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Florida's bold, intelligent hiring of Muschamp still came as a surprise

Will Muschamp has been in Florida's football offices at least once already.

Muschamp was once an SEC-level safety recruit, but a compound fracture of his right leg suffered while playing baseball as a junior at the Darlington School in Rome, Ga., relegated him to walk-on hopeful. So Muschamp, who had lived in Gainesville for 10 years of his childhood, made the drive with his parents, Larry and Sally, to meet with a Florida assistant coach about a potential walk-on spot when Muschamp entered college in the summer of 1990.

The coach wasn't there when the Muschamps arrived. So they waited. After a few hours, they decided to grab some lunch. When they returned, they learned the coach had finally come back, only to leave again for a jog. He must have run a marathon, because the Muschamps waited a few more hours before Will turned to Sally and said, "Let's go."

The next time Muschamp sets foot in Florida's football offices, he won't be ignored. He'll be the boss.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley let everyone take his best guess at which sitting head coach would win the right to succeed Urban Meyer as head of a program that has won two of the past four national titles. We all guessed wrong. Foley wasn't looking for a sitting head coach. He wanted Muschamp, the Texas defensive coordinator anointed as Mack Brown's successor-in-waiting two years ago.

That title and its accompanying salary were supposed to scare off any would-be suitors. A concern remained that if Mark Richt ever left Georgia, Muschamp might want to return to the school that did grant him that walk-on spot. But that was mama calling. Would Muschamp turn down a chance to take over the Cadillac of college programs for anyone else?

Then Foley arrived, dangling the keys to a Maserati.

"This is a dream come true to be the head coach of the Florida Gators," Muschamp said in a statement. "I grew up watching the Gators and whatever other SEC team was on television. I have great memories watching SEC football with my father on Saturdays and playing football in the backyard with my two brothers right here in Gainesville."

Muschamp belongs in the SEC. At the end of the day, he's more pulled pork than brisket. Just listen to him talk. When he yells "Boom!" it comes out in an accent that mingles north central Florida and northwest Georgia. He walked on at Georgia and became a starter and defensive captain. He ran the defense at LSU for Nick Saban and at Auburn for Tommy Tuberville. Even before he became a star coordinator, Muschamp toiled in SEC country. He washed jock straps while coaching at West Georgia before leaving Carrollton, Ga., for the bright lights of Eastern Kentucky and then Valdosta State.

He has enjoyed success in The Swamp. The last time he was there, in 2007, Muschamp's Auburn defense handed Tim Tebow his first loss as Florida's starting quarterback by pounding Tebow on nearly every play. "We made them bleed for the yards," Muschamp told The Birmingham News that night.

That's Muschamp. He makes opponents bleed. He makes himself bleed. He might have been the only man in the country Foley could have hired who is more intense than pre-first-resignation Urban Meyer.

At Texas, Muschamp could have waited three -- five? 10? -- more years and succeeded Brown. He would have inherited a wealthy program with great facilities and excellent fan and administrative support that sits smack in the middle of a recruiting hotbed. Instead, Muschamp will immediately take over a wealthy program with great facilities and excellent fan and administrative support that sits smack in the middle of a recruiting hotbed.

"[Brown] is the best in the business, and I can't say enough about everything he did to help prepare me for this," Muschamp said in a statement. "He really wanted it to work out for me to be the future coach at Texas, but this was just an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

"I wouldn't have left for any other job."

So why did Muschamp's hiring seem like such a surprise? Because today's constant news cycle requires that we anoint a New Hot Coordinator every season -- if not every week. Texas had a horrible year in 2010. The Longhorns went 5-7 and missed a bowl game. The big news in Austin last week was the resignation of offensive coordinator Greg Davis. No one talked about Muschamp, whose name came up every time a decent job opened the past two offseasons. Certainly, Muschamp's star hadn't faded so much in one season -- especially not a year in which his unit still finished ranked seventh in the nation in total defense.

Florida also had a bad year in 2010. The Gators went 7-5 as Meyer tried -- with a revamped staff -- to temper his intensity and still get results. Clearly, that didn't work. Foley knows that just as Florida won't be down for long, neither will Texas. In another year, Muschamp might have once again been the hot coordinator mentioned for every job. But Foley didn't allow one off year to change the fact that he saw in Muschamp the same thing Brown and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds did: A relentless recruiter and fiery competitor who deserves a chance to run a blue-chip program.

Unlike that long-ago Florida assistant who left Muschamp waiting, Foley never forgot Larry and Sally's kid. Was Muschamp Foley's first choice when Meyer resigned the first time on Dec. 26, 2009? We may never know because Meyer changed his mind the following day, but the hiring of Muschamp certainly would have seemed plausible then.

Muschamp has no head-coaching experience, but he has served apprenticeships under two of the best in Saban and Brown. He's ready to take over a program. Even after Muschamp suffered through a down year at Texas, Foley recognized that readiness.

A little more than 20 years after Muschamp and his family drove to Gainesville in an attempt to recruit Florida only to be ignored, Florida recruited Muschamp. This time, he has Gator Nation's undivided attention.

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