Immature on-field culture at Florida signals time for change

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It was January of 2013, and you could see it then.

Louisville and Florida were playing in the Sugar Bowl, and Louisville was going to win going away. Florida players were laying a few big hits here and there in a mostly done-with situation, celebrating like they were up 20 and just waiting on the tick tock to hit 0:00.

You saw it then, and you see it now, certainly as a bad Florida team got routed at home by depending-on-the-week-mediocre Missouri. That result was a referendum which was mostly just a free beer after drinking a cube with your buddies, though.

The immaturity of Florida was evident then, and it’s evident now, and that falls on the head coach, Will Muschamp.

Anyone who would read stuff I try to write knows I hate skewering coaches. It’s not easy winning, and it hurts losing. Guys get fired, it affects more than just the one guy people are writing columns about. It affects his family and countless others.

But Will Muschamp has continually failed to create a culture at Florida that wins; rather, it is one of petulance and immaturity. Culture is the lifeblood of the program, the oil in the machine that helps it survive long after talent has come, gone, and you’re looking for a new breed.

Florida, Saturday night, played the perfect team against which it could find out about itself. Missouri was in a similar spot, coming off a shelling by Georgia at home that effectively put the Tigers’ SEC East title hopes on ice. Florida was coming off a heartbreaking loss at home to LSU that could have gone the Gators’ way multiple times late but just didn’t.

You find out everything about yourself or your team when you are faced with adversity. The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel, and all that stuff. Both Florida and Missouri probably entered this game after a salty week of practice that was harder than most weeks.

Gary Pinkel’s squad took the message; Will Muschamp’s didn’t, again, as has been the case pretty much every time Florida has faced it in his tenure.

That speaks to the gaping chasm of immaturity between a mostly mediocre 2014 team and 2014 Florida. This was the perfect season for Muschamp. The Gators literally had everything they wanted in the schedule. Yeah, they had to go to Tuscaloosa, but LSU was at home, Auburn wasn’t even on the schedule, and as it turns out fortuitously, neither were Ole Miss or Mississippi State.

To wit, right when the second half opened, a Florida player (No. 87) unnecessarily blocked a Mizzou player out of bounds a good 10 yards, just asking for a personal foul penalty which he got, backing Florida up. That’s right after halftime, when you reset the deck and get your wits about you. Immaturity.

Florida simply needed to be mediocre to get to 7-8 wins, and it’s highly possible that doesn’t happen. Actually, it’s likely in spite of the White Cloud schedule the Gators have on the horizon, all things considered.

The immaturity of gloating about tackles against Louisville hasn’t faded. A few weeks ago, it was Muschamp who gloated after winning in Knoxville over Tennessee, a scene that more looked like someone from the student section having a jolly ole time. Wins are all tough (ask Nick Saban). After achieving one of them, you go breathe a sigh of relief, kiss your wife, grab a glass of whiskey, and just enjoy winning rather than mocking fans like you’re a player.

The old certainty of coaching is that players follow the lead of the coach. If the coach shows panic, the players panic. If the coach refuses to get too high or too low, the players don’t get too high or too low. If the coach isn’t intense, the players aren’t intense. If the coach makes too much of something, so do the players.

Thus is the obituary for Florida football under Will Muschamp, even if the Gators go on to salvage a bowl game. The culture at Florida that has been established is a broken one, and one that never works. Muschamp’s defenses, to his credit, have been outstanding for the most part. Yet, that’s fodder for a coordinator, not a head coach. You’re responsible for the whole deal when you make the step up.

Muschamp might succeed at this level later on, but it’s not happening in Gainesville. Curiosity may have killed the cat, as they say… but immaturity killed the Gator.