End the end, Ron Zook couldn’t get the job done in Gainesville.
What? Did you think we were describing Will Muschamp’s situation?
Of course, we were. Zook and Muschamp both faced the same challenges. Both were also longtime assistant coaches with no track record as a top dog. Florida AD Jeremy Foley took a risk in hiring both me. He was quick to jettison Zook. How much rope he gives to Muschamp is now a fair question in the Sunshine State.
From 2002 to 2004, Zook was given just three years to try and mimic Steve Spurrier’s successes. Before coaching his first game, a website called FireRonZook.com was up and running on the internet (which was a really cheap shot by a nitwit, if you ask me). Many Gator fans didn’t want Zook in the first place and Foley was quick to correct his mistake.
Zook’s achievements at UF: 8-5, 8-5 and 7-4. He was 23-14 overall and 16-8 in the SEC never reaching Atlanta (though he did tie for the East Division title in 2003).
Muschamp’s situation is similar, but not an exact copy. He is in his third season as Gator coach. His records to date: 7-6, 11-2, 4-3. Last year’s 11-win campaign — though it didn’t excite UF fans enough to travel to the Sugar Bowl — stands out as a reason for hope. Unlike Zook, he does have one year of big wins under his belt. But his overall record is 22-11 which is in the ballpark with Zook’s (a 66.6% winning clip for Muschamp compared to Zook’s 62.1%). He’s also never reached Atlanta (tying for the East title last season) and it doesn’t appear he’ll do so this year either, barring massive surprises.
So what does Florida’s AD have to say about Muschamp’s reign? “He’s not going anywhere, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Fair enough. For now.
But a team that has been decimated by injuries continues to regress. The Gator offense and defense were kicked around by a very good Missouri team on Saturday. Gator fans aren’t used to seeing their team get blasted by anyone, much less an SEC newcomer that many Southerners continue to underestimate.
As of now, there’s no reason to believe that Florida will turn itself around down the stretch. A beat-up team will face Georgia in its next game (another squad reeling due to injuries), then Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State, now the #2 team in the BCS standings. There’s a lay-up game with Georgia Southern before the FSU contest.
Let’s say Muschamp goes 3-2 down the stretch. That’s a 7-5 record. Very Zook-like.
Oh, and keep in mind that Muschamp now makes just under $3 million per season.
Foley says his coach is standing on terra firma. He should be. Last year’s 11-win season and this year’s injuries should buy him another year. But fans are seldom patient. Many no longer head to the Swamp on fall Saturdays. If more fans begin to steer clear of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it could force Foley’s hand. And if that happens, Foley — believed by many to be a top-five AD nationally — will have swung and missed on two of his last three Gator football hires.
At Florida, nothing is more important than football. Which means both Muschamp and Foley had better be hoping for a miraculous turnaround. Anybody know someone who can heal the injured?