BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The first mention of Will Muschamp's status on the hot seat didn't come from a reporter on the opening day of SEC Media Days. Rather, it came from the Florida coach himself.
"There will be a lot of chatter about hot-seat business," Muschamp said in his opening statement on Monday afternoon. "That's part of it. The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we're going to do."
Perhaps no SEC coach is on a shorter leash than Muschamp entering the 2014 season. His Florida squad underachieved to an embarrassing degree last fall. The Gators rode a slew of injuries to a 4-8 record, the program's worst finish since 1979. Calls for Muschamp's job grew to deafening volumes in Gainesville. But athletic director Jeremy Foley publicly supported the coach in a school release in November. Now, Muschamp returns with a chance to turn things around.
To Muschamp's credit, he has taken ownership of Florida's struggles since the 2013 campaign ended. The Gators won 11 games and reached the Sugar Bowl in his second season at the helm in '12. Yet that immediate success bred expectations, which Florida fell drastically short of last year.
"[It] falls on my shoulders," Muschamp said. "Going through it, very difficult year for us. Certainly not our expectation."
Muschamp made an effort to change the Gators' fortunes by dumping offensive coordinator Brent Pease in favor of Duke assistant Kurt Roper during the offseason. Muschamp lauded the complete philosophical change that has taken place on Roper's watch, which includes more shotgun sets from returning quarterback Jeff Driskel and a more up-tempo style of play. If the 2014 Gators don't rebound, though, Muschamp's days will likely be numbered. On Monday, at least, he did his best to handle the lingering cloud.
"Control the things you can control," Muschamp said. "I haven't always practiced it, but try and just control the things I can control."
No matter the program, offseason changes tend to lead to flowery illustrations of how the upcoming year will unfold. But how the coach handles hot-seat talk in the thick of the season is another situation entirely. Few SEC head men can be as fiery as
Muschamp, and if the Gators struggle to implement their new offense,
Muschamp could become just as frustrated while dodging questions about his job security.
Florida is part of an SEC East that features no true preseason favorite. That's a blessing and a curse for Muschamp, who could contend for the division but could also be expected to capitalize on a wide-open race. Whatever the case, the coach knows he has to change his program's direction in 2014.
"I really draw from within," Muschamp said. "I think we have a very strong staff at the University of Florida for the things we need to do to be successful moving forward. In most situations, even when I was a defensive coordinator, making difficult decisions, go with my gut and do what we need to do to be successful."