University of Florida

Will Muschamp’s message inspired Florida Gators to win

Final goodbye: UF coach Will Muschamp waves to fans as he leaves the field with his wife Carol after coaching his final game in Gainesville.
Final goodbye: UF coach Will Muschamp waves to fans as he leaves the field with his wife Carol after coaching his final game in Gainesville. AP

Will Muschamp was fired as Florida’s coach last Sunday, but the lame-duck leader never stopped teaching, delivering a simple midweek lesson that spurred the Gators to a 52-3 win over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.

Following the news of Muschamp’s dismissal, UF’s locker room was teetering.

Monday’s practice was rained out. Players, many of whom were angry over his firing, were openly considering their NFL options. A pair of midweek practices were just “OK.”

So Muschamp gathered his team for a Thursday meeting and delivered a decisive yet simple message.

“There was not a great deal of effort going out there,” he said. “Wouldn’t say it was a lack of effort. Probably a lack of focus, energy.”

Muschamp shared a story from his playing days at Georgia. He talked about losing his defensive coordinator and hating the new coach. But then he quickly got to the point and said, “Sometimes, change is good.”

“They need to be very open to the change. I discussed my transition coming here. It was hard. It was a divided locker room. It had guys that didn’t want to buy in to anything but what they wanted and how it affected them. And I told them, ‘They’re going to hire good football coaches. Jeremy [Foley]’s going to hire a good coach. So why don’t you give the guy a chance and buy in to what the guy’s trying to do instead of going through a total rocky road the first year where it’s miserable for everybody in the locker room?’ Hopefully, they’ll do that. They heard it from me. I told them that’s what they needed to do.

“They needed to make good decisions moving forward. If they’re in a situation as a junior, they don’t need to just say, ‘I don’t want to play for a new staff.’ That’s ridiculous. You’re making a business decision, not a personal decision when you do that. Buy in to what the guy’s trying to tell you and give the guy an opportunity and buy in to what he’s trying to do.”

Message received.

The Gators went out and had “a very sharp Thursday practice,” as a refocused group then dominated EKU to become bowl eligible.

Instead of checking out, readying to put the season in the rear view mirror, the Gators played for their current coach and whoever is pegged next.

“He was basically told us we was auditioning now, that the new coach was going to come in and he was going to watch the last few games and see what type of player we are,” junior defensive end Jon Bullard said.

“He don’t want it to backfire on us, we wanting him here. We can’t control who’s going to be here. … So he just wants us to go through and do what’s best for us and have a good name for when the new coach comes in.”

The Gators sent 22 seniors — and Muschamp — out in style, chanting, “Champ! Champ! Champ!” in the locker room and lifting him on their shoulders.

“It was very emotional,” Bullard said.

“We wanted to have a winning atmosphere and we did. We hollered ‘Champ’ the whole time just to show him respect for everything. We’ve been through some hard times, but he never gave us on us and we respect him for that.”

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