College football: Muschamp mixes old and new at Florida
HOOVER, Ala. — The typical formula for a new college football coach is simple: Break down the program, implement new philosophies and then hope those changes turn into newfound success.
For Will Muschamp, there’s one problem with that blueprint: He didn’t take over the typical college football program.
The 39-year-old first-time head coach grabbed one of the sport’s plum jobs when he was hired to lead Florida. Though the Gators finished with a 8-5 record last season, they won two out of the past six national championships under Urban Meyer, and still have plenty of talent on the roster.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Muschamp said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “Urban did a phenomenal job, he and his staff. They did some great things that we’re going to continue to do. Why change ‘em if they’re working?”
While Muschamp had plenty of praise for Meyer, he brings his own philosophy. The former defensive coordinator is making that side of the ball his own, tweaking the things he sees necessary. He’s also hired former Notre Dame coach and NFL coordinator Charlie Weis to oversee the offense.
Muschamp spent most of the past decade as defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas, and intends to keep most of his focus on stopping the other team. His intensity and demonstrative nature on the sidelines has been well documented — with television cameras sometimes showing him chest-bumping players after a particularly big play.
“The worst thing you can do in a leadership position is be something you’re not…” Muschamp said. “I hired Charlie to run the offense. I’ve got great confidence in what he’s going to do and what we want to be offensively.”
Muschamp was quick to say that senior John Brantley would be the team’s quarterback.
Brantley’s junior season was mixed — at best — in an offense that never seemed to fit him comfortably. He completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,061 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but Meyer’s lack of confidence was obvious as Brantley’s playing time diminished toward the end of the season.
Muschamp and Weis don’t seem to have the same issues.
“With the new coaching staff, everyone’s got a clean slate,” Brantley said. “Personally, it’s been good for me.”
Weis specializes in running a pro-style offense, having success as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots and later the Kansas City Chiefs. At Notre Dame, Weis helped Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen develop into NFL draft picks. That jibes well with Brantley, who at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds is the prototype for a drop-back passer.
He’ll be helped by the return of running back Jeff Demps and receiver Deonte Thompson. Demps led the Gators with 551 rushing yards last season while Thompson led the team with 570 receiving yards.
Brantley said Weis has done a good job of keeping the offense simple.
“You look at it the first day and you say ‘I’m never going to learn this,’” Brantley said. “But a few days into it, you pick up the new verbiage, and then everything goes from there. It gets a lot easier.”
Considering Florida’s recent success, there hasn’t been much hype about the Gators over the offseason. South Carolina knocked off Florida for the SEC Eastern Division title last season, and few expect the Gators to have any shot at a national championship.
The Gators do have legitimate problems, most notably on the offensive and defensive lines where there’s a noticeable lack of depth.
But Muschamp knows that in the brutal world of SEC football, nobody is going “to feel sorry for the Gators.”
The good news for Muschamp is that a massive rebuilding project isn’t needed at Florida. He’s just trying to put his own stamp on a program that’s been among the nation’s elite for more than a decade.
“I told our guys in our first meeting, change is inevitable and growth is optional,” Muschamp said. “You grow with us or not. We’re going to move forward with the guys that are willing to do that.”