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Friday April 22, 2011Behind The Scenes: Will Muschamp's Whirlwind Day At ESPN

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

BRISTOL, Conn. – Within a few minutes of arriving at ESPN headquarters on Thursday morning, Florida head football coach Will Muschamp found himself looking at a mirror.

A make-up artist stood next to him and arranged her work tools, ready to touch up the face looking back at Muschamp.

“My wife would love to see this,’’ he said.

As Muschamp prepared for the first of several TV appearances on Thursday as part of a media blitz known around the ESPN campus as a “car wash’’ – a term coined by ESPN anchor Bob Ley we later discovered – a line of ESPN personalities came in and out of the room to say hello and get in line for their spot in the make-up chair.

After Muschamp was touched up and took a seat on a couch facing a wall of TVs showing ESPN programming, “Mike & Mike in the Morning” co-host Mike Greenberg plopped down in the chair. Greenberg and Muschamp talked a little football before NBA reporter Chris Broussard walked in, and you guessed it, took his turn in the hot seat.

One thing you quickly learn when you step onto ESPN’s campus is that there is constant motion. The campus is a 24/7 operation that never sleeps, and on Thursday, the red carpet was rolled out for Muschamp.

“It’s a good day for the Gators,’’ he said.

*****

Muschamp departed Gainesville at 6:30 on Thursday morning, less than 10 hours after arriving back in town from Lakeland following his first Gator Gathering since replacing Urban Meyer in December.

The day ahead was going to be long – Muschamp had 14 media spots scheduled once he arrived at ESPN, starting with an appearance on “SportsCenter” at 10:20 a.m. – so he caught a short nap on the flight to Hartford, where a drive met a UF traveling party of three for the half-hour trip to ESPN headquarters.

Once the car pulled into the circular driveway outside Building 4 on ESPN’s campus, the next seven hours were non-stop, starting with ESPN anchor Josh Elliott asking Muschamp the first of hundreds of questions he faced throughout the day regarding the Gators and the outlook entering his first season as a head coach.

ESPN talent producer Lisa Stokes hosted Muschamp on the visit, sharing stories about ESPN’s history and many others, including former Gator Joe Haden’s visit to campus on Wednesday.

Haden, a rookie with the Cleveland Browns last season, traveled alone and truly took in the experience according to Stokes. She was impressed by Haden’s wit and shoe collection.

“He has 230 pairs of sneakers in his closet,’’ she said, showing Muschamp a photo on her iPad.

For Muschamp, the trip to ESPN provided a huge dose of exposure for his program and served as sort of an introduction to a national audience. While Muschamp’s fiery sideline demeanor and success as a defensive coordinator are well-known in college football circles, Muschamp has never been the face of a program until now.

He bounced from interview to interview on Thursday like a veteran, breaking only for a 45-minute lunch at noon. To give you an idea of what the day entailed, after his first appearance on “SportsCenter’’ kicked off the action, Muschamp met with a group of ESPN RISE reporters for a video interview about what he looks for in an elite recruit.

He then did a spot with ESPN’s social media division before moving on to a live appearance with Jay Crawford on “First Take,’’ talking about quarterback John Brantley’s future, what he learned as coach-in-waiting at Texas, and how he and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher co-own a condo in the Panhandle that has been a fascinating point with fans.

“When I interviewed, my boss, Jeremy Foley, didn’t ask me about it,’’ Muschamp said jokingly. “So I didn’t say anything.’’

Prior to his visit with Crawford, Muschamp spoke briefly with Rob Parker and Skip Bayless, who were in the same studio preparing a segment on the show. No matter where you looked on Thursday, there was another familiar face.

As Muschamp walked down the hallway toward a string of radio appearances – including one on the popular “Scott Van Pelt Show” – ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay nearly bumped into the Gators coach as he came around the corner.

“You’re all over the place,’’ McShay said after seeing Muschamp on TV a little while ago.

After the radio spots, Muschamp took a break for lunch in the ESPN cafeteria. The place was packed with employees and TV personalities, offering a wide array of choices similar to a good food court in a mall.

Muschamp opted for a hot sandwich and finally caught his breath.

“This is really something,’’ he told Stokes. “I’ve never been here before, so it’s interesting to see how everything works.’’

*****

Once lunch was over, Muschamp headed to another building to record an ESPNU podcast with longtime college football reporter Ivan Maisel, who was interested in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ plan and how much Muschamp planned to be involved in the offense.

“I won’t be calling plays,’’ Muschamp said. “I’ll be involved in personnel and scheme and philosophy. Charlie and I, philosophically, are very similar. I wanted to bring in somebody to run the offense and I think Charlie is one of the best in the business.’’

Once the meeting with Maisel was over, it was time to head to another building and another interview.

In one of the more fun segments of the day, Muschamp did a spot for ESPN Digital that focused on his life away from football.

Here are a few things you might not know about the Gators’ new head coach.

--What food will Muschamp not eat? Spinach. He said he can’t stand it after being forced to eat so much of it to promote the healing of a serious leg injury in high school.

--What’s his favorite food? Steak.

--What is his favorite TV show? “Seinfeld.”

--What was his first job? A landscaper.

--If he wasn’t a football coach, what would he be? A teacher.

Once Muschamp wrapped up that session, he did an interview with a columnist from ESPN.com’s Page 2. After that, he was on “College Football Live,’’ where he chatted with former UF quarterback Jesse Palmer.

With the day starting to wind down, Muschamp had some fun on the raucous set of “SportsNation.’’ When host Michelle Beadle tried to get Muschamp to do the Hook ‘em Horns hand symbol made famous by Texas fans – she is a University of Texas-San Antonio graduate – the Longhorns’ former defensive coordinator resisted.

He did a Gator Chomp instead.

*****

With the finish line in sight, Muschamp returned to the ESPN Green Room where his day started with that make-up session. Muschamp rested on a couch with his boots propped up as he took online questions during an ESPN.com chat session. Once that was over, it was back to the “SportsCenter” studio.

On the way there, someone pointed out a basketball sitting nearby that had a pair of familiar faces on it: Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan and ESPN announcer Dick Vitale.

Muschamp playfully covered up Vitale’s face and took a picture holding the ball. Donovan was at ESPN in February for a car wash.

In his final segment of the day, Muschamp did a “SportsCenter’’ appearance on ESPN News.

Before going on, Stokes took a few pictures of Muschamp in the studio as keepsakes. Then it was time to talk about the Gators – again. As soon as Muschamp answered the final question, Stokes led UF’s traveling party to a waiting car outside.

The talking was over once Muschamp did a couple of phone interviews in the car on the way to the airport. Once he got on the plane, Muschamp ate a sandwich and then nodded off. He needed another nap after a whirlwind day in front of the ESPN cameras.

 

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