GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The six months have flown by for Larry Muschamp.
It was in December that he and his wife Sally boarded a plane sent by UF and lifted off for Gainesville so they could attend their youngest son’s introductory press conference as Florida’s new football coach.
Larry bubbled with pride and excitement as William Larry Muschamp’s dream of running his own program became a reality. The next day he and Sally were back on that plane headed home to Mentone, Ala.
Their son had players to call and coaches to hire and a family to move from Texas. The Muschamps had their own life to tend to and a shopping list to tackle with Christmas approaching.
Since that memorable evening at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Larry and Will have talked occasionally. He came to the spring game in April to see Will make his debut in The Swamp and get a look at how he looks in orange and blue after all these years wearing other colors.
His son’s life has changed drastically the past six months. So has Larry’s.
“I’ve become very popular,’’ Larry said. “Everyone wants to talk about Will.’’
The newspaper in Atlanta called. So did the local paper in tiny Mentone and the one in Rome, Ga., a few miles across the state line where Larry Muschamp first became a head coach at East Rome High in 1964. The Gainesville Sun and a few magazines have called. Larry can’t remember some of the others because there have been so many.
He just knows he has talked more about Will than ever before since the 39-year-old Muschamp was hired to replace Urban Meyer.
“We’ve had phone calls you wouldn’t believe,’’ said Larry, chuckling in his Southern drawl. “To be honest, I’m tired of it. The kid will make it or break it on his own. So far he seems to be doing well. I’m very proud of him.’’
Larry Muschamp turned 77 a couple of weeks ago and as a gift, his three sons’ kids called to wish him a happy birthday. Larry expects the Muschamp grandkids to call again today on Father’s Day.
The sons – Mike, Pat and Will – will probably get on the phone for a couple of minutes as well. That’s a typical Father’s Day for Larry.
Will’s path back to Gainesville is largely shaped by his dad, who spent his working career as a teacher and coach.
“My father was a coach and I wanted to be a coach,’’ Will said.
By now you’ve likely heard the stories about how the Muschamps spent nearly a decade in Gainesville when Will was younger. He went to kindergarten here and developed into a talented football and baseball player at Oak Hall School, where Larry served as headmaster and an assistant football coach.
They lived at 1122 NW 22nd St. just a few blocks from Florida Field. The family walked to games on Saturdays to watch the Gators play. When the Muschamp boys needed to earn a few bucks, they sold drinks at the stadium.
“That was super,’’ Larry said. “We did not miss many home games, if any. I don’t remember missing one. We just walked down to the stadium and watched the game.’’
They lived in a split-level home along Hogtown Creek, and if they weren’t at school, at practice or in bed, the Muschamp boys were usually in the backyard handing out bruises to each other as they pretended to be their favorite Gator football players.
Mike and Pat – Mike is 8 years older than Will; Pat 6 years older – got older and moved out to chase their own dreams. Will and Larry and Papa Mus – Larry’s father – developed an even stronger bond.
Larry played football at North Carolina and his dad – they called him Jo Jo – played for a year at Penn State and later spent time playing professional baseball.
Papa Mus loved to watch Will shoot hoops or play catch in the backyard. He also loved to talk sports with Will.
“They got to be very, very, very close,’’ Larry said. “They were just really good buddies. And daddy was always talking about athletics. One day we got into an argument about who played third base for Philadelphia. How we got in that argument I don’t know. But I knew it was one guy and he knew it was another.
“So daddy said, ‘Well, let’s just call the pro and find out.’ I said, ‘Who’s the pro?’ ’’
It was Will of course.
“He was messed up with athletics since he was just a peewee,’’ Larry said.
All the Muschamp boys loved sports. Mike went on to play football at Duke. Pat played at Army. Will walked on at Georgia and worked his way onto scholarship and later became a team captain.
The family moved from Gainesville back to Rome when Will was about to start high school. Papa Mus died shortly before the family left Gainesville and was buried in Rome.
With Mike and Pat off to college and Papa Mus gone, Will and Larry spent a lot of weekends tied to football. Will played on Friday nights and the two would watch college football on Saturdays and pro football on Sundays.
They also talked about coaching.
Larry considered himself to be a committed coach and wanted to pass along some life lessons to Will.
“I’ve given him more advice than I should have,’’ Larry said. “We were just close and football was one of the things that held us together.
“Will is a driver. He is driven and that’s just the way he is. I don’t think I was ever driven that much and I loved coaching. I loved it tremendously, but I was not as dedicated as Will.’’
On that day in December when he was introduced to Gator Nation, Muschamp made sure to include Larry and Sally into his remarks.
Those lessons Larry taught him about football, about coaching, about growing up and being responsible, are the same lessons Will is now trying to teach the Gators.
“Our program is going to be based in a family atmosphere with three basic things; trust, respect and communication,’’ Muschamp said. “Those are all two-way streets. It takes two to do it. My parents have done a phenomenal job. Positively affecting other people is something that I really enjoy doing.’’
Reminded of those statements a couple of days before Father’s Day, Larry Muschamp said that’s Will being Will. He said his youngest son says what he thinks in football and in life.
If Larry Muschamp’s youngest son occasionally gives pop some credit along the way, Larry is thankful. That’s about the best Father’s Day gift a guy can get.
“I tried my best,’’ Larry said.