GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On the morning of Dec. 4, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley woke up fresh and ready to enjoy a weekend getaway in his native New England.
However, by the time he went to bed that night, Foley had to pull out a notebook and start to do something he didn’t expect on his brief escape: jot down names of potential candidates to replace Gators football coach Urban Meyer.
Meyer called Foley earlier in the day to inform him that he was going to step down as Florida’s head coach after six seasons. Meyer had done the same thing a year before, but Foley knew this time was different.
He could hear it in Meyer’s voice. And once Foley arrived back in town a couple of days later, he could see it in Meyer’s eyes as the two finalized plans to announce Meyer’s resignation, effective after the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Penn State.
Soon after taking Meyer’s call, Foley immediately contacted a few close associates in Gainesville and requested they start researching some of the names he had scribbled in his notebook.
“There’s two things you have to deal with: you’ve got to deal with Urban and that announcement, and then your mind starts turning to who the next guy is going to be,’’ Foley said Monday in his office at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Foley said that his initial list of candidates contained “all the names that everybody has talked about.”
But Foley made a special addition the next morning when he woke up, his mind refreshed from the hurried drama of the previous evening.
“Will wasn’t on that list. The next morning I started thinking Muschamp,’’ Foley said. “I put him on the list, then I called back down here and we had guys researching. The more research you did on Will and the more you read about him, the more you watched him … his familiarity with this league really intrigued me.
“When we got back into town, we kind of honed in on him very, very quickly,’’ Foley said.
The first task was planning Meyer’s official press conference to announce his resignation. Foley spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday focused on Meyer’s exit.
After the 6 p.m. press conference on Wednesday – UF President Bernie Machen, Meyer, Foley and seniors Mike Pouncey and Ahmad Black all spoke to the media – Foley turned his attention ahead.
As he pulled away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Wednesday night, he made his first call to Muschamp. He asked if Muschamp would have any interest in talking about the Florida job.
Muschamp told Foley that he would, but that before the talks could progress, he needed to meet with Texas coach Mack Brown and explain the situation.
The two left it at that on Wednesday night, and on Thursday Foley spent part of his day with Meyer traveling back and forth to Tampa for an Outback Bowl press conference.
Talks between Foley and Muschamp increased significantly on Friday once Muschamp met with Brown to discuss his interest in the job. Foley and Muschamp spoke on the phone several times throughout the day.
“We agreed that I would come out there on Saturday,’’ Foley said.
Foley and senior athletic department officials Mike Hill and Chip Howard flew to Austin, Texas, to meet Muschamp on Saturday morning. They arrived in Austin around 11 a.m. and spent the next “six or seven hours’’ talking with the 39-year-old Muschamp.
“We obviously had done a lot of research on this,’’ Foley said. “After we sat down with him for that length of time, it was pretty evident early on that this was the guy. I think when people meet him tomorrow night [at his UF introductory press conference] they will see that.’’
Once Foley, Hill and Howard got through talking with Muschamp on Saturday, they returned to Gainesville with a deal in place for Muschamp to become the 23rd head coach in Florida football history.
Muschamp needed to tell Texas officials and wanted time to talk with his family before the official announcement was made. With Foley in the air flying back from Austin – the UF contingent didn’t get back to Gainesville until around 8:30 Saturday night – the news about UF hiring Muschamp broke on the Internet.
UF officials planned to announce the hiring after the Heisman ceremony in New York, but once the news leaked out beforehand, UF sent out an official release to confirm the news for the media.
Foley said he had never met Muschamp face-to-face until Saturday. The first time he met Meyer before hiring him was in Meyer’s living room in Utah in 2004. While some fans have questioned hiring a first-time head coach, Foley has no concerns about Muschamp’s ability to handle the job.
“He has a great plan to win,’’ Foley said. “He wants to be here. He is ready to be a head coach in our opinion. And then when you talk face to face, it’s impressive.’’
When Foley spoke on Wednesday at Meyer’s press conference, he told reporters that he expected to move fast in making a hire but cautioned that the search could take up to two or two-and-a-half weeks.
Instead, Foley had his man 72 hours later. Foley said his experience at Florida – he has been athletic director since 1992 – and his familiarity with the fan base and the program’s culture all helped in his decision to hire Muschamp so quickly.
“The one thing that I can bring to the table is that I’ve been here a long time,’’ Foley said. “I have obviously hired some coaches who have been successful and some who haven’t been, but I do know the culture here, I know what I think is a fit here, I do know what I think will work here. And obviously Will fits all those. It was quick, and some people don’t understand how it can be so quick, but when you are trying to hire a guy like Will Muschamp, he’s got a great job.
“Let’s call it like it is: He’s the next head coach at Texas. So you sit here and say, ‘OK, Will, thank you and I’ll see you in a week while I go talk to three of four other guys.’ What happens if he’s not there when you get back? The recruits and people in Texas value him greatly. So who knows?’’
With that in mind, and after the impressive face-to-face meeting, Foley was comfortable in making Muschamp an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
“I obviously respect a lot of coaches, but this is the guy we targeted and this is the guy we thought would fit here,’’ Foley said. “The only thing that could have derailed that is if we had a bad meeting in Austin. We had a great meeting in Austin, and once that’s over, let’s go.
“There is absolutely no other reason to do anything else, and that’s how we did it.’’