With just a handful of words, new head coach Will Muschamp stamped his arrival on Florida football. “Change is inevitable; growth is optional,” he told his team in January, minutes into their very first meeting.
As a new season approaches, it’s clear a new era has already begun.
“You’re either going to grow with us, or you’re not,” Muschamp adds.
And if players don’t?
“Then you won’t be here anymore.”
Beginning September 3, within the waiting walls of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida football will, again, begin anew. The anticipation of this new season is born, largely, out of the unknown. It’s hard to know what to expect, yet at Florida, expectations never change. As for his own, Muschamp expects his Gators to do things in a very specific way… The Florida Way
A New Principle
“The Florida Way.”
Rarely do a new coach’s methods acquire an enduring handle before he ever patrols his own sidelines, but in his introductory press conference, the 23rd coach in Gator history may have accomplished just that, coining the aforementioned phrase.
“There’s a certain thing that I’m going to refer to as “The Florida Way,” and that’s the way they need to act and that’s the way they need to represent our university,” said Muschamp. “I’m going to demand that, and I think that you’ll understand in time, that’s something that’s very important to me.”
“The Florida Way” will test the balance between emphasizing character and discipline and winning football games. Casting off senior cornerback Janoris Jenkins, almost certainly Florida’s best player, after a third arrest this past spring, Muschamp made good on his standard early on. It was a decision that’s never easy to make, but one current players, including senior quarterback John Brantley, stand in support of.
“It’s about going out and trying to be the best you can be,” said the Ocala native and former Trinity Catholic star, “and that means on and off the field.”
Running a clean program alone, though, won’t buy a long tenure. That much will ultimately be determined by results on Saturdays.
“I’m not a big stat guy,” says Muschamp. “There is one stat I pay attention to, and that’s winning football games. There is no such thing as an ugly win.”
Following Urban Meyer’s resignation, Athletic Director Jeremy Foley made a move few anticipated, bringing 39-year-old Muschamp to Gainesville. A highly regarded defensive coach and head-man-in-waiting at Texas, his reputation for success in various college capacities preceded him. While reaction throughout Gator Nation was neither disgust nor dismay, many believed a more seasoned selection was in the Gators’ best interest. Despite it all, Foley maintains he found the best fit for the future.
“We are thrilled to have Coach Muschamp lead our football program,” said Foley in his initial press release announcing the hiring. “Coach Muschamp is someone we targeted from the beginning, and he is the guy we wanted. I don’t see this as a gamble at all. For me, it was all about finding the right fit for Florida, and I think we have the right fit.”
Will Muschamp at a University of Florida press conference.
An entire spring and off-season with Muschamp at the helm has Brantley praising his new coach’s passion.
“His energy for the game rubs off on the players,” he says. “And that’s the biggest thing; it’s within his personality. It’s not a show—that’s just who he is every single day. I think he’s going to make the best come out in all of us and help us become the best players we can be.”
But a head coach is only as good as the people who surround him, and to fill out his staff, Muschamp went to work in a hurry. What he delivered piqued the interest of just about everyone in the college football community.
In search of an offensive coordinator with a combination of college and NFL experience, Charlie Weis was plucked from the same position with the Kansas City Chiefs. Weis owns four Super Bowl rings, three of them earned while operating the New England Patriots offense from 2000 to 2004.
His strengths, admittedly, revolving around defense, Muschamp found exactly what he was seeking in Weis.
“I needed somebody I could turn the offense over to,” he said. “Something I had to have was instant credibility, and Charlie brings that to the University of Florida.”
Not serving strictly as offensive coordinator, Weis also oversees the quarterbacks.
“His track record speaks for itself,” says Brantley. “He’s a genius, on and off the field, with his offense. So, coming into the spring, I was just trying to soak it all in and learn as much as I can.”
Meanwhile, the Florida defensewill have Muschamp’s finger prints all over it. Still, to implement systems and schemes, the new coach again dipped into the NFL pool, hiring defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Dan Quinn. For the past decade, Quinn has worked in the pros, with his past eight years spent coaching defensive lines. It was with the Dolphins in 2005 where Quinn worked alongside Muschamp.
“Dan is one of the best I’ve been around in terms of teaching fundamentals,” Muschamp says. “He understands how defenses will need to be multiple and how to put players in a position to be successful.”
And then there’s the offense. In 2010, Florida’s offense was flat out abysmal. The Gators ranked in the bottom half of every single Southeastern Conference offensive category. Made famous by its past Fun ‘n Gun and Spread Option attacks, how soon the University of Florida and Weis can pioneer point scoring will be especially intriguing.
Fittingly, Weis brings a pro-style offense to the Gators. An obvious departure from years gone by, a more traditional, featured running back will assume the bulk of ball carrying duties.
“You can count the number of times John Brantley will run the option on zero hands,” quipped Weis. “It doesn’t mean he won’t ever run the ball, but he won’t be running the option.”
Which is just fine with Brantley, who is expected to be infinitely better suited in a play-action, drop back passing style of play.
“Any new offense that you don’t know much about, especially when the verbiage is completely different, you’re kind of nervous, but Coach Weis has a great way of teaching and helping everyone learn,” says Brantley.
With Brantley the unquestioned starter, last season’s surprise play maker Trey Burton has been moved to halfback, while fellow sophomore Jordan Reed will line up at tight end. Seniors Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey will again be one of the country’s fastest duos at running back. At wide receiver, the opportunity is open for any number of the Gators’ promising talents to assert themselves, including Deonte Thompson, Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond, Jr.
Muschamp loves to call the SEC a “Line of Scrimmage League,” and that was a major reason for bringing Quinn aboard. The calling card of the Florida defense in 2011 is expected to be its defensive line. Muschamp will insert a unique “buck” position to play as a defensive end/linebacker hybrid. Sophomore Ronald Powell (6’4”, 250 lbs) could possess the perfect combination of size and speed to be a roaming force in this role.
“I think our defensive line is going to be fantastic,” says Brantley, who ought to know, as quickly as he’s been reached by them in both spring and fall practice. “I think they’re going to be very strong, and as long as they can stay healthy, that’s going to be a very big position group for us there.”
Meanwhile, the Gator linebacker corps is deep, but largely inexperienced. Muschamp and Quinn are eyeing junior Jon Bostic and sophomore Jelani Jenkins to emerge as leaders and difference makers pursuing the ball. With Janoris Jenkins dismissal, the Gators’ entire secondary, a dominant area in past years, is dotted with question marks.
Muschamp and company won’t exactly get an opportunity to ease into their first year together. Florida’s 2011 schedule is one of the toughest in recent memory. The Gators play just three home SEC games (Tennessee, Alabama, Vanderbilt) before hosting Florida State on November 26.
October promises to be particularly brutal, where in three consecutive weeks (vs. Alabama, @ LSU, @ Auburn), the Gators face the past three BCS national champions not named “Florida.” The month then wraps up on the 29th in Jacksonville, against a Georgia team that’s a popular pick to win the East.
“It’s going to be a tough little run into October, but we’re prepared for it,” says Brantley. “We prepared for it all summer in our workouts, into preseason camp, and we’re just going to keep working.”
As for Muschamp, the new coach says simply equaling last year’s 8-5 mark would be a disappointment, even for a maiden voyage in the country’s toughest conference.
“I’ve got high expectations for our football team,” Muschamp says. “I’ve said it before; I think we’ve got a good team on campus. I’m excited about our nucleus. We have some deficiencies—like every team does—but we’ve got to work through those and let our staff do a really good job coaching because I think our players have really bought into what we’re doing.”
Florida Football 2011 Season Schedule
Sep 3 Florida Atlantic
Sep 10 Alabama-Birmingham
Sep 17 Tennessee*
Sep 24 Kentucky
Oct 1 Alabama*
Oct 8 LSU*
Oct 15 Auburn*
Oct 29 Georgia* (Jacksonville)
Nov 5 Vanderbilt*
Nov 12 South Carolina
Nov 19 Furman
Nov 26 Florida State
Home Games In Bold *Conference Game