bottom line is this: To win in the SEC, you have to have the ability to consistently stop the run and to consistently run the football," Muschamp said. "That goes back to the physicality of your football team. And we did not consistently do that through the year."
There have been some changes to make Florida a little more physical and nasty up front. Offensive line coach Frank Verducci, according to the school, left "to pursue other interests." Muschamp hired Tim Davis as his offensive line coach and running game coordinator. Davis, who came from Utah but previously worked at Alabama, "is more of my temperament as an offensive line coach," Muschamp said.
Translation: Life is going to be very different for the guys who play offensive line for Florida. Davis is going to get after it.
Brent Pease takes over as offensive coordinator for Charlie Weis, who became head coach at Kansas. Pease was the OC at Boise State but previously worked at Kentucky. So Pease "gets" what the SEC is all about, Muschamp said. Boise State, believe it or not, averaged 4.54 yards when the Broncos ran the ball last season. Muschamp wants some creativity in the run game on a consistent basis.
"He [Pease] knows it's not just one week or two weeks -- it's every week in the SEC," Muschamp said. "It's about the physicality of running the football. Some of that stuff [that Boise State ran] looks fancy and good when you're playing in some of those other leagues. But in this league, you better count on how you're going to block those guys up front."
And this can't be overstated: When strength coach Mickey Marotti left to join Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Mushcamp hired 35-year-old Jeff Dillman from the IMG Performance Institute, where he prepped athletes for the NFL combine. Muschamp wanted Dillman to raise the intensity level in the Florida weight room and focus more on size and strength and explosive power. Marotti focused more on speed and quickness in his training regimen.
"All of these men understand my philosophy on what it takes to be successful in this conference," Muschamp said.
With the offensive side of the equation addressed, Muschamp then turned his attention to defense.
The Gators put up pretty decent numbers under first-year coordinator Dan Quinn. Florida finished No. 8 nationally in total defense, giving up 299.5 yards per game. But the most telling number for the Florida defense was 14. That was the number of turnovers Florida forced in 13 games. Only seven teams in all of FBS generated fewer turnovers than Florida, which finished 113th nationally in turnover margin (minus-12).
By contrast LSU (30), Alabama (29), Georgia (32), and South Carolina (32) more than doubled Florida's 14 forced turnovers. When Texas played for the BCS title in 2009, Muschamp's Longhorns defense forced 37 turnovers.
"We had 15 dropped interceptions," Muschamp said. "Let's say we just catch half of those. When you play football at this level, those kinds of things are very important."
With 10 starters back on defense, forcing more turnovers has become a big part of spring practice, Quinn said.
"We will talk about it every day and work on it every day," he said.
So year two of Muschamp's rebranding of Florida football has begun. Can the Gators get back into an SEC East race that will again be wide open? The schedule is certainly more forgiving. Instead of playing Alabama and LSU on back-to-back weekends, the Crimson Tide game goes away and LSU is at home after an open date. South Carolina will come to the Swamp. Georgia, as always, will be in Jacksonville.
"The bottom line for us is that we're better right now than at any time last season," Muschamp said. "I can see that and I like where we are headed. But I also know this business is about results on the field. One thing you learn in a hurry around here. Nobody is going to feel sorry for the Gators."