University of Florida

Outgoing UF coach Will Muschamp to team: ‘Sometimes, change is good’

Florida coach Will Muschamp coaches from the sideline against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014.
Florida coach Will Muschamp coaches from the sideline against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. AP

Last week, player unrest forced Florida coach Will Muschamp to have a heart-to-heart with his football team.

The Gators were angry over Muschamp’s firing, so the outgoing coach implored his team to handle the disappointment and distractions with pride, motivation and an eye on the future, saying, “Sometimes, change is good.”

The Gators (6-4) responded to Muschamp’s message, overcoming a week of adversity to rout Eastern Kentucky 52-3 and become bowl eligible.

But Muschamp’s words didn’t stop with Florida’s players, as the dismissed coach revealed he had a meeting with his staff and delivered a similar point.

“I told the staff, ‘Do your job. Do your job,’” he said.

“‘You get hired by the University of Florida to do your job, and that’s to coach and to recruit and that’s to represent this university first class, and that’s what you do.’”

Muschamp’s final game at Florida is Saturday at No.1 Florida State (3:30 p.m., ESPN), but the rest of the staff will continue working through the bowl game — despite facing uncertain futures.

It’s a difficult balance for assistants, juggling potential job offers while still recruiting for Florida.

Said Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper: “You just keep doing what you’re asked to do.” He added: “Everybody really understands the situation and handles it well and that’s our responsibility. Like I’ve said before, I love it here, but who knows? Who knows?”

Muschamp hasn’t been involved in recruiting since his dismissal, but he tasked assistants with recruiting as if they would remain in Gainesville next season.

“Our staff needs to continue to recruit and represent Florida. It’s a great place to come to school and play football and that’s what those guys are doing,” he said.

“They continue the phone calls and all that, and Sunday after Florida State, they’ll be out recruiting for the University of Florida and getting ready for a bowl game. You get hired to do a job and that’s your job. Go do your job.”

Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, one of just four holdovers from Muschamp’s inaugural staff, will serve as the interim head coach for UF’s prospective bowl game.

Durkin, 37, is ready to embrace the challenge.

“Any challenge is good. You welcome it. It’s something to learn from. An experience,” he said. “But nothing has changed as of right now. It’s business as usual. We’re getting ready to go prepare and to play Florida State. Obviously, at the conclusion of that it will be just finding out where we are going for a bowl game and getting prepared to go do that. We have a great staff of guys that are very professional in what they do and they will continue to do their job. We look forward to an opportunity in a bowl game. I think our guys have earned that and are excited about it.”

The Gators hope to avoid a similar scenario from just a decade ago, when Ron Zook was fired in 2004 and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong served as interim coach in a 27-10 blowout loss to Miami in the Peach Bowl.

Florida was ill-prepared, as several staff members were already planning to join Zook in Illinois at the end of the season.

Still, Muschamp expressed confidence in Durkin, saying, “He’ll do an outstanding job. He’s a really good football coach. He sees the big picture, and he’s an outstanding recruiter. He’s got a tireless work ethic and he does a great job with our players. He will do a fabulous job.”

Related stories from Miami Herald