- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Andrea Adelson had a chance to catch up with Florida coach Will Muschamp about the state of college football in Florida. Here is a little of what he had to say.
Where do you think the big three of Miami, Florida and Florida State are right now?
Will Muschamp: It goes in cycles. Obviously in our situation there’s been a transition. In Tallahassee and Miami, there’s been transition. When you go through transition, it isn’t always smooth and so whether you’re changing schemes or changing philosophy or changing what you do or how you do it or who you recruit, whatever the cases may be, throughout the entire state there’s been a lot of transition at the head coaching position, and that trickles down to coordinators and position coaches. It changes recruiting areas. There’s still a lot of great high school football players and great high school coaches in the state of Florida, but things go in cycles. You could go back to the 80s when things weren’t as good, then the ‘90s, these three programs were at the top of college football, then into 2000 … it’ll come back.
You think so?
WM: No question.
WM: The recruiting areas are too good and there’s too good of coaches at all three institutions. You’re going to have good players, you’re going to develop good players when you get them on campus. I’m confident in our staff, and I know the other programs have good staffs as well.
Whenever there is transition, the first question is always about a timetable to get back up to the top. How do you measure where you should be?
WM: Obviously we’re in a little bit of a down cycle as far as our talent level. You can watch our last two pro days. The facts are the facts. We can point at whoever we want to point at. At the end of the day, there weren’t a bunch of pro scouts at our pro day. So, with that being said, because of our recruiting base, this s a place that you can flip quickly.
That being said, just about every program in the country is in Florida recruiting. How does that impact you?
WM: The big thing in recruiting in the state of Florida, it’s no different than when I was at the University of Texas, is evaluation.
There’s a bunch of good players in the state of Florida. It’s about taking the right guy that fits into your program and not getting caught up in where they’re ranked. But evaluating the film and seeing where they fit in your program to me is the most important part of recruiting in the state of Florida. When I was at Texas, you had
Oklahoma, you had A&M, you had LSU, you had a lot of good choices there in that state as well. Obviously, in our state you have good choices, and you have others who come into the state and do a good job recruiting. More than anything it’s the evaluation process.
What goes into evaluating players?
WM: Get them on your campus, obviously evaluating the film, see if they have the critical factors, the size, the speed, the decision making, on and off the field the character. Academically how are they? All of those things are a part of the evaluation process. I told our staff, "Don’t just fall in love with the film."
Going back to the era you mentioned earlier, what did it take to get all three programs to an elite level all at the same time?
WM: I go back to recruiting base. It’s about players. And there’s enough really good players in the state of Florida or in the Southeastern United States, that all three can be very good because there’s that many good players in our state. Obviously, all three staffs did a good job recruiting, evaluating and developing the players. A lot of the players didn’t leave the state because they wanted to play for a winner. The recruiting base is the key to the drill for me.
What do you think was the perception of big three from national perspective when they were all winning at the same time?
WM: I think the feedback I get from other coaches now being at Florida nationally is that what an advantage we have because of the recruiting base. It’s not that easy, though. It goes back to taking the right guy. There might be a guy that’s a really good player on tape but when he comes here it’s not going to work. If he’s not going to act the right way, it’s not going to work at the University of Florida. It goes back to the evaluation process. Some players want to get away. Some players want to leave.
In recent years, all three have had some highly-ranked recruiting classes, but they maybe didn’t pan out. Is that on the coaching staffs, or is that on a failure in the recruiting evaluation period?
WM: I think it starts with the recruiting analysts. Some of the ranking services, that’s why you don’t pay attention to them. Our fans pay attention to them because when it’s not football season they have nothing else to watch, especially in the Southeast because all they care about is football. So the only thing you can care about before spring ball is recruiting. And it becomes a hot topic and everybody’s opinion matters. At the end of the day, I worry about the young men at the University of Florida and how we develop them into good football players and good people. This is what I always say.
There are 32 teams in the National Football League. They have unlimited access from an evaluation standpoint, they get great film from every college in the country. You’ve seen some of the high school film I watch? It’s hard. It’s sometimes hard to see the number. They get great film. They get unlimited psychological evaluation. Unlimited physical evaluation. There’s no rule about contact. Every year in the NFL draft in April, how many busts are there in the first round?
My point being is here are these ranking services, and I’m not trying to take a shot at them. They get one or two films, they may watch a 10-play cut up and rank a guy 12 star and he’s supposed to be a good college football player? That’s not the way it works. There’s probably half the teams, 32 teams, would be disappointed with their first round draft pick and yet they had unlimited evaluation. There’s so many things that a young man goes through from high school to college. New scheme, new coaches, different atmosphere, a lot on their plate. How are they going to adjust socially? How are they going to adjust academically? How are they going to adjust athletically? The closer your position is to the ball, the harder it is to play as a freshman. There’s multiple factors that go into how a guy’s going to go from high school to college. Just like college to the NFL. The evaluation is so much more detailed in the NFL because you have more resources and you have more time and you have unlimited contacts. In college, we’re very limited by NCAA rules by what we can do.
So how do you ensure the proper path of development for your players?
WM: Hire good people. We have a great strength coach, we believe in the core values of what we do in the weight room. We’ve hired a great staff. I’ve hired coaches who have NFL experience purposely. When you come to the University of Florida, you’re going to get a great education, you’re going to compete for a championship and if those two things work out and you don’t get hurt, you ought to have an opportunity to play in the National Football League because you’re going to play in a pro-style system. So you hire people who’ve been there and done that. Myself, Dan Quinn and Tim Davis, coaches on our staff, they’ve coached in the National Football League.
Whenever football does return to a high level, is it sustainable for the big three to be top 10 programs consistently, even with the changing landscape?
WM: I think so. You look at the talent base all three schools have, and it certainly is attainable. It is harder than it was in the ‘90s because there’s more parity in college athletics overall. There’s more attention to other schools. Smaller schools get more attention now.
That’s helped them in recruiting but I certainly think it’s attainable at all three schools.
What would be the biggest roadblock to that happening again?
WM: Playing in the SEC.
Florida played in the SEC in the ‘90s.
WM: Well, you asked for one. I would say nothing other than the fact of doing a good job recruiting, doing a good job of evaluating. When you play in our league it’s different. The last six years speak for themselves.
WM: You look at the 90s. I’m not trying to take away anything Coach Spurrier accomplished. Our league is a lot harder now than it was then. LSU was going through a transition. Georgia was going through a transition. They were playing with guys like me. I’m being honest with ya. Ole Miss and Mississippi State weren’t where they are now. Alabama was going through transition. Auburn was going through a tough time when Coach [Pat] Dye resigned. There was transition going on in our league. South Carolina was nonexistent. Our league was very different.
You want to look at the two dominant programs in the 1990s, it was Tennessee and Florida. The third weekend in September determined the SEC a lot of times.
What is it like when you’re at a program that’s had all that success and now you’re in a down cycle because of the transitions? Does that make you want to work harder to get back up there?
WM: I don’t look at things that way. I don’t look at what’s done before. Obviously, you’re working at a place that academically is outstanding, athletically is outstanding. We have a great tradition and it’s appealing to a lot of student-athletes to come to the University of Florida. My challenge every day when I get out of bed is to do a great job for the University of Florida.
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