GAINESVILLE -- They exited in droves. The boo-birds howled all afternoon.
In just a month’s time, the Gator Nation has experienced its own five stages of grief:
Denial. Bewilderment. Fury. Apathy. And, finally, bloodthirsty.
Florida — in the midst of an embarrassing four-game losing steak — suffered a catastrophic homecoming loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon, and dejected coach Will Muschamp seemed resigned to knowing his seat is hotter than a Red Savina habanero.
“I’m a competitor. I don’t like losing. I certainly don’t like the product we are putting on the field, and that’s my responsibility,” Muschamp said regarding fan unrest and the general hopelessness surrounding Florida’s football team. “I take full credit for that. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not good, it’s not good, and it hasn’t been good. And that’s on me.
“We’ll make the decisions to move forward that we need to do to help this football team in the latter part of the season as we move forward. That’s my plan. I’m not asking for anybody to be happy. I’m not asking anybody to give a pass. This is the real deal. This is the University of Florida. My expectation, I’ll guarantee, is as high or higher than anyone sitting in those stands. There’s nobody more let down or hurt or competitive edge dented a little bit by this. So it’s on me. We’ll get it turned. I can assure you that.”
Although Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has reportedly voiced his support for Muschamp privately, he has yet to do so publicly, and a humiliating loss to Vanderbilt has only further swelled speculation about the entire coaching staff’s job security.
The 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt — a team that is injury-riddled like Florida and also playing without its starting quarterback — was worse than any defeat during the grisly Ron Zook era. The Gators have now had two four-game losing streaks in the past three seasons — their only such skids since 1990.
“I’m a lot harder on myself than y’all are or anyone else is going to be or anyone else in this Gator Nation,” Muschamp said. “You know, again, I’m very critical of myself and what I need to do to be better, and I don’t need to hear any fan from the outside telling me what we need to do with this football team. I can assure you that.”
But they never stopped trying Saturday, until they simply decided to leave. Muschamp admitted to hearing lots of loud boos and actually apologized for confronting an enraged fan following the loss to archrival Georgia last week.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Muschamp said of the booing. “You know, I made a mistake last week, I made a real mistake over a very passionate, passionate Florida fan [who] was telling me his opinion of me. You know what, that’s fine, that’s fine. They pay their ticket, they can boo all they want. That’s good. Now it doesn’t help our program, but that’s fine.”
While Muschamp remains likely to retain his job, several staff members might not be so lucky.
Three weeks ago — with the “arrows flying” — Muschamp empathically voiced a vote of confidence for offensive coordinator Brent Pease and the rest of his staff. He highlighted their 11 wins a season ago and dismissed the option to make changes. But with the arrows now flaming and rapidly burning a blazed wagon, his tune changed.
“We’ll find a way. We’ve got to keep going at it. What we’re doing so far is not working. Keep doing the same stuff, you’re going to get the same results,” he said. “You evaluate everything at the end of the season. That’s what I certainly will do. I’ve done that my first two years, and I’ll do that again this year. I’m not worried about it.”