Sunday, December 12, 2010

The maid in waiting becomes The Man in Gainesville

In the blur of Florida's quick selection of Will Muschamp to be its next coach, I don't know what's the bigger question:

Why has it taken this long for the former defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas to be given the chance to run a program?

Or: Has Jeremy Foley lost his mind?

After Urban Meyer's second attempt at early retirement, most educated guesses had landed on the square that Foley, the Gator athletic director, would go with a proven commodity, that the Florida job would attract a long line of proven suitors, from Bob Stoops to Chris Peterson to emerging star Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Besides, Florida had first-hand experience with Ron Zook, an able assistant and recruiter who won little more than half his games at Gainesville while sandwiched between Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.

And yet, Foley chose Muschamp, not yet 40 but a lifelong assistant. In fact, Foley said Muschamp was his top target from the start. The former Georgia player certainly has the chops on his resume: stints at LSU with Nick Saban, plus highly successful and much publicized defensive coordinator gigs at Auburn and Texas. Schools with head coaches to find started circling him years ago, so much so that Texas gave him an enormous raise and put the Coach in Waiting brand on him, even though Longhorn head guy Mack Brown said he wasn't going anywhere.

So now Muschamp gets his shot, not at some mid-major or struggling program at the bottom of a power conference, but at what many believe is the best college football job in the country. It's not like he's a teenager being asked to parallel park the family's Mercedes. He has played and coached at iconic programs, worked for the fiery Saban and laid-back Brown and Tommy Tuberville. He, in following the advice of Bear Bryant, has surrounded himself with highly successful people.

And yet . . .

The biggest walk in sports is from trusted assistant to head guy in a successful football program. It's the ultimate application of the Peter Principal, and the mortality rate is great: Phil Bengston at Green Bay, Ray Goff at Georgia, Mike Dubose and Mike Shula at Alabama, Doug Barfield at Auburn, Mike Archer at LSU, Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss, and, of course, Zook. All were considered loyal servants to the program. All were chosen in hopes of smoothing over the jolts of changing eras. And each was a "(fill in the name of your school here) MAN." They knew the players. They knew how their schools did things. And yet all failed -- in some cases, preposterously so.

Goff was over his head. Orgeron had troubling completing sentences, much less winning games. Shula showed all his father's stubborness and very little of his vision during his disappointing return to Tuscaloosa.

But he looked like Knute Rockney compared to Dubose. When Gene Stallings walked away at Alabama, Dubose, a defensive coordinator like Muschamp, rode a staggering wave of fan support to the head job. Dubose's only qualification, it seemed, was one of royal lineage: He was one of "Bear's Boys." He is now the most notorious coach in Alabama history, having inherited one NCAA probation then very quickly going out and getting one of his own. He also lied to his bosses about an affair he had with his secretary, allowed open revolts among his assistants, and said after a loss to Tennessee that he was angry at Jesus for letting it happen.

At least Zook didn't cheat. He brought energy and good recruits to The Swamp. But almost a decade after his hiring at Florida, and his up-and-down performance at Illinois, it's still unclear if he knows what he's doing.

That is not to say that Muschamp is doomed to failure. Bryant was an assistant at one time. Georgia took a flyer on Auburn assistant Vince Dooley. Joe Paterno has done OK.

But all of them built their resumes a long, long time ago, in a universe far, far away. Muschamp faces an entirely different journey -- with a level of 24-hour-a-day scrutiny, comically high expectations and competition that long ago eclipsed cutthroat. Hell, Bryant never adjusted to sideline reporters. What would he have done with the Web?

For starters, Muschamp seems intent on surrounding himself with his mirror twins. Word out of Austin is Major Applewhite will be his offensive coordinator, and Muschamp apparently will go after Kirby Smart, a longtime friend and Saban's DC at Alabama, who now becomes college football's top maid in waiting.

Florida could have gone to "Jersey Shore" for a head coach and would still get great talent to Gainesville. But now Muschamp must deal with resurgent Florida State, where lifelong assistant Jimbo Fischer is finishing his first year as a head coach. In the SEC, Muschamp jumps into the deep end with the likes of Saban, Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, Les Miles and Gene Chizik, whose Auburn team seems destined to win the SEC's fifth national championship in a row.

Florida owns two of those jewels. But they belong to Meyer. Muschamp will be expected to add his name to the charm bracelet in a ridiculously short time. You might call it his "validation in waiting."



Bama Brother said...

No question it will be a tough assignment, but sooner or later, Muschamp was going to get THE call. Might not have figured the call was coming from Gainesville.

J said...

Excellent piece!

I had long forgotten about "It's all Jesus' fault" and the irritation of sideline reporters. (Imagine Bear trying to deal with some of these smart-@$$ bloggers!)

Time will tell. I'd like to see him do well, just not well enough to beat us. If nothing else, being a Florida coach with the Auburn and Georgia sections on his resume should make the matchups among those schools even more interesting.

Oh, yeah, stop jinxing us with that "destined" talk!!!!!!!!

Bama Brother said...

I enjoy your posts, and I plead guilty to believing the Tigers are a destiny team. I didn't start believing it until about the mid-point in their incredible season, and nothing I've seen since has changed my mind. The closest Oregon is going to get to the BCS trophy is when its coach joins his Auburn counterpart alongside it for the pre-game photo op.
I just hope that when the victory arrives, Auburn's superlative quarterback will be able to talk about it in a more more grammatical, complete-sentence way than he did in accepting the Heisman.
I say this acknowledging that I live in a state where vast numbers of the native-born have trouble pronouncing any polysyllabic name or word. Of course, we have had public figures, including governors, who took a perverse pride in that and one of the chief offenders was Alabama's Bear. One of the attractions of his TV show was to hear him butcher the polysyllabic names of his own players.

Anonymous said...


J said...

Bama Brother,

I was also quite surprised to see Cam bumble his way through his acceptance speech. I think his brain got overwhelmed while his mouth tried to distance himself from Cecil while giving him maximum credit at the same time. When it comes to Heisman acceptance speeches in the 2000s, it's definitely 'Bama 1, Auburn 0.

And the perverse pride in not bein' able to talk right extends far beyond Tuscaloosa and Opelika. Have you noticed how horrifying the spelling & grammar is in the comments on most of the stories on this website are? And then when someone corrects them, they loudly rant, "This ain't no english classes!" Sad.