Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Gators look to win more fans this spring
By Jeff Barlis
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If Will Muschamp had his druthers, every Florida practice would take place under a veil of such secrecy that even the NSA would be jealous.
The Gators coach simply believes there's a competitive advantage to keeping team affairs close to the vest.
Florida coach Will Muschamp's first instinct is to close practice during the spring, but he's reluctantly opening up access this year.
"I feel in the first year of a coordinator it is (an advantage), quite frankly," Muschamp said. "There's a lot of things that get out there. It's not the same as it was 15 years ago. Everybody wants to say, 'This is what we used to do,' but it has changed a lot. I do believe there is some competitive advantage from that standpoint.
"There are things you do pick up, regardless of what coaches in our league say, from people on the Internet and different things we're able to have access to. You do see things. Everybody's spring game is televised now. I think, in that situation, we need to go do what we do because our guys need to get turns and reps as many times as possible with just 29 practices in the fall before our first game. There's no question you can pick up things from what people do."
But shutting out curious observers is a luxury Florida can no longer afford.
Muschamp closed all spring practices in 2011, his first year. Fans used to seeing much more under previous coach Urban Meyer voiced their displeasure. Two practices were opened in 2012, and UF did the same last spring.
Now, coming off a 4-8 season that frustrated and turned off a lot of those fans, Muschamp has had to shift his priorities. Starting with their first spring practice Wednesday at 3:35 p.m. ET, the Gators are opening their doors. Nine of Florida's 15 practices, including the spring game, will be open to the public.
"I think it's best for our program at this time," Muschamp said.
Clearly there is hesitation. Muschamp is comfortable showing off his defense and special teams, which haven't changed much and are available for any opponent to watch on game film. But Florida is installing a new offense this spring under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper.
There is no doubt that sensitive information such as formations, core principles, personnel groupings and tendencies will get out.
But the show must go on.
"Kurt and I sat down when I made the decision a couple weeks back, and I said, 'You have any issue with us opening practice?'" Muschamp recounted. "He said, 'I don't have any issue with what we're doing.'"
The move to open things up is a compromise, to be sure, but Florida will still do its best to keep its most important work private this spring. Other than the annual Orange & Blue Debut that wraps up spring practice on April 12, Muschamp said he'll keep all Saturday scrimmages closed.
As for the rest of practice, the added attention and the scrutiny that surely comes with it, Muschamp is keeping a sense of humor.
"It's kind of like offense -- you do the same things, you're going to get the same results," he said with a smile. "I've got some friends in town that are big Gator fans and they want to come to practice. I'll let them come. Nah, we've got great fans and I'm very appreciative of their support. I've had people reach out to me and say, 'Hey, we'd like to be able to have more access to the team.'"