Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Muschamp, Gators must make changes
By Edward Aschoff
Want to know the current state of Florida's football program? Take a look at the tape of Florida's home loss to Vanderbilt.
You don't have to look at what's happening on the field. It certainly paints a bleak, unpleasant picture of what this team isn't capable of, but the real eye-opener is in the stands. There were too many empty seats to count and too many boo birds out to ignore.
Even coach Will Muschamp, who keeps his head so buried in football that he usually only notices fans after the final whistle, couldn't help but hear all the chirping after a 34-17 loss to the Commodores.
Right now, it isn't great to be a Florida Gator, and it's clear that if changes aren't made this program could become a laughingstock in the same conference it once sat atop.
Will Muschamp says he'll evaluate his coaching staff in the offseason.
What sort of change needs to be made? Ask your typical Gators fan and the hammer drops: The head coach, who is finishing out his third season in Gainesville, needs to go. But after a season in which injuries ravaged this squad, is that really the right move? Is that really an option?
From the sound of things, it doesn't look like athletic director Jeremy Foley is ready to pull the plug on Muschamp, who is 22-13 in three years. For one, losing six starters to season-ending injuries, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley and running back Matt Jones, is something Muschamp couldn't control. The handful of injuries this team has suffered isn't on him. He'll get a pass for that, so talk of Muschamp leaving now is premature.
The change has to come from Muschamp and in his vision for the future. This is the same coach who guided Florida to 11 wins and a BCS bowl game last year, but it's also the same coach who has two four-game losing streaks in three years, the longest such streaks since 1988.
With the Gators losing at home to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1945 (ending their 24-game winning streak against the Commodores) and in jeopardy of missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years (the second-longest streak in the nation), it's clear Muschamp has to reevaluate everything.
He has to find a quarterback, an offensive identity, a tougher offensive line, some playmakers and some discipline. That comes with recruiting, development and coaching. Right now, all three areas have to improve.
Muschamp said on Saturday and again on Monday that he plans to evaluate his coaching staff in the offseason. Expect changes, but would Muschamp be willing to change his offensive philosophy? The offense hasn't made the appropriate strides since coordinator Brent Pease was hired in 2011. It's stale, and it regressed this year. Yes, injuries have been a major factor, and the offensive line has been atrocious, but adjustments haven't been made at critical moments.
This team lacks elite offensive talent and a clear identity. Would Muschamp be willing to go in a more offensive-friendly direction in order to inject some excitement into this team and fan base? Would he be willing to compromise his defense for more points?
Fans certainly hope so.
Muschamp also has to keep this recruiting class together. This might be the most important area going forward because it's simply mind-boggling that the University of Florida is so devoid of offensive talent, despite being in a state that grows those players like it grows oranges. Yes, Urban Meyer left the offensive cupboard bare when he departed, but Muschamp has had some big misses on that side of the ball. Losing out on receivers Stefon Diggs and Nelson Agholor in the 2012 class proved to be debilitating. There just isn't a top-flight receiver on Florida's roster, but the Gators have a commitment from the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ermon Lane. Keeping him is a must.
Florida's class ranks 10th nationally. The Gators have 15 pledges, but the trifecta of Lane, running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Will Grier (all ESPN 300 members) must make it to Gainesville. They've all said the right things and insist they're all strongly committed to Florida, but this is recruiting. Muschamp has to make sure those three sign because they could hold his future in their hands.
The injuries will vanish in 2014, but the tension with the fan base won't. You'll be able to cut it with a machete, but it can't leak into the locker room. It's an uncomfortable relationship right now between Muschamp and Gator Nation, and you can bet there will be plenty more empty seats next year until the wins return.
It's hard to keep a powerful program like this down for long, but Florida is in bad shape. Muschamp will likely get one more year to right the ship, but you have to think it's Atlanta or bust for him next year.
He deserves more time, but his clock is certainly ticking.