Since being hired at UF, Will Muschamp’s mantra has been, “Next man up.” His motto should have been, “Win ugly, lose uglier.” In fact, let’s make that Florida’s unofficial motto for now.
Muschamp has been stellar in some areas, and horrific in others. His recruiting has been impeccable; there’s no denying his scouting abilities. Florida’s defensive units are among the best in the country – better than advertised. Strength and conditioning is a big concern, especially with all the injuries. Then there’s the offense.
Before diving into the mortuary that is Florida’s offense, let’s put things in a historical context. Upon becoming UF’s head coach, Muschamp took over a program that’s been synonymous with offense since 1989. First with Steve Spurrier, then with Urban Meyer, Florida changed the entire dynamic of the SEC en route to three national championships. Florida is not simply an offensive-minded program – it is an elite, trend-setting program.
Florida’s offense has regressed every year under Muschamp. In 2011, the Gators scored 25.5 points per game (ppg); in 2013, they are averaging 21.1 ppg. From 2011-2013, Florida’s national rank for points per game has been 71st, 78th, and 102nd, respectively.
Compare those numbers to Urban Meyer. His offenses ranked 49th, 23rd, 4th, 4th, 9th, and 43rd. The high-water mark for points scored for a Meyer-run team was 43.6 ppg; the low was 28.6.
For even more comparison, take Spurrier’s seasons from 1996, the national championship year, to his final season at Florida, 2001. Spurrier’s average points per game in his final six seasons was 38.1, with a high of 46.6 ppg in 1996. In his final year in the Swamp, Steve Spurrier’s Gators ranked second in the nation with 43.8 points per game.
That’s a lot of numbers to digest. Essentially, at his best, Muschamp lags far behind the offenses of both Spurrier and Meyer. The argument for Muschamp is that he’s not an offensive coach, whereas the aforementioned coaches are considered gurus.
While accurate, the argument is flawed.
Will Muschamp’s defense is so good that he doesn’t need the offenses of Spurrier or Meyer. He only needs a unit that is competent. Until the loss at Missouri, Muschamp’s Gators could’ve won a dozen-straight SEC games, had they only been able to put up three touchdowns. Florida’s offense is not bad. It is not abysmal. It is nonexistent.
Even the most ardent Muschamp supporters, the folks who have clamored that “he doesn’t have his own players,” are running thin on excuses for his team’s terrible offense.
In three years, Meyer took the Gators from 49th to 4th in points per game. Even in his first season, without “his own players,” Meyer put up a touchdown more per game than the group now.
Beyond that, how long is a coach given to find his own players? Florida’s defense is otherworldly. Those guys are Muschamp’s players. What about the offense?
The difference between Muschamp and the legends he’s chasing are that, while those coaches were more concerned with offense (and special teams in Meyer’s case), they found the proper assistants. Bob Stoops and Charlie Strong took their bosses to the promise land. Muschamp’s hires have not worked out well.
So where does this leave us with Muschamp? He’s a player’s coach who recruits well, but just can’t make ends meet. He sounds a lot like Ron Zook.
However, even Zook’s teams fared better offensively than Muschamp’s squads. The Gators improved every year under Zook’s offense, going from 25.85 ppg, to 30 ppg, to 31.83 ppg. In his final season, Florida ranked 19th in the nation for ppg.
I’ve always maintained that Ron Zook was not fired entirely because of his on-field product. Jeremy Foley is as loyal of an athletics director as there is in the country. Zook could not control his players, could not control the media, and could not control himself. He was unaware of Florida’s traditions, and the pride Gators take in wins, even if it’s an Outback Bowl victory. His entire tenure, Ron Zook seemed like a drowning man fighting to stay afloat. The stakes were too big for him, that’s why he was fired.
To his credit, Will Muschamp has embraced the Florida fan base. He understands rivalries. He gets the passion. He gets “it.”
Right now he is at a crossroads in his career. The man is a genius defensive coordinator, possibly the best in the country. Being a head coach is a different ballgame. Coaches such as Norv Turner, Cam Cameron, and Romeo Crennel were all fantastic coordinators, but when it came to running a team they failed.
How Will Muschamp handles the offense, ensureing it makes significant strides, will be the watershed moment of his Florida tenure. It’s not enough to simply coach one side of the ball. He must take ownership of the entire program. To use coaching vernacular, he must succeed at all three phases of the game.
With defenses like he has produced, Muschamp doesn’t need his offense to put up 40 points a game. However, the offense must move the ball consistently. It has to control the clock. It cannot make the penalties, errors, and mental mistakes that have plagued this team. Most importantly, it has to put up more than 21 points per game. Just a competent offense to take the heavy lifting off his defense will turn around the Gators’ season, as well as Muschamp’s career.