Florida: More coach Will Muschamp than 'Coach Boom' this spring

Will Muschamp and the Gators will be looking to rebound from the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.
Will Muschamp and the Gators will be looking to rebound from the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville. (USATSI)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There’s this Cajun seasoning Will Muschamp puts on red potatoes. Larry Muschamp can’t remember the brand. It’s his son’s go-to while on the grill. He shakes the contents of this big box on top of the potatoes, which apparently are so good, Larry tries to recreate his own batch at home.

Will prepared them for his parents the Sunday after the spring game two weeks ago, along with salmon and a salad. He also took his kids to Waffle House for breakfast.

All of this is not normal. 

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“That’s the first time I can remember when he was not working on a Sunday,” said Larry, a former football coach who lives in Mentone, Ala., with Will’s mother Sally. “He cooked, went to the store. He’s pretty good on a grill. It was very laid-back.”

"Coach Boom" stayed at the office that day, somewhere tucked away with those broken dry-erase boards he’s punched over the years.

In year three coaching the Florida Gators, "Boom" and Will are learning to co-exist. This is the time of year when Will wins out.

Muschamp might never change his well-documented sideline demeanor -- though his mother thinks it could happen this year -- but he can lower the boom gently in the offseason with a reflective, cerebral approach. He emphasizes big-picture interviews with players in his office and a coaching balance he simply didn’t have two years ago.

“Something two years ago would have happened, I would have probably blown my head off thinking about it,” Muschamp said. “Now I roll with the punches a little better than maybe I did before.”

He’s talking about managing a roster and a staff, something that can require a delicate touch.

Yes, this face -- the inspiration behind a Halloween prop -- can do delicate.

After a mid-March practice, Muschamp posed for a picture with a boy when a family member nearby said, "Do the Muschamp face." On cue, the boy clinches his face and squints his eyes intensely.

Muschamp, wearing a short-sleeve blue Gators windbreaker, a white visor and black shades, laughs with the crowd and pats the kid on his head before turning to the next camera.

He’s known for this intensity, the guy seemingly allergic to mellow. In that first year, Muschamp broke a dry-erase board from the sideline … during a 48-10 blowout over Kentucky.

But on this day in March, he’s calmly discussing the study of human behavior as it pertains to athletic motivation. He’s fascinated by this after talking with his players one-on-one at least twice a year to “redefine where they are.”

“Some guys are self-starters,” Muschamp said. “Very few people in our society are self-starters nowadays. There’s a key to every kid, and all kids are different. … What motivates these guys? Learn every player in the meeting room and know what makes them tick.”

The common motivators Muschamp throws out there: Family, winning a drill in practice, the NFL.

His is winning. He makes that clear.

The Gators played in five games decided by eight points or fewer in part because of a conservative offensive game plan surrounding quarterback Jeff Driskel. Winning with turnover margin, defense and a few timely throws from Driskel took UF to the national title brink.

This year’s Gators plan to maintain the same principles while expanding the offense -- assuming the underwhelming receivers improve -- and relying on defensive depth. Muschamp worked to cleanse the locker room of the entitlement he noticed in year one. The defense plays tough. Now an offensive surge is the next step.

Florida has a recruiting plan and a locker-room system Muschamp says emphasizes winning at every turn, from film room to Friday nights out. Every decision must be made with winning in mind, he says, and coaches must find players who embrace this when combing the state for prep talent.

When the cameras fixate on Muschamp while he’s evading the personal space of an official, that’s about winning, too. He worked on that last season, to mixed results.

His mother thinks this might be the year he sanitizes his sideline approach, not because of a behavioral change but because of comfort.

“I think he’s enjoying everything more now,” Sally said. “This is his third year.”

Larry, a former high school coach, isn’t buying it.

“I don’t think he’ll be settling down a whole lot,” he said.

When Muschamp ignites, the Gators have calmer contrasts on staff such as offensive coordinator Brent Pease, former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (now with Seattle) and new coordinator D.J. Durkin.

Durkin says his job is not to suppress Muschamp, nor would he want to.

The Gators have taken the personality of Muschamp and feed off his turbocharged ways, Durkin said, though many of his exchanges with Muschamp aren’t exactly high-octane.

When Muschamp called Durkin to offer the promotion from linebackers coach/special teams coordinator, the conversation was concise: "Here’s what I want. You ready?” Durkin recalls Muschamp saying.

“Absolutely,” Durkin replied.

“People don’t see the day-to-day operation,” Durkin said. “It’s not like that all the time. He and our staff have a great way of communicating with our players.”

Actually, Muschamp says he just wants to have fun. Muschamp balked on the chance at West Point out of high school because he thought it was too disciplined.

“I like having fun, too,” Muschamp said.

Those first two years of player meetings gave Muschamp an understanding of his team that translated to last year’s 11-win finish.

But he’s still searching for one answer -- how to evade a curious loss like the 33-23 Sugar Bowl collapse against Louisville.

Florida played like an angry, hungry team for 12 games but dropped those qualities in New Orleans.

“The mental psyche is always interesting,” he said.

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