Where Will Muschamp stands in Florida’s coaching history
By Dave Friedman
In 2008-2009 the Florida Gators played the most difficult schedule in the country. With challenging tasks week-after-week, Tim Tebow and his teammates went 13-1 and beat Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS Championship game. It was the third National Title for Florida, and second in three years. At the time, it was assumed that the program would continue to be among the elite in the country. We all know what happens when you assume. Florida is not an out-of-this-world program. Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer are special, and elevated the Gators, just as they have countless other schools.
When Spurrier took over at Florida they were coming off of a 7-5 season. Galen Hall was fired midway through the 1989 campaign and interim coach Gary Darnell struggled down the stretch. In the Freedom Bowl, played December 30 in Anaheim, unranked Washington drubbed Florida 34-7. While the season was bad enough to call for a new coach, it really was not unlike the previous eight decades. Hall’s winning percentage, .686, was as good as any Gator coach since James Van Fleet and William G. Kline in the 1920’s. The program had been consistently solid but unspectacular.
Spurrier arrived in Gainesville after three years at Duke. He took over a Blue Devils program that had not won more than six games in a season since 1962. After a 5-6 opening year, he went 7-3 and 8-4 in his final two years in Durham, NC. Since Spurrier left, more than 20 years ago, Duke has had one winning season, three winless campaigns, and lost 10 games or more on seven occasions.
In Gainesville, Spurrier went 122-27-1. His SEC mark was 87-12. Galen Hall was 21-12 in conference games. The Gators went from being the third best school in Florida, after Miami and Florida State, to a program as respected and successful as any other in America. Then Spurrier left.
While Spurrier’s time with the Washington Redskins was short-lived, he resurfaced in the SEC at traditional doormat South Carolina in 2005. Taking over a program that had been under .500 in two of three previous seasons under Lou Holtz, and had won 10 games in a year once dating back to the programs start in 1892, Spurrier went 7-5 in his first year. Under his leadership the team has never dipped below .500, he took the Gamecocks to their first SEC Title game in 2010, and won 11 games in 2011 and 2012. South Carolina has played in 18 bowl games. Spurrier has coached seven of them.
Ron Zook took over for Spurrier with the Gators. He went 23-14 and was fired for not being Steve Spurrier. His winning percentage, .622, was better than 10 of the 12 coaches before Spurrier. It was no longer good enough. Urban Meyer took the job in 2005. Spurrier Jr., Meyer, started winning again, big.
Meyer got his first head coaching opportunity at Bowling Green in 2001. Taking over a squad that had won two games the previous year, and had gone six straight years without a winning record, he went 8-3 his first season, and 9-3 in year two. Only four times in 40 years had the Falcons won nine times in a single season before Meyer showed up.
When Meyer arrived at Utah in 2003, the Utes had won 10 games in a season once since starting football in the late 1800’s. Taking over a team that went 5-6 the previous year, Meyer immediately went 10-2. He followed that up with a 12-0 campaign that included a Fiesta Bowl domination of Pittsburgh. The year after Meyer left the Utes were 7-5.
It was clear that Florida’s expectations were sky-high when Meyer took the position in Gainesville, and he exceeded any Gator fans wildest dreams. He improved upon Zook’s 7-5 by going 9-3 in 2005. The next year brought his first National Title. In six seasons Meyer went 65-15 with the Gators including 36-12 in the SEC. He was 5-1 in Bowl Games and 2-0 in the National Title Game. Citing mental health issues, he left the Gators after six years.
Following a year off, Meyer returned to coaching at Ohio State. He hasn’t lost yet. The Buckeyes are 21-0 under his leadership. Not only is that amazing, the fact he did it at a school with NCAA restrictions imposed because of conduct under former coach Jim Tressel is that much more remarkable.
As for Florida, when Meyer left they hired Will Muschamp. He went 7-6 in 2011, 11-2 last year, and is 4-5 this season. His .628 winning percentage looks a lot like everybody else who has coached at Florida not named Spurrier and Meyer. Firing Muschamp is an easy option, finding the next generational coach in college football is going to be a lot more difficult.