No-nonsense tact revives Gators

Process was lengthy, but Muschamp has turned around once-downtrodden group

Updated: August 28, 2012, 9:14 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Expectations for college coaches in their second season with big-time programs have skyrocketed, thanks to Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and Gene Chizik winning national titles.

But for Florida's Will Muschamp, his second season in Gainesville can really be considered his first.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/Icon SMISecond-year coach Will Muschamp remains steady in his mission to build the Gators into a consistent SEC force.
Those aforementioned coaches stepped into much better situations than Muschamp did. Their rosters were stocked with talent -- especially at quarterback -- and there weren't significant problems with attitude and entitlement. In other words, they took on the exact opposite of what Muschamp inherited from Meyer in December 2010.

Muschamp had just 72 scholarship players, a quarterback who was coming off one of the worst seasons by a starter since 1988, and chemistry issues. So his first season as a head coach was a mix of attempting to fix those issues while trying to win games.

It didn't go well. The Gators started 4-0, went winless in October, and only avoided the program's first losing season since 1979 by beating Ohio State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

"We're building a program here," Muschamp said. "Sometimes, the decisions you make may not help you in the short term, but they help you in the long term. You make decisions to help you on the long term for your program's sake, not necessarily your first year, and that's the decisions you make."

The biggest issue Muschamp faced was a group of players whose pride was wounded after an embarrassing 2010 season. The Gators were coming off back-to-back 13-1 seasons, including winning the national title in 2008, and were expected to still be among the national elite despite the loss of Tim Tebow and eight other players to the NFL. Instead, Florida struggled on offense and fell to 8-5, capping the regular season with a 31-7 loss at Florida State.

The players returning from that team were not exactly full of confidence, according to guard Jon Halapio, and their attitude reflected that.

"When you lose, you get down on yourself," Halapio said. "That's just human nature. You're just going to break down, and I feel like with everybody being all down on themselves you just break apart."

Muschamp sensed the discord and immediately tried to solve it by going hard line. No excuses for anything, on the field or off.

"He put his foot down and he let us know he wasn't going to take any b.s. and that this is how he wants his team [to act]," center Jon Harrison said. "This is how the team's going to be if we want to be successful.

"Every team has their flaws. Since we had that rough last season, some people were maybe wanting to point fingers or blame one certain person, but he made us realize that it's no one person, it's a team effort that had us where we were and we have to change all that if we want to succeed."

Muschamp demanded consistency, which is what he gave his players, Halapio said.

"He didn't make practice easier," Halapio said. "He didn't feel sorry for you. He didn't come into the building with his head down. He approached every single day the same and I think that's what stood out to everybody. Win, lose or draw, he's going to approach the day the same way."

Not everyone bought in. Three players -- tight end Gerald Christian, receiver Robert Clark and linebacker Dee Finley -- left the team during the season.

Eventually things turned, although it took longer than many thought. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said he felt the team come together completely for the first time during the bowl practices.

"Some people learn in different ways," Floyd said. "Some people group together in different ways, and it took us a year.

" ... We like the direction we're heading in."

So does Muschamp, who said there is an entirely new attitude around the program, compared to this time last season.

"I can't really look back and say we had one flat day," Muschamp said of the preseason. "We had one really, really bad day. There was a bunch last year. Whether you say it's leadership, it's camaraderie, it's the locker room, whatever it is, I feel this locker room has a lot more control of this football team than maybe last year at this time.

" ... They understand it is going to be done a certain way, and if it is not done a certain way, we move forward."

Toward higher expectations.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter