- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp didn’t need to consult motivational speaker Tony Robbins last summer to figure out the message he wanted to convey to his players.
The Gators had just come off a 7-6 season and only avoided the program’s first losing season in more than 30 years by beating Ohio State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. Muschamp had a locker room full of irritated players, so his message was pretty simple: Play angry.
But now, as the Gators begin the summer semester and the incoming freshmen get ready to report in early July, Muschamp’s message has changed. The one he used last year no longer applies.
Now he’s preaching about not settling.
"Last year, going into the year, you have a little chip on your shoulder about how the season before went," Muschamp said. "Whatever motivational tactic that we used obviously was good for us at times. We’re now a team that’s faced a little bit of success here and there. My constant reminder throughout the offseason is, 'Are you better?'
"You either get better or worse every day, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s in the meeting room as far as football is concerned, [whether] it’s in the weight room or it’s on the practice field. You can improve yourself every day to be a positive member of the football team."
UF went 11-2 in 2012 and stayed in the hunt for the national championship until the final weeks of the regular season, but it certainly wasn’t easy. The Gators didn’t name a starting quarterback until Week 2, finished the season ranked 114th nationally in passing, and had to come from behind in eight victories.
That showed just how well the players embraced the preseason message.
"When you come from behind eight times, it means you've got character on your football team and you've got guys believing what they're doing," Muschamp said. "I mean, those are two things that are hard to find, especially in today's age. When you get behind, most everybody wants to point the finger at somebody else and blame somebody for something."
Things are much different his summer. This is the second season for offensive coordinator Brent Pease, there’s a new defensive coordinator (D.J. Durkin was promoted when Dan Quinn left), and the Gators have to replace nine players who were drafted into the NFL -- including their leading rusher, receiver and tackler.
Florida is a contender for the Eastern Division title and therefore the SEC title, which is almost an automatic entry into the BCS National Championship. Just playing angry won’t cut it, Muschamp said.
He has made sure the players understand that maintaining the status quo will actually result in a step backward. He told them that during his annual post-spring individual meetings and it will be reinforced by the conditioning staff throughout the summer.
"A lot of kids nowadays, especially in our society, they take that as a negative," Muschamp said. "They only want to talk about the positive things. Well, the good things take care of themselves. You’ve got to go after and attack the negative things and the things you’ve got to improve to help our football team be better. I think our kids, more than anything, have bought into the process of winning football games and what that does for each individual and each player."
He’ll know if the message was received when the Gators return to the practice field in early August.