Wednesday December 15th, 2010

Apparently, Will Muschamp always had an eye for defensive talent.

As a 10-year-old, Muschamp and his parents traveled less than a mile from their house to Florida Field -- Steve Spurrier wouldn't nickname it The Swamp until almost a decade later -- for Picture Day. "My mom always wanted to have her picture made with Cris Collinsworth," the former Texas defensive coordinator cracked Tuesday at his first press conference as Florida's head coach. But at Picture Day 1981, Collinsworth was gone, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round months earlier. So the Muschamps chatted up a sophomore linebacker from Titusville, Fla.

AP: Muschamp introduced as Florida coach

"Wilber Marshall," Muschamp said. "He spent a lot of time with us that day because nobody was talking to him." A year later, Muschamp sat in one of his dad's seats in the north end zone and watched Marshall demolish USC to the tune of 14 tackles and four sacks of Trojans quarterback Sean Salisbury.

If that little anecdote didn't win over the last few Florida fans who thought the Gators should have hired a current head coach instead of a coach-in-waiting who had yet to sit in the big chair, Muschamp's name-checking of former Florida coach Ray Graves --Spurrier's college coach -- and a trio of disco-era Gators had to send the stragglers over the moon. "My two brothers, Mike and Pat, had a lot of good backyard football games on 1122 NW 22nd Street off Eighth Avenue in Gainesville, Fla.," Muschamp said. "Mike was Wayne Peace a lot. Pat was Tyrone Young, and I was Tony Lilly."

For 10 years of Will Muschamp's early life, his family lived the quintessential college town existence -- right down to the geodesic dome home their open-minded neighbors erected that still stands down the hill from their old house. "My parents are still mad about that. It devalued our property a lot," Muschamp said of the house, which looks like something out of Sealab 2020.

But living in Gainesville and knowing the names of a few Gator greats does not guarantee Muschamp can lead Florida's football program to its fourth national title and beyond. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley didn't initially place Muschamp on his list of candidates. When he awoke the morning of Dec. 5, Foley added Muschamp's name. By the time Florida announced Urban Meyer's resignation Wednesday, Muschamp was the target.

"There were two lists," Florida president Bernie Machen said Tuesday. "And one list had one name on it." Had Machen requested, Foley would have gone through the other list, which included several current head coaches. But Machen trusted Foley to make the choice, especially since Foley sounded almost exactly as he did in December 2004 after doing the initial research on Meyer, whom Machen knew from his time as the University of Utah's president.

(Machen also addressed the one nagging aspect of this hire on Tuesday. Louisville coach Charlie Strong was as accomplished a defensive coordinator at Florida as Muschamp was at LSU, Auburn and Texas. Shouldn't Strong have gotten a look? Machen, who is one of Strong's biggest fans, said he didn't think Strong would be willing to leave Louisville after only a year as head coach.)

So why did Foley believe Muschamp fit so well in Meyer's old job? Muschamp's first -- and so far only -- employment decision may offer an indication. Tuesday, Muschamp said he would retain Florida strength coach Mickey Marotti.

Other than Meyer himself, no one had more of a hand in Florida's national titles in 2006 and 2008 than Marotti, who has achieved the almost impossible task of being simultaneously loved, respected and feared by virtually all of Florida's players. (The ones who don't love, respect or fear Marotti probably would be better off transferring.) No one spent more time with the players than Marotti and his staff, and if Muschamp wants continuity, he'll have it as long as his players walk into the weight room and see Marotti flashing a sly grin before he puts them through the next bit of torture he has devised.

Muschamp knows he'll operate under a microscope. Three of his last four jobs were at Auburn, LSU and Texas, so he's more than prepared for the scrutiny that comes with holding one of the highest profile jobs in college sports.

"I know that there will be criticism, whatever, about maybe not hiring a guy with head coaching experience," Muschamp said. "I certainly understand that. ... But you can really look at all the examples across the board. There were guys with no head coaching experience who did an outstanding job because they were the right fit for the right job at the right time. And you can look at a lot of examples of guys who had head-coaching experience that went to situations like Florida and didn't have success like you thought they might have."

An example of right-fit-right-job-right-time is Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who, like Muschamp, was 39 when he left a defensive coordinator job at a football factory (Florida) to take over a down-on-its-luck powerhouse (Oklahoma). The same could be said of Muschamp's pal Bo Pelini, who left the defensive coordinator's job at LSU to breathe life into Nebraska's program. Ditto for fellow Nick Saban disciple Jimbo Fisher, who finished his first regular season as Florida State's head coach by thrashing Florida and snapping a six-game FSU losing streak to the Gators.

(A note about Fisher and Muschamp. Yes, the coaches at FSU and Florida do co-own a beach house. "We haven't decided what's going to happen with that yet," Muschamp said. Unfortunately, Muschamp quashed any hope of the coaches putting up their halves for a winner-take-all bout when the teams meet next November.)

Muschamp clearly has a vision for how he will run his program. He wants to run a pro-style offense and a defense that can toggle between a four-man and three-man front based on the opposition's offensive scheme.

That first bit of news should have thrilled one particular person on Florida's roster, but in another example that there is never a dull moment for the Gators' head coach, decidedly pro-style quarterback John Brantley wasn't exactly doing backflips when he spoke to reporters after Muschamp's press conference. Brantley, a fourth-year junior, is poised to graduate and could take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows graduate students to transfer from one FBS school to another without sitting out a year. Tuesday, Brantley said he and his father would sit down after the Outback Bowl and discuss his options. "I'm just trying to finish out this season right and win this bowl game for coach Meyer and these seniors," Brantley said.

Brantley's decision could hinge on Muschamp's choice of offensive coordinator. Though reports have linked several names to Muschamp's open coordinator positions, Muschamp said Tuesday that he has hired no one and might not until after the Outback Bowl. He cautioned against believing anyone's "sources." "There is one source in this football program," Muschamp said, channeling former boss Saban. "And that's me."

Whether any coach has been hired or approached is typically a matter of semantics, but it will be fascinating to watch Muschamp assemble his staff. He isn't sure if he will call the defense or empower his coordinator to do it. He does know he'll hire a special teams coordinator. He also said he would ensure Meyer -- who plans to stay in Gainesville -- will maintain a role in the program.

But despite Meyer's presence, Florida will be Muschamp's program. His reputation will rise or fall depending on what he does on 12 -- or 13, he hopes -- Saturdays a year. The kid who watched Wilber Marshall from the north end zone is now the man responsible for the future of the program. It sounds as if he knows what he's gotten himself into.

"The expectation at Florida is winning championships," Muschamp said. "Believe me. I understand that."

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