GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators huddled around their new head coach Saturday morning inside their locker room.
They bubbled with raw energy. After a month of spring practice, it was finally time to race onto Florida Field for the Orange and Blue spring game. You could sense the anticipation in every corner of the room.
In time few will remember that the Blue defeated the Orange, 13-10, on Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 53,000 at The Swamp.
But for the players and coaches and others in the room, they will remember head coach Will Muschamp’s message. Muschamp renewed his membership in Gator Nation nearly four months ago, but for most of that time, only program insiders had seen him at work.
That changed on Saturday when Florida fans got their first glimpse of Muschamp at his new office.
“First impressions are important,’’ he told his team. “I want you to play fast, I want you to play physical.’’
Muschamp paused for a moment.
“I want to see you knock the [crap] out of somebody.’’
Coach Boom had officially arrived.
Muschamp and his team’s first public appearance since he was hired to replace Urban Meyer in mid-December made Saturday’s spring game more anticipated than most.
For Muschamp, it was business as usual for much of the day. He arrived at the office early, reviewing the day’s plan and touching up final details.
The Gators gathered around 8 to eat breakfast at a dining hall adjacent to the stadium, and then returned to the locker room to prepare for the new staff’s first Gator Walk.
“We’ve been waiting on this,’’ said assistant athletic director of football operations George Wynn, a former teammate of Muschamp’s at Georgia and a longtime associate.
The Gator Walk used to have a much different meaning for Muschamp. When he lived in Gainesville for 10 years growing up, the Muschamp home on 22nd Street was close enough to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that he and his family would walk to games.
They would stroll down 22nd Street, take a left on University Avenue, and plop into their seats in the north end zone. On Saturday, Muschamp was one of the last to board a team bus parked south of the stadium.
He took a seat next to Wynn and then took in the scene as the bus turned right onto Gale Lemerand Drive behind a police escort. While fans waved and did the Gator Chomp as the bus rolled by, Muschamp sat relaxed, chatting with Wynn and looking out the window.
Once the bus pulled onto University Avenue and stopped, it was time for official introductions and a different kind of meet-and-greet. As Muschamp stepped off the bus, a loud roar erupted from the thousands lining the street.
“Welcome back to TitleTown, Coach,’’ one fan yelled.
“Make the Gators proud Will,’’ yelled another.
Muschamp waved calmly to the crowd, looking comfortable in his role as the new face of Florida’s football program as he walked up the crowded street.
Once the players finishing shaking hands and giving high-fives, they made their way into the stadium. That’s when Muschamp and his staff broke off into the F Club to meet a group of players’ parents.
Muschamp thanked the parents for coming and made sure they knew their sons were in good hands.
“This head-coaching deal, you get way too much credit when things go right and way too much blame when they go wrong,’’ he said. “It takes a great team to do great things, and I feel I’ve got one of the best coaching staffs in the country.’’
Once the meeting was over, it was finally time to return to the locker room and get ready for kickoff.
As offensive coordinator Charlie Weis entertained a group of writers with some of his play-calling methods and defensive line coach Bryant Young walked over to introduce himself to the group, Muschamp prepared for his final words to the Gators before they slapped the “Pride” sign above the locker room door and charged out of the tunnel onto the field.
Meanwhile, in the hallway outside, Outback Bowl MVP Ahmad Black returned to say hello and other former players started to mingle on the field in what turned into a festive atmosphere for Muschamp’s official introduction.
Once his short speech was over, Muschamp led the Gators out of the tunnel and into the bright sun.
He later said he felt goose bumps the way he does before every game.
“It didn’t feel a whole lot different,’’ Muschamp said. “You know what? I get that way when I walk onto the practice field.’’
To say we saw a signature moment from Muschamp on Saturday would be stretching it. He was controlled for much of the day, taking in the game from the middle of the field about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
As the stadium buzzed when former UF Heisman winners Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel entered the stadium to a roar, Muschamp didn’t blink, totally focused on the task at hand.
“You could tell he was ready to see us play,’’ receiver Robert Clark said.
Once in a while, Muschamp would walk to the sideline to chat with Weis or another assistant coach. A couple of times he got into the face of a player to make a point.
Afterward, the Gators gathered for a team barbecue to close out the spring. Once his day’s work was finished, Muschamp finally got to spend some time with his family, who have remained in Texas while he broke in on his new job.
The next time we’ll see the Gators run out of the tunnel underneath the south end-zone stands at The Swamp is Sept. 3 against Florida Atlantic, the 2011 season opener.
People will remember the final score that day.
There’s a lot to do between now and then. But from what he saw Saturday and this spring, Muschamp said he is confident the Gators listened to his opening statement.
“I think our kids have really bought into what we want to accomplish and the way we want to do it,’’ he said. “It was a great day.’’