(Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 48 hours (or even worse, in a world without sports television) you’ve probably heard that it was a pretty bad weekend to be a Florida Gator. It was even worse to be their head coach, Will Muschamp.
The Gators lost on Saturday, but unlike so many other teams across the country, it wasn’t one of those mid-November, we’re 7-5, “Crap, we better accept that Stamps.com Bowl bid before it’s too late” kind of loss. Instead, it was one of those catastrophic, cataclysmic, “who the hell are we and where are we going” kind of losses that leaves fans shaking their heads, and demanding a shake-up of the entire program.
At Florida though, fans aren’t so much demanding a “shake-up,” as they are a pink slip of Muschamp. The Gators had lost five in a row entering Saturday, an inexcusable stretch for a program with three National Championships in the last 20 years.
However Muschamp’s seat didn’t go from “hot” to “scorching” until an unforgivable loss to Georgia Southern Saturday. Yes, you read that correctly. Georgia Southern. As in “some school from the FCS.” As in, Saturday easily marked the worst loss in program history and one which ensures the Gators won’t go bowling for the first time since 1990, and won’t have a winning season for the first time since 1979.
The numbers are bad, and without re-living them all right now, I will say this: I understand why Florida fans are so damn frustrated this morning. I get why you want- no, demand- that Muschamp be fired. Not at the end of the season. Not tomorrow. But this second.
But while I understand it, I can’t say I agree with it. As a matter of fact, I’ll take it one step further and say it would absolutely, positively be the wrong move. Firing Will Muschamp would put a Band-Aid on a wound that doesn’t really exist, solve a problem that is all in your heads. Your football program isn’t headed towards the fiery depths of the SEC basement, but instead one year away from being really good again.
And while I know I’m on an island after everything that happened Saturday I’ll say this: Florida needs to keep Will Muschamp. The idea of even contemplating letting him go would be much worse for the long-term health of your program, than for keeping him for another year.
Let me explain.
For starters, this whole situation really is a product of the “Now, now, now, I can’t remember anything that hasn’t happened within the last 10 minutes” society that we live in. Had this whole situation occurred 15 years ago, this discussion wouldn’t even be happening.
You know how I know that? Because some of the best coaches in modern college football had worse records than Muschamp does through this stretch of his career. Yet because of the times they were able to survive, and are now thriving.
Seriously, look at the numbers. Even if Muschamp loses Saturday at Florida State (which, come on, he will), it will leave Muschamp at 22-16 through the first three years of his career. Can you believe that number is actually better than the first three years Nick Saban had at Michigan State (19-16) and nearly equal to Les Miles’ first three years at Oklahoma State (21-16)?
Of course you can’t believe it, because nobody wants to believe facts when they get in the way of a good firing, right? It also leads me to this question: If Nick Saban came up as a head coach in the era we live in now, would he even still be coaching? Or would he have been run out of town after three years and be coaching defensive backs at some high school in Sheboygan right now?
Probably the latter, I assume.
Also because we live in a “Now, now, now, I can’t remember anything that happened before I woke up” society, everyone seems to forget that the Gators are… wait for it… ONE YEAR removed from nearly making the title game. Remember that 11-2 season they had last year? And remember when they beat Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State? Wait, I forget: Did those wins happen by accident? Because my guess is that if you asked most Florida fans, not only would they say that yes, they did happen by accident, but most wouldn’t remember they happened at all.
At the same time I do understand that last year was last year, and that doesn’t absolve what’s happened in 2013. And crap, even I’m not stubborn enough to argue that this season has been a train wreck. Except my question is this: How much of this train wreck is really Muschamp’s fault, and how much is totally out of his control?
It seems to me to be much more the latter than the former.
Why do I say that? Well, Florida is having a season for the ages in all the wrong ways, with a string of injuries that is so bad that even Wile E. Coyote is just shaking his head and wondering what the hell could possibly happen next.
That whole stretch started in fall camp when Jeff Driskel was forced to get an appendectomy (I mean seriously, who needs an appendectomy these days??) and hasn’t really stopped since. In total, Florida has lost 10 starters to season-ending injuries, with 25 separate starters missing at least one game due to injuries as well.
Looking across the board, those injuries have come in all shapes and sizes in 2013. Some came before the season even started (third-year starting offensive lineman Chaz Green was done before Week 1), and others happened in such comical and silly ways that they seem made up (wait, did Tyler Moore really break his arm falling off a scooter?).
Of course some injuries are more important to a team than others, and Florida had two that they seemingly just couldn’t come back from back in September. That happened when within the stretch of one game (Tennessee, to be exact), the Gators lost their single most important offensive player (Driskel) and defensive player too (Dominique Easley to an ACL). Those two were the leaders of their respective units, and neither has been the same since (although some stupidly thought at the time that it would somehow be addition by subtraction for the offense to lose Driskel).
That last line also leads me to this question: Name me one team in the country that wouldn’t miss a beat without their single most important offensive and defensive player being lost for most of the season? Would Ohio State be ok without Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier? Stanford without Ty Montgomery and Shayne Skov? Admittedly, those teams might not be 4-7 at this point, but they wouldn’t have survived unscathed either. Even Alabama with all their depth couldn’t survive losing A.J. McCarron and C.J. Mosley and not miss a beat.
And to me, that last part- the depth- is the thing that I think everyone is missing on, and nobody really wants to talk about here. To quote Chris Rock, “Yeah, I said it!” That’s right, even three years after Urban Meyer rode off onto his white horse into “retirement” this program still isn’t totally back to where they need to be.
Again, I know no one wants to hear that. I know this is Florida, and 6’3 wide receivers and linebackers who run 4.39 40’s are just supposed to fall off trees. Only that’s not the program that Will Muschamp inherited, and it’s not yet where the program he is rebuilding is at yet either.
Yes, you heard me correctly Florida fans. Take a deep breath and realize your reality: This team is still rebuilding. That isn’t your current coach’s fault as much as the last one.
Yes, I know, I know, I’m the only writer in America still blaming Urban Meyer for Florida’s 2013 downfall. But please just think about what’s happened this season, and how the team has reacted. Because if you do, you’ll realize this: When all these starters went down for Florida this season, it wasn’t the juniors and seniors that Urban Meyer recruited who replaced them. Nope, it’s the freshmen and sophomores brought in by Muschamp who are stepping up.
Understand that’s not my opinion, but instead a fact. And here’s another fact: Those freshmen and sophomores are actually holding their own. Kelvin Taylor is playing well. Dante Fowler Jr. has been a revelation for two years now. Vernon Hargreaves Jr. and Brian Poole are No. 1 and 2 on the team in interceptions. Antonio Morrison is third in tackles, even though he’s missed the last two games.
And they’re all guys recruited by Muschamp.
It’s also why I laugh when I hear people say that this team has “quit” on Muschamp. Excuse my language, but are you f*%$#*ng kidding me? There’s a difference between a team quitting on a coach, and a team just being painfully, obnoxiously young. Auburn quit on Gene Chizik last year. USC quit on Lane Kiffin this year. Florida just has a bunch of young pups going against grown men.
It’s also what has me so damn frustrated about this situation. If Florida fans would take their thumbs out of you-know-where, come off their “we should win a title every year” mountain top and join the rest of us back on planet Earth, they’d realize that they’re one year away from being really good.
Seriously, look around the rest of the SEC East. Georgia loses Aaron Murray. Missouri loses L’Damian Washington and James Franklin. South Carolina graduates Connor Shaw. Florida returns everyone of key consequence except for Easley, plus should have loaded depth with all the guys who’ve been thrown into the fire this season. Why can't they win the SEC East in 2014?
It also leads me to one final question: If Will Muschamp isn’t the best man to lead the Florida Gators into 2014, who is?
Gator fans can have pipe dreams about Charlie Strong, but I hate to tell you this: Charlie Strong probably ain’t walking through that door. The dude has already turned down plenty of opportunities to leave Louisville, and oh by the way, when you get a second, go ahead and look closely at his salary right now. That’s right, Strong makes nearly a million dollars more than Muschamp makes right now.
That leads me to this question: how much money exactly it would take to buy Strong out at Louisville, pay him for his troubles and bring a staff with him? Beyond that if Strong stays, who is a can’t miss, no doubt, home run hire? There isn’t one out there. Meaning that if the Gators do let Muschamp go, they’re seemingly more likely to get another Ron Zook than another Urban Meyer.
Thankfully, the insanity seems to be officially coming to an end, with more reports surfacing Sunday that regardless of what happened Saturday against Georgia Southern, and regardless of the outcome against Florida State, Will Muschamp will remain coach. Changes may come, it just won’t be at the head coaching position.
And thank goodness for that.
For once, cooler heads have prevailed. Will Muschamp will remain as Florida’s head football coach, as he rightfully should.
Now it’s up to him to make his bosses- and me- look good.
Aaron is a contributor for FoxSports.com and show writer for Fox Sports Live.
Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at