What if Will Muschamp oversaw the daily operations of a gator-shoe business?
OK, let’s back up one step: What if you were the president of a large supplier to U.S. retail industries and one of your big businesses was gator shoes?
The executive who formerly oversaw this business retired, having had his fill of the job’s high demands, higher stress and believing the business was warped, so you need someone new. You decide to hire Muschamp, a young exec who’s held prominent positions in other reputable retail businesses, a hard-charging man with the talent and tenacity for building something.
Every boss he’s worked for believes he’s got the brains and the guts for revitalizing a brand that’s fallen, for leading a booming operation, for taking a successful entity and growing it, for doing anything in this industry. He just needs a chance, and so you give it to him.
He spends the first year restructuring the organization and implementing a culture he believes fosters success. He’s smart, so he knows his first year needs to establish a foundation for each subsequent one.
In his second year, gator-shoe sales explode, with monthly earnings victories piling up perhaps faster than even you could have hoped for. Not many people could have had success that fast, but your guy did. You’re proud of him, and you can’t wait to see what else he can do, so you try to test him. You set third-year projections at a level similar to the best days the company has ever seen, knowing your exec has the ability to deliver. You believe in him, his talent, his vision.
Then something devastating happens in Year 3. A massive flood erases nearly 20 percent of your gator inventory — just sweeps them off somewhere, never to be seen again. Given the scale of your business, this means a loss of tens of millions of dollars in revenue. The gator-shoe business won’t come close to meeting its annual projections; it’s impossible. Shareholders aren’t happy. They don’t care how the shoes get into plastic bags on their way out of stores, only that they get there.
You, the president, promise your gator-shoe business will deliver in Year 4. You say this, partly, because you know a freak flood of that magnitude can’t possibly happen again. So you set out to deliver gator-shoe success once again.
Now tell me: Do you begin that mission by firing Will Muschamp?
On Monday, Muschamp, the real-life Florida coach, lost his 10th player to a season-ending injury. This time it was sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison (knee), the team’s leading tackler.
The other nine: QB Jeff Driskel, DT Dominique Easley, RB Matt Jones, LB Matt Rolin, WR Andre Debose, RT Chaz Green, OL Tyler Moore, DB Nick Washington, LB Jeremi Powell.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and backup tight end Colin Thompson (foot) have missed time and remain out. In total, seven starters have been lost for the season. Quarterback Tyler Murphy, who replaced Driskel, is missing practice time this week with a shoulder injury.
Redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, who’s never thrown a college pass, is taking the first-team reps and would play at South Carolina, in a game the 4-5 Gators almost certainly must win if they hope to reach the six wins required for a bowl game, if Murphy can’t start or has to be removed.
“I definitely think [the injuries have] had an effect,” Muschamp said at a Monday press conference, regarding Florida’s performance. “We’ll get through it.”
Not every Gator fan necessarily wants Muschamp to be the one who gets them through it anymore. After losing to Vanderbilt at home last week, the first time that’s happened since 1945, a fan planted a sign on Gator Bull calling for the firing of Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
It’s not the only Twitter account dedicated to disposing Florida’s coach.
Fans want Muschamp and Pease out because they’re tired of watching an offense that ranks 106th in the nation in points per game (20.6). An offense that ranks 112th in yards per play (4.82). An offense that ranks ahead of only Arkansas and Tennessee in yards per pass (6.9) and last in yards per rush (3.46) in the SEC.
They’re tired of cheering for a team located in one of the most fertile recruiting states in the country that — injuries be damned — is woefully light in talent at the offensive skill positions.
They’re tired of hoping opposing defenses will somehow forget about receiver Solomon Patton, allowing him to slip free and create Florida’s only hope of scoring. They’re tired of then watching the football sail inaccurately in Patton’s direction.
They’re tired of accepting that the best chance for points is a pick-six or something other defensive pick-me-up.
They’re mostly just tired of losing, to the Commodores, to a Georgia team also nearly decapitated by injuries, to four teams in a row now. A loss to South Carolina this week would push the record to 4-6. A win next week against Georgia Southern makes it 5-6, but then No. 2 Florida State awaits, a likely seventh and final slap on the ass as this miserable season heads out the door.
This is Florida, where fans aren’t interested in floods.
They don’t care how the gator shoes get into plastic bags on their way out of stores, only that they get there.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley hired Muschamp from Texas, where he served as Mack Brown’s defensive coordinator, in December 2010 after Urban Meyer walked away.
Muschamp grew up in Gainesville, Fla., played high school football in Georgia and college ball for the Bulldogs in Athens. He was a DC at Division II Valdosta State in 2000 when Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, then Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU, recommended Saban hire Muschamp to man the defense. He did, and Saban liked Muschamp so much that he brought him to Miami with him in ’05 to run the Dolphins’ D.
After a year, Muschamp went back to college, picking up a gig as Auburn’s DC. Two seasons later, he took the same job at Texas and three seasons in was named the heir apparent to Brown as the Longhorns’ head coach, whenever Brown should retire. Muschamp must have sensed that opportunity might be a while — Brown is still at Texas, of course, and has a contract that runs through 2020 — and took his first head coaching gig when Foley offered it three Decembers ago.
Coaches with good pedigrees get Florida-type gigs. Muschamp’s pedigree had a pedigree. He was groomed for the specific situation he finds himself in now.
He took over a Florida program that, depending on whom you ask, was left in shambles by the former coach. Even the former coach, on his way out, said, “It’s broke a little bit right now.”
In Muschamp’s first year, the Gators went 7-6 and won the Gator Bowl. In his second season, Florida finished the regular season 11-1, ranked No. 3 in the BCS, and went to the Sugar Bowl, where it lost 33-23 to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville.
This year, in Muschamp’s third, the levy broke and here came the water.
Muschamp’s gator-shoe business needs to be tweaked. Not everything is the flood’s fault.
The injuries did crush the Gators, yes, especially with the nation’s 13th-toughest schedule, but the offensive problems are real. Is it Pease’s fault?
It’s only his second season in Gainesville after coaching at Boise State and Baylor before that, two places where he had a significant role in dynamic offenses. It’s too soon to say he can’t orchestrate a successful offense in the SEC.
But this season has been awful, a season in which SEC offenses have surged and coaches have noted the general decline in defenses around the league, and last season the Gators ranked 92nd nationally in yards per play (5.25). So when pressed, Pease can say only, “We’ll do better.”
A healthy offensive line is a good place to start for offensive improvement in 2014, but then what about the man who crouches behind it? Jeff Driskel will return, and many believed in the preseason that 2013 would be a step forward for him. His two-plus games before injury weren’t, and he’ll come back as a senior and likely compete with a true freshman, Will Grier, for the starting QB spot.
Muschamp has continued to recruit well, with a top-10 or top-15 class, depending on the rankings, coming to campus next fall. Included in that class is four-star RB Dalvin Cook, four-star WR Ermon Lane and other athletes who could have an offensive impact.
Will Muschamp get the chance to coach them?
Three years ago, he had every qualification for a young star executive. One year ago, he had the company humming ahead of schedule, beating even the most unreasonable shareholder’s timeline. Year 3 brought uncontrollable circumstances, so outrageous that they will surely reverse in Year 4.
Now tell me: What information do you possess that suggests, when they do reverse, Will Muschamp won’t deliver the shoes?