Joseph Goodman: Sticking with Will Muschamp is right move for Florida Gators

Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators gestures during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on Nov. 2, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators gestures during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on Nov. 2, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

UF athletic director Jeremy Foley is going to give Will Muschamp another season regardless of what happens Saturday in Gainesville, and Muschamp can partly thank Gus Malzahn for the reprieve.

Whether next season is simply a stay of execution or the complete rebirth of a career is up to Muschamp, but Foley is right in sticking by the man he plucked out of Austin to clean up after Urban Meyer. It’s important to remember Friday, with Florida standing alone and exposed on the beach as the Seminole tsunami barrels down, that Muschamp might have been taking over at Texas after this season if he had remained Mack Brown’s heir apparent.

Instead, Muschamp fell for Foley’s pitch, left Texas, and now finds himself the man in charge of the worst season in Florida football history since Florida stopped being terrible at football every season.

The cheap and easy comparison here, of course, is Ron Zook. Zook was fired after losing to Mississippi State in 2004 yet Muschamp still has a job after losing to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern. Why? Would Zook have lost to Georgia Southern?

One media member’s argument was that Zook recruited well enough that one of his teams never would have lost to Georgia Southern. Losing to Vanderbilt can be chalked up to injuries, but losing to Georgia Southern reeks of something else.

Zook’s fatal flaw is that he didn’t inspire confidence. Foley came to the realization that Zook didn’t have that innate capacity as a leader to turn a program with potential into a program capable of winning the Southeastern Conference. UF’s athletic director apparently thinks Muschamp has that ability because that’s the only reason a coach in this cutthroat era of college football bottom lines could survive a $550,000 loss.

That’s the absurd amount of money UF paid Georgia Southern for last Saturday’s game, and Muschamp might have been fired afterward had it not been for Auburn.

The scenarios aren’t identical, but they’re close enough to give Gators fans hope for next season in a watered-down SEC. Auburn, which is 10-1 and still has an outside shot of playing for the national championship, was worse last season than Florida is right now. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

The Tigers didn’t win a game in the SEC last season, finished 3-9 and fired its national-championship coach yet enters Iron Bowl Week one year later ranked No.4 in the BCS. How? Auburn brought offensive guru Gus Malzahn back into the fold, found a junior college quarterback who could spread the field and run a gimmick offense and then, of course, Auburn took advantage of a weak season in the SEC.

In other words, Muschamp is going to survive this season, but his offensive coordinator is probably toast. The Gators already have a veteran dual-threat quarterback and the offensive line will be one year older and healthy next season. Auburn did not begin the season as a good team — and I’m still not sold — but the Tigers played enough gimmies that they were ready for Texas A&M by Week8.

Auburn lost to Alabama 49-0 last season. Keep that in mind Saturday, Gators fans, when FSU deposits double nickels on the scoreboard by the third quarter.

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