Relationships in life … all of them, from picking your next girlfriend to picking your next doctor to picking your next head football coach at Florida … they all follow the same path. Try as you might, you can’t get away from that psychological fate.
It can’t even escape really, really smart people like Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley.
In the fall of 2010, Foley never thought that he was going to be looking for a few football coach. A few months later, the most successful national title-winning coach in the football program’s history, Urban Meyer, exited stage left. He was burnt out, worn out, and needing a break.
Foley and Florida had to be in panic mode, the kind where the pretty girl you’ve been with for a few years says, “I’m just not that into you anymore. It’s not you, it’s me. But either way, have a nice life.”
So Foley did what people do, and he found someone that was the polar opposite of the relationship that had just been severed. That guy was a fire-breathing coach-in-waiting at Texas named Will Muschamp.
Muschamp was everything that Meyer was not, and at the moment, that’s what Florida wanted. There was no worry of burnout. Hell, you sort of wondered if Muschamp even slept, and you knew that he brushes his teeth every morning with the type of vigor that probably has him going through a tooth brush per week because the bristles are worn out.
Muschamp came in and will leave as the same guy. He was stern on off-field issues that some say were too frequent during the Meyer era; he was breathing that same fire; he is probably still not sleeping.
He leaves because he couldn’t win enough, and that’s why coaches get fired. Unless you start talking major scandal, that’s why all coaches get fired. They don’t win enough. At Florida, the bar is higher than most places, so “enough” is tougher to attain.
However, Florida should be wary of making the same mistake it made last time, a mistake we all make in relationships of just finding “anyone who’s not the last person I was with.”
Think about it. When you break up with a girl, you go on and on about what she did wrong, and then go find someone who just oozes the opposite characteristics. When an employer terminates an employee, the company sets out to find the exact opposite of the person it just let go, regardless of whether or not that’s the best idea.
Then, a few years in, “My last girlfriend never wanted to just sit at home and chill in front of the television … so I went out and met this girl who does … and damn, that’s ALL she likes to do! It’s annoying. I can’t deal with this.”
That’s a rudimentary example, but it’s how these things go.
Muschamp wasn’t ready for Florida, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to get burnt out, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Florida’s a big job, one of the truly elite gigs in college football. During Muschamp’s tenure that’s set to end in a few weeks, the Gators were marked by an immature on-field culture.
We all remember the Louisville debacle in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, when players were hopelessly down making tackles and acting as though they just won the Super Bowl. That was the first glimpse, overshadowed by Florida’s bright, brassy record that season. However, as the wins became more infrequent, the immature culture became more noticeable. Wins cover all warts in sports.
Muschamp was fabulously immature this year against Tennessee after defeating the Vols, fist pumping and rankling Tennessee’s fan base with a youthful exuberance Florida was so desperately searching for in the wake of Meyer’s departure. It’s great if you’re a defensive coordinator … as we see so often, players making big plays and coaches jumping all over them on the sidelines.
When you’re the face of the program, though, that kind of behavior turns to immaturity, and coaches create the culture that a team will take on. If you panic as a coach, the team learns to panic. If you allow an undisciplined culture, players will press the boundaries with frequency. If there’s no retribution for mistake making, mistakes get made over and over again.
Florida’s challenge will be the one we all face when we leave any relationship … begrudgingly as we must, pick out the best qualities of a person that made you want to be around them in the first place, but understand where the important changes need to be made.
The Gators, first off, need to bring in someone with head coaching experience. This isn’t a job for a coordinator getting his first gig. Florida is too big, too successful, too overwhelming for someone with no experience running a team or a program as the face of it.
Second, the Gators need someone who’s had success at the college level. Everyone goes on and on about which NFL big names might want to coach in these big college football jobs, but if you look at some of the best coaches in college football … the Nick Sabans, the Urban Meyers, Brian Kellys, Gus Malzahns … all had in some way or form a successful experience somewhere else at the college level.
Yes, I know, Pete Carroll and blah, blah, blah, but that’s a once in a lifetime type of thing. There’s a reason his resume is as rare as it is. It’s not about “getting guys with the background of Pete Carroll.” It’s because Carroll is individually a special coach.
Next, if Florida likes that disciplinarian type like Muschamp, good — go ahead and find another guy like that. Muschamp has a lot of great qualities you want in a coach, and it’s important to see those.
Florida also would be well served to bring someone in who sees UF as a “destination” job. That means if the new coach has success for three to five years, inevitable rumors of “going somewhere else” can just be laughed at.
In essence, Florida needs to find someone with the energy of a Muschamp and the elite tactical coaching acumen of Meyer, or something at least close to it, because Meyer is a very rare breed on that level.
Is that a Kyle Whittingham of Utah? A Rich Rodriguez of Arizona? A Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State? It’s too early to tell, but Florida would be wise to reverse the trend we all make when transitioning from one person in our lives to another.
Don’t go seeking the polar opposite of her, because down the road, you look back and realize how the first gal wasn’t so bad after all.
Florida can get this right. It must.