Second chance in South Carolina: Can Will Muschamp learn from his mistakes at Florida? Punt, Pass & Pork
Here is how Will Muschamp addressed offensive philosophy when he was introduced as Florida's head coach in December 2010:
"… I know there's going to be a lot of people who ask what type of style offense are we going to be. I want to hire an experienced play-caller. I would like for him to have a background in both college and pro football. I think it's important that we have some pro-style systems to what we want to do. But I think the best coaches out there, they look at their roster and they evaluate who they are at this time. And then they recruit to who they want to be. O.K., and so we're going to evaluate our roster to what we are right now, all right? Don't lie to ourselves. We don't want to take our scheme to players and say this is what we are. We want to evaluate players at the right spots where they can be successful, and that's what we plan on doing. Will there be more pro-style ideas in our offense? There certainly will be. We want to be balanced in what we do regardless of who we hire, which will obviously be a big hire for me, me being a defensive coach."
Here is how Muschamp, less than two weeks into his job as South Carolina's head coach, addressed offensive philosophy on Friday:
"Scoring points would be nice."
Maybe he has learned.
Muschamp said those words to Greg McElroy and me in an interview on The First Team on SiriusXM's College Sports Nation channel. We had asked him a few questions about how he might avoid the mistakes that got him fired in mid-November of his fourth season at Florida in 2014. Muschamp has gotten these sorts of questions constantly since the Gamecocks gave him his second chance at leading an SEC team. He is not running from them, because he understands that to recruit effectively, he needs to prove he can correct the issues that cost him his job in Gainesville. Muschamp knows he needs to mellow out on the sidelines—his performance as Auburn's defensive coordinator during this year's Iron Bowl suggests he still needs to work in that department—and he knows his team needs a functional offense to complement his defense. The biggest mistake Muschamp made at Florida was hiring Charlie Weis as his first offensive coordinator, and Muschamp knows it. It may look as if Muschamp is repeating the sins of the past by hiring Kurt Roper, his final of three offensive coordinators with the Gators, to run the offense at South Carolina. It's really an attempt to correct the original sin of his head coaching career. "If I had hired Kurt my first year at Florida, I probably would still have been there," Muschamp said. "That's the confidence I have in him moving forward."
Muschamp probably owed another shot to Roper, who came to Florida from Duke in December 2013 and had no real chance to run his offense with players recruited to run an offense based around one back, a tight end and three receivers. That was similar to the personnel Muschamp inherited when he arrived at Florida, but despite Muschamp's lip service about putting players in the right spots to be successful, Weis tried to take guys recruited to run Urban Meyer's spread-option scheme and have them run the 2001 New England Patriots' offense. Needless to say, it went poorly. In '11, Florida ranked 67th nationally in yards per play (5.42). Muschamp then hired Brent Pease to import the Boise State offense, and the Gators dropped to 92nd in the FBS in the same statistic (5.25) in '12 even though they won 11 games. (Their defense ranked No. 4 in the nation in yards per play allowed at 4.35; had they featured even a passable offense, they might have played for the national title.) Florida dropped to No. 110 in yards per play in year two under Pease, and Muschamp, with his seat white-hot, changed coordinators again. "My first couple of years I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole as far as trying to be more traditional and pro style," Muschamp said. "We really struggled mightily with that transition."
Roper, whose primarily one-back offense likely would have suited those Meyer recruits well, inherited a hodgepodge of players recruited to run three different styles and finished 94th in yards per play (5.24) in 2014. The Gators, meanwhile, remained stunningly alive in the SEC East race before melting down in the final minutes against South Carolina on Nov. 15 and losing 23–20 for their third consecutive home defeat. That was the final straw for Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who fired Muschamp the next day.
Muschamp went on to take a seven-figure defensive coordinator job at Auburn, and it seemed he would have some time to fine-tune his plan for a second chance. The Tigers paid well, and when Muschamp was hired last December, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn seemed quite safe. The circumstances changed the moment Georgia fired Mark Richt.
South Carolina's key criterion for Steve Spurrier's replacement was the ability to recruit the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. When Spurrier was going 33–6 from 2011-13, it was because the Gamecocks had superior talent in the form of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, tailback Marcus Lattimore and quarterback Connor Shaw. South Carolina officials wanted a coach who could regularly sign those kinds of players. In examining the potential head coaches who recruited the South the best, Gamecocks officials liked Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Smart had turned down head coaching jobs before, but an SEC East gig might get him to finally make the leap. One did. It just so happened to be at Smart's alma mater in Athens. So, South Carolina moved on to the next guy who could recruit players like Smart. That was Muschamp.
In some ways, the college football business is unlike any other field. In other ways, it's exactly the same as every other. Though Muschamp's sideline persona is Bruce Banner-after-you've-made-him-mad, he is beloved by the people who worked behind the scenes at Florida and at Texas, where he served as the defensive coordinator from 2008-10. People like to work around those who are considered decent humans. Had Muschamp been a jerk to work for, he probably wouldn't have gotten another chance at this level so soon. Now, if he can add consistent winning to his skill set, he'll become an even more popular employer.
Muschamp's "scoring points would be nice" answer sounds an awful lot like the stock line TCU's Gary Patterson used frequently after he switched to an up-tempo offense prior to the 2014 season. Patterson reminded everyone that the main goal is to score one more point than the other guy in any way possible. Of course, Patterson recognized a deficiency during one terrible year (4–8 in '13) and fixed the problem. He didn't need to get fired. Muschamp might have needed a bigger jolt, but he has tried to learn lessons from everything that happened at Florida. For instance, he noticed Spurrier's best teams did not run the Fun 'N' Gun. They favored the same personnel groupings Roper's offense does. They succeeded on the ground using read-option concepts that offensive line coach Shawn Elliott—whom Muschamp retained—brought from Appalachian State in '10. This time, Muschamp will have a staff that can use the players it inherits.
Muschamp brought frequent co-collaborator Travaris Robinson to Columbia as his defensive coordinator. He brought back Ellis Johnson, the defensive coordinator on some of Spurrier's better teams, as a position coach. He hired Lattimore, perhaps the most beloved former Gamecocks star, to team with Andre Goodman on the player development side. "There will be things that they'll go to Andre and Marcus with that they will not go to coach Muschamp about," Muschamp said.
Muschamp has also kept a locker in the coaches' locker room for Spurrier. Though Muschamp learned plenty from stints working under Nick Saban, Tommy Tuberville and Mack Brown, it's obvious the SEC football nerd in him always liked watching Spurrier best. His deep reverence for the Head Ball Coach could help bridge the gap between the old staff and the new one, and it will hopefully keep Jerri Spurrier—one of the all-time great team moms—around the Gamecocks. Muschamp does draw the line at one thing, though. He isn't about to step on a golf course with Spurrier. "He will beat me endlessly, and it'll be awful," Muschamp said. "Then I'll have to listen to it."
A random ranking
These are the top 10 Christmas songs.
1. "O Holy Night"
2. "Little Drummer Boy"
3. "Silent Night"
4. "All I Want For Christmas Is You" — Mariah Carey
5. "Christmas in Dixie" — Alabama
6. "Christmas in Hollis" — Run DMC
7. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
8. "O Come, All Ye Faithful"
9. "The Christmas Song" — Nat King Cole
10. "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" — Elmo & Patsy
1. Michigan hired Boston College defensive coordinator Don Brown on Sunday to replace D.J. Durkin, who left to become the head coach at Maryland earlier this month. Brown coached the best defense in the nation in terms of yards per play allowed (4.07) this season, a feat made more amazing by the fact that the Eagles' offense ranked an abysmal 124th in yards per play (4.40).
Brown, 60, takes over a defense that ranked sixth in the nation in yards per play allowed (4.41). The Wolverines can return as many as eight starters. That group includes safety Jabrill Peppers, one of the nation's most versatile defenders.
2. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche has played his last game at Ole Miss. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze and athletic director Ross Bjork suspended Nkemdiche for the Sugar Bowl following a bizarre incident last week in which Nkemdiche broke a window and then fell about 15 feet twice at an Atlanta hotel. Nkemdiche was also charged with marijuana possession in connection with the incident because police found seven joints at the scene. Nkemdiche will likely be a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
"Last week, our athletics director and I informed Robert that he will not be joining us for the bowl game," Freeze said in a statement. "In addition, Robert has decided to declare for the NFL draft, and we will continue to support him as he prepares for the next chapter in his life. I look forward to sharing with NFL general managers and scouts what a unique and talented individual he is. Robert has made an immeasurable impact on our program, and we are forever indebted to him. He and his family will always be part of the Ole Miss family."
Whether the news had Nkemdiche singing the blues is another question. We do know he was playing the saxophone at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss., on Thursday.
3. The news this weekend that quarterback Will Grier would transfer from Florida shouldn't have come as a surprise. Grier is suspended until Oct. 15, 2016 for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance during an NCAA drug test, which would have made it nearly impossible for Florida's coaches to plan for his return. Someone must run the offense for the first month and a half of next season, a stretch that includes games against Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and LSU. That quarterback would also have to run the offense during spring practice and organize off-season throwing workouts. That person couldn't have been Grier because of the suspension, and that placed Grier and the coaches in a very awkward position. Now both parties can move on.
Also moving on, according to a report in The Gainesville Sun, is Florida redshirt junior defensive end Alex McCalister. The paper reported that McCalister has been dismissed from the team. McCalister hasn't played since suffering a foot injury on Nov. 14, and Gators coach Jim McElwain said earlier that McCalister would probably miss the Citrus Bowl against Michigan because of the injury. That bowl game could have been McCalister's final college contest anyway. The 6' 6", 239-pounder tied for the team lead in sacks (6.5) and could be an early-round draft pick this spring.
4. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III is headed to the NFL after three college seasons—the final of which was severely truncated by injury. Wright played in only two games in 2015 before making 15 tackles in Saturday's 45–37 New Mexico Bowl win over New Mexico. He suffered a knee injury in Arizona's season opener against UT-San Antonio on Sept. 3 and a foot injury in the Wildcats' loss to UCLA on Sept. 26. As a sophomore, Wright racked up 163 tackles—29 of them for loss—and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award. It didn't take long for Wright to get his affairs in order. He signed with agent Drew Rosenhaus on Saturday night.
5. Baylor stars Corey Coleman and Shock Linwood will miss the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 with injuries, Bears coach Art Briles said Saturday. Coleman, a junior receiver who won the Biletnikoff Award this month, will have surgery to repair a hernia. Linwood already had surgery to repair a foot fracture.
That means Baylor redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Johnson will be without two of his top playmakers against North Carolina. But the Bears must get used to playing without Coleman, who has already—to the surprise of no one—said he intends to enter the NFL draft.
6. The Bronco Mendenhall era at BYU ended with a flurry of crippling turnovers followed by a furious comeback. Ultimately, Mendenhall's final game before leaving to coach Virginia ended in a 35–28 loss to bitter rival Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars fell behind 35–0 in the first quarter. "I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of my team," said Mendenhall, who finished his BYU career with a 99–43 record. "They stayed together and unified and battled back and made it a great football game."
Mendenhall will head to Charlottesville and former Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake will take over in Provo. Sitake played fullback for LaVell Edwards at BYU in the 1990s before embarking on a coaching career. Sitake spent 10 seasons working for Kyle Whittingham at Utah before leaving for Corvallis last year. Sitake is the first FBS head coach of Tongan descent.
7. Louisiana Tech tailback Kenneth Dixon scored four touchdowns in Saturday's 47–28 New Orleans Bowl win over Arkansas State to pass Navy's Keenan Reynolds for the FBS lead in career touchdowns. Whether Dixon will get to keep the record depends on how Reynolds performs on Dec. 28 in the Military Bowl against Pittsburgh. Dixon now has 87 career touchdowns. Reynolds has 85.
8. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney rented out a local amusement park to reward his playoff-bound team. Swinney knows that all boys really need—no matter their age—are bumper cars and Pop-A-Shot.
9. Two SEC quarterbacks who announced their transfer intentions this month have found destinations. Faton Bauta, who is leaving Georgia, will reunite with former Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo at Colorado State. Bauta has graduated from Georgia and is eligible to play immediately for the Rams.
Meanwhile, former Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles has landed at Boston College. Towles has graduated from Kentucky and will be able to play immediately for the Eagles.
10. Houston coach Tom Herman told his players he would get a diamond grill if they won the American Athletic Conference title, and last week Herman made good on that promise. With the help of Houston rapper Paul Wall, Herman got fitted for one of the world's most expensive retainers.
What's eating Andy?
I don't want to sound like a Steve Harvey truther, but would any of us be talking about the Miss Universe pageant had he correctly identified the winner Sunday night?
What's Andy eating?
A place doesn't need to be in business for decades to offer a tried-and-true taste. It doesn't hurt, though. A visit to Tuscaloosa last week offered two classic tastes—one from a place that has done it right since 1962 and another from a place that opened in 2014.
Archibald's Bar-B-Que in nearby Northport, Ala., may have added a catering van and a few indoor tables to go with its worn-out stools, but the ribs there aren't all that different from the ones Bear Bryant used to eat. The locals get mad every time I mention Archibald's on Twitter because they would rather the tourists go to nearby Dreamland and leave the better ribs for those in the know. Smoked over wood without seasoning, Archibald's ribs are carefully tended by a man with a hose who sprays them down when they get too hot. For most of the times I've been, that man was George Archibald Jr., who doesn't use any thermometer except the one in his head to cook smoky, juicy rib meat that takes its flavor from the wood and comes off the bone with a slight tug.
Last week, the next generation manned the pit. The ribs remained as exquisite as ever. You can dunk them in a thin, vinegary sauce—sauce is a stretch; it's more of a mop—but it isn't necessary. The meat is always perfect. Unlike some other places, Archibald's doesn't turn up the heat to cook ribs faster and serve more people. It cooks them correctly, and if it runs out, then it runs out. People keep coming back year after year because the quality remains the same.
The Avenue Pub in downtown Tuscaloosa's entertainment district has only been open a fraction of the time, but its proprietors understand that simple quality can build a loyal clientele. The place offers some excellent satellite dishes such as the Thai chicken nacho appetizer—nachos, shredded chicken, mozzarella, peanut sauce, Sriracha, sesame seeds, green onions—but everything orbits around the burger.
It's a thick, half-pound patty of never-frozen beef cooked exactly as ordered and resting on a fresh, fluffy bun. It comes with provolone and bacon, though it'd still be delicious without them. Condiments are available but unnecessary. Like Ron Swanson's burger proved in the taste test on Parks and Recreation, beef and bread don't need much help. And when Avenue Pub takes so much care to provide the best beef and best bread, it produces a burger that can't help but please anyone who embraces our position on the food chain.