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Gators head coach Will Muschamp has been busy this month speaking to Gator groups around the state.

Thursday May 22, 2014Time to Look Forward with Opener 100 Days Away

Gators head coach Will Muschamp has been busy this month speaking to Gator groups around the state.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – He has traveled north and south, east and west.

He has visited Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando to speak to the orange-and-blue faithful this spring. He has spoken to multiple groups locally, just a short drive from his office.

Those are Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s favorite stops.

“I get home earlier at night,’’ he quipped prior to Tuesday night’s visit with the Titletown Gator Club.

Muschamp could have walked to that one the way he used to stroll to games at Florida Field growing up. The event was held at Emerson Hall across University Avenue from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

After Thursday night’s speech to the Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club, Muschamp’s tour of duty is over.

These chat fests are part of the job as the face of the Florida football program.

Still, coming off the program’s worst season since Led Zeppelin disbanded, at times Muschamp probably felt like a piñata being strung up for a bunch of third-graders at a birthday party.

Each time he walked through the door he knew what was coming -- many of the same questions and many of the same answers.

The headlines often reflected the underlying theme afterward:

Gators’ Muschamp aware he is on hot seat

Gators coach Muschamp: ‘Last fall is on my shoulders’

Muschamp says control not a problem at Florida

And then in the middle of his annual speaking tour, Muschamp had to make a detour. His mentor, his friend, his hero – Herbert Larry Muschamp, his father – passed away.

There was little time to mourn.

The night after the funeral Muschamp was in Orlando speaking to the Central Florida Gator Club. And two nights after that, he spoke to the Polk County Gator Club.

A sellout crowd of 450 folks showed up in Lakeland and proved an enthusiastic audience.

Muschamp did his part, using his ability to poke fun at himself to his advantage. His self-deprecating humor, a trait he has shown in good times and bad, has doubled as self-preservation these past few months.

“When you go 4-8, you don’t need to tick anybody off,’’ he told the crowd, which erupted in laughter.

It has been six months since the clock hit zero on the Gators in 2013. The cold hard facts remain the same now as then: 4-8 record, seven-game losing streak, no bowl game, and first losing season since 1979.

Three seasons into his tenure and a portion of Gator Nation – sometimes a very loud portion – wanted Muschamp gone.

The tide turned quickly. Has there ever been so little goodWill (pardon the pun) for a coach coming off an 11-2 season? I say not.

Those shouting loudest only saw those cold hard facts, and in today’s college football landscape, that’s enough for some athletic directors to make a change, but not for Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley in Muschamp’s case.

Foley backed Muschamp before, during and after the season. He hired Muschamp because he thought he was an excellent football coach and that has not changed.

Of course, changes were made, most notably a new offensive coordinator in Kurt Roper and a new philosophy by Muschamp. While he won big in 2012 with a pro-style ball-control offense, the Gators have installed a no-huddle, up-tempo offense like Roper used at Duke the past six seasons.

For those inside the program, retaining Muschamp certainly made sense. He inherited a talented and young team in 2011 but one that lacked the type of offensive playmakers Florida fans had grown accustomed to.

The defense was the star and the offense a blank canvas.

But that was only part of the story. Beyond what fans see on Saturday afternoons, the program had stabilized after a bumpy ride at the end of Urban Meyer’s tenure.

And while there is no good-guy bonus in Muschamp’s contract, his likability factor among the powers that be and high-ranking boosters probably helped his case, too.

So often, very successful coaches turn into odd people. Not Muschamp. He maintains a normalcy that serves him well whether talking with the program’s biggest boosters, disarming an overzealous fan at the grocery store, or convincing parents of recruits that Florida's football remains a winner.

One of his favorite places in the world is in the backyard working up dinner on his Big Green Egg, no different than you or your neighbor. That’s where he gets away from it all -- paperwork that stacks up on his desk, angry emails from fans, or the latest issue with a player.

And last season.

One hundred days from today -– Aug. 30 at home against Idaho – Florida opens the 2014 season. The calendar can’t flip fast enough for Florida fans.

The same holds true for Muschamp.

“I’m very confident in where we’re headed,’’ he has said repeatedly this spring.

Asked to be more specific on Tuesday, Muschamp said: “What does good mean? We're going to compete for a championship.”

Muschamp lost more games last season than he ever expected, more than Florida fans thought possible, some of the issues on his shoulders, others totally out of his control.

That’s life as a coach.

However, once Muschamp walks off stage tonight in Gainesville at his final spring speaking stop, it’s time for everyone to flip the page. The past is the past and it’s not going to change.

The head coach gets it.

“If you’re a prideful person, and you take pride in your work … [losing] is frustrating as heck, I’ll be honest with you,’’ he said Tuesday. “I think everybody’s disappointed. I think everyone’s upset. I don’t blame anybody for being upset.”

Yes, 4-8 is unacceptable. If there’s an upside, here it is: last season’s record has exactly the same impact on 2014 as the program’s three national titles or the 11-2 season of 2012.

Time moves on. So has Muschamp. For the next 100 days, it’s time to look forward instead of in the rearview mirror.

 

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