To a man, Florida football players passionately defend their embattled head coach.
If the Gators executed on the field as well as they staunchly support Will Muschamp, the fourth-year coach’s job security wouldn’t be in such doubt.
“People can really say what they want,” senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “We’re the ones who sit in [meetings] and listen to him. The people that are saying that are not out there coaching with him, not being coached by him, they’re not playing on Saturday. They got the tickets, the have Twitter, you know, they have all that stuff. And they can voice their opinions.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s somewhere in the Constitution, in one of those amendments, where you can voice your opinion. It’s just not facts.”
But the facts speak louder than any player’s sympathetic words.
Muschamp is 25-19 as Florida’s head coach, including 10 losses in the past 13 games. A fourth consecutive defeat to border rival Georgia, the nation’s ninth-ranked team, and Muschamp could be coaching his final game at UF.
But Muschamp has implored his team to ignore the criticism and focus on the task at hand.
“It’s a bunker mentality,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s what you deal with when you get in this profession. I told the team, ‘As a fan, you buy a ticket. They reserve the right to boo. They can come boo and chant and holler and scream and start a website and all that stuff.’ As a coach or a player, when you come to the University of Florida or a place like this, that’s something you’ve got to accept. That’s part of it.”
The hard part is going home.
“You’ve got to explain to your 9-year-old why they’re chanting to fire your dad. That’s not very fun,” Muschamp said. “But, again, my family understands it. They understand the deal of being a coach. There’s some great things that come along with this job and there’s some tough deals you’ve got to deal with. I don’t complain about any of that stuff.”
Though Muschamp copes with the difficulties explaining booing to his youngest son Whit, Florida’s players hurt for their “father figure,” too.
“We know Coach Muschamp on a personal level,” senior center Max Garcia said. “People don’t realize it all the time that he’s a father, he’s a husband, he’s a son, and the players on this team look up to him as another father figure because of what he means to us.
“It’s hard when people talk bad about him. … We’re just there to support him any way we can. He can’t catch the ball for the receivers, he can’t make the call or make the right read on the field. He can just prepare us to do it. As players, we have to go out there and execute.”
Added senior tackle Chaz Green: “It hasn’t gone as planned, but when you watch these games, we never have lost our fight in the game. We haven’t quit.”
And therein lies the rub.
Effort hasn’t been an issue for Muschamp & Co., but a lack of execution has doomed a team many picked to compete for the SEC Eastern Division title.
The Gators have turned the ball over 15 times in the past four games, and the team’s offensive identity remains a mystery.
Still, amid all the turmoil and tumultuous times in Gainesville the past two seasons, Florida’s locker room remains 100 percent behind Muschamp.
“We can’t worry about [Muschamp’s] future,” Taylor said. “We’re just going to go out there and play. We love playing for him. He’s a good coach. He’s a great person. I wouldn’t want to play for anybody else right now. So we’re not really playing for his job. We’re playing for ourselves. We have enough motivation.”
Former offensive lineman Mo Collins, a key cog on Florida’s 1996 national-title team, died Sunday at 38 in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C.
Collins mentored current Gators left tackle D.J. Humphries, a fellow North Carolina native and former five-star recruit.
“He pretty much taught me the craft,” the junior said. “He took me from being a left tackle with a right-handed stance and showed me all the stuff to become an All-American in high school. That was pretty tough when I found I lost him this week. That was a big deal.”
Collins was a first-round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, playing six seasons with the Oakland Raiders. In February, he became head football coach at West Charlotte High, his alma mater.