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Saturday December 11, 2010Foley Gets His Guy; Targets and Lands Muschamp To Lead Gators

Gainesville, Fla.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

The rumor mill began churning out names like a fire hose spits water the instant news broke Wednesday that Gators head coach Urban Meyer was resigning.


Who would Jeremy Foley hire to replace the most successful college football coach in America the past six years?


Everyone had a theory, but Foley had a plan.


The man at the top of Foley’s wish-list: Texas defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp.


Foley had observed first-hand what Muschamp could do on the sideline, first at LSU and then at Auburn in the SEC. The last three years as Mack Brown’s right-hand man at Texas.


In five seasons as a defensive coordinator in the SEC – three at LSU and two at Auburn – Muschamp’s defenses avoided getting chomped by the Gators. He was 4-1 against Florida, and Foley took notice.


He also had other qualities that caught Foley’s eye. Muschamp is a family fan. He has ties to Gainesville – his father Larry is a former administrator at Oak Hall School – he knows the community and is a veteran of the pressure-packed SEC. His passion for the game is obvious to anyone who has watched his fiery demeanor on the sideline.


Muschamp’s football pedigree isn’t too shabby either.


His dad played at North Carolina. Both his older brothers played college football – one at Army and one at Duke – and they used to serve up their own version of hard knocks to their younger in backyard games here on 27th Street while growing up.


Football was at the center of the Muschamp family’s life.


Muschamp even planned his wedding to wife Carol – you guessed it – around his coaching schedule.


Muschamp’s dad, Larry, was a high school coach. He used to tell his boys: “Show me a good loser, I’ll show you a loser.’’


Larry’s youngest son didn’t run from the challenge, he embraced it, even after suffering a serious leg injury in a baseball game during the spring before his senior year at the Darlington School in Rome, Ga.


Muschamp had to have a 17-inch rod placed in his leg and he limped around for much of his senior season due to nerve damage, scaring away all those schools that had been sending him recruiting letters he was hurt.


Still, Muschamp played on, keeping his dream alive by walking on at Georgia. Four years later, he capped his career as the Bulldogs’ hard-hitting strong safety and co-defensive captain, known as the player who worked harder than anybody on the team. He used that same work ethic to quickly climb the coaching ranks.


Texas officials were impressed enough with Muschamp after his first season in Austin to tab him Mack Brown’s future replacement.


While he has never been a head coach, that didn’t deter Foley from turning over the keys to one of the nation’s elite football programs to the 39-year-old Muschamp – a year younger than Meyer when he took over the program in 2004.


“I think this is a tough job, so if you haven’t been a head coach, then you’re going to have to be pretty special,’’ Foley said in his office Thursday morning.


Foley then laid out more requirements for the next Gators’ coach.


“We’re going to develop a list of candidates that fit on this campus, fit in this culture, understands what the University of Florida is all about,’’ Foley added.


With a clear idea of what he wanted, Foley began to look at potential candidates and Muschamp obviously seemed the perfect fit.


The two talked in depth on Friday about the job, and Foley spent Saturday in Texas trying to finalize a deal. The job was finished late Saturday afternoon. A press conference to officially announce Muschamp’s hiring will take place early next week.


Muschamp is the third head football coach Foley has hired since becoming UF’s athletic director in 1992.


The first time Foley met Meyer was in Meyer’s living room in Utah. He looked for the same qualities then as he did now, and we all know how Meyer’s hire turned out.


Muschamp’s hiring will surprise many in Gator Nation and around the college football world. But Foley’s track record in hiring head coaches is difficult to challenge.


He took a chance on a young basketball coach named Billy Donovan 15 years ago, and Donovan has won two national titles and is the school’s all-time winningest coach. In 2007, Foley turned the baseball program over to first-time head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who led the Gators to an SEC title and a trip to the College World Series last season. Gregg Troy had never been a head college swimming coach when Foley hired him; Troy’s success at UF was enough for the U.S. Olympic Committee to name him head coach of Team USA in the 2012 Summer Olympics earlier this week.


Perhaps as important as anything else about Muschamp’s hiring, he has shown he is comfortable in highly charged environments such at Auburn, LSU and Texas. He doesn’t sweat in the spotlight.


As head coach at Florida, you rarely escape the spotlight, so Foley didn’t need to throw in a towel in the deal. And he has a proven track record as a recruiter. While many college coaches view recruiting as a necessary evil, Muschamp relishes the chase for players.


When he left LSU to join Saban’s staff with the Miami Dolphins in 2005, he left after just one season to return to the SEC as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2006 and ’07.


In the NFL, it’s all coaching,’’ Muschamp once said. “You don’t have to do the recruiting part of it, which I had always enjoyed.’’


That should be music to Gator fans’ ears.


Evidently, it was to Foley’s. In fact, Muschamp was out recruiting Friday when Foley contacted him.


Sounds like William Larry Muschamp will fit in just fine in The Swamp.


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