Will Muschamp exudes grace while Florida takes the next step forward

Will Muschamp handled his firing gracefully, but the Florida Gators are already well on their way to finding their next head coach.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida president Bernie Machen isn’t one of those CEOs who says things he doesn’t mean for the sake of appearances. Machen can be blunt to a fault, which is why what he said about Will Muschamp on Monday felt so poignant.

“I would love for my son or my grandson to have the opportunity to be coached by Will Muschamp,” Machen said.

Unfortunately for Muschamp, neither Machen nor Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley want Muschamp to coach their scholarship football players next season. Muschamp has done everything his bosses asked of him in four seasons except win enough games. So just remember that in three weeks or so when freshly hired coaches are introduced throughout the country and athletic directors and presidents drone on about integrity and graduation rates.

It’s always about wins and losses. Nothing else.

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Monday’s press conference wasn’t awkward because Muschamp understands that concept better than most. “We didn’t win enough football games. That’s the bottom line,” Muschamp said. “You’ve got to win games. We didn’t get that done.” Muschamp knows a 17-15 SEC mark isn’t good enough at a program that is expected to compete for the SEC title every season. He had, as he called it, “buzzard luck” in 2013, but he also made mistakes. (For one, he hired Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator prior to his first season.) Muschamp knows that, which is why he acknowledged that he had his share of regrets. “It’s frustrating to see guys [after getting fired] and say ‘I wouldn't have changed anything,’” Muschamp said. “Well, hell. You’d have gotten fired again.”

If it is possible to do such a thing, Muschamp put on a clinic Monday on how to get fired gracefully. He joked that he was underdressed after following two guys in jackets and ties. He also offered a mock warning to the next coach. “We’ve got a deep and talented roster,” Muschamp said, “so don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got no good players.” The $6 million buyout certainly helps him swallow the firing, but anyone who knows Muschamp knows he’d never trade money for winning enough games to keep his job.

He even turned his firing on Sunday morning into a life lesson that he could offer his players when he met with them on Sunday afternoon. “A great example in life,” Muschamp said. “You can work really hard and you can be diligent in what you do, but you’ve got to have results in life, whether you’re in the business world or in the coaching profession. Doesn’t matter. You have to produce.  Players tell me all the time, ‘I'm tryin' hard.’ I know, but you’re not producing, so we’ve got to go with somebody else.  So that’s the message I had for them. Learn the lesson that you’ve got to produce in life. If you’re a salesman you’ve got to sell. If you're a football coach you need to win.”

Hopefully Muschamp won’t mind when I steal that soliloquy to preach to my kids when they become young adults, because it’s great advice. It’s also the reason Muschamp should be able to succeed elsewhere. He already was going to be courted as a (possibly seven-figure) defensive coordinator. South Carolina and Texas A&M could be making changes this offseason, and Muschamp knows the league and the offenses they play. But Monday’s window into Muschamp’s mind may convince other athletic directors to consider him as a replacement for their underachieving coach. This would be especially true if Muschamp somehow manages to lead Florida to a win at Florida State in his final game at the helm.

Meanwhile, Foley’s coaching search will have begun by the time you read this. Foley typically keeps his searches fairly leakproof, so don’t expect a ton of factual reporting until the hiring of the new coach is imminent. Expect the usual slew of rumors and questions of potential candidates. In fact, those started Monday.

Someone asked Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, who served as Florida’s defensive coordinator from 1996-98, about the job on Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “All I want to be is a candidate at Oklahoma,” Stoops said. “I’m not a candidate anywhere else. I’m finished with that question.” So cross him off the list. Besides, Stoops is probably entitled to a permanent ban on the Florida question. Counting Urban Meyer’s one-day resignation in 2009, this is the fourth time Stoops has been peppered with Florida questions since Steve Spurrier resigned in January 2002.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze also got a Florida question Monday. “I have a policy that I don’t discuss my job status, good or bad,” Freeze said at his weekly press conference. “I don’t think anything good comes from that. My family and I are extremely happy in Oxford and I love working with chancellor Dan Jones and [athletic director] Ross Bjork. ... My total focus is on getting our kids ready for Arkansas.” Now that sounds a little juicier.

Foley did reveal one criterion that should come as no surprise to anyone who watched Florida the past four years or to anyone who has heard Florida fans grouse about every coach not named Steve Spurrier. “We would obviously like an individual that’s been successful on the offensive side of the ball,” Foley said. “I think obviously that's what the Gator Nation wants, and we see that. And that’s what we're certainly going to try to provide for them.” That does shrink the pool a little. Later, Foley clarified that he didn’t mean coaches with defensive backgrounds were automatically out. A defensive-minded head coach with a history of successful offenses would be just fine. (Oklahoma’s Stoops is a prime example of this, but again, he made himself pretty clear Monday.)

So let the throwing of names against the wall begin. Foley will choose his guy regardless of how the rumor mill spins. And if Florida is lucky, the new coach will handle his entrance as gracefully as the old one handled his exit.