Will Muschamp gets partial credit for Florida's 5-0 start
The Florida Gators have exceeded media expectations with a 5-0 start under first-year head coach Jim McElwain.
In evaluating how Florida went from unranked and picked to finish fifth in the SEC East, to No. 11/12 and the East Division leader, one could ask how much credit the current coach deserves, how much belongs to his predecessor and how much of it is luck or other circumstances.
McElwain is not the first football coach to lead a quick turnaround. NFL experts have long stated that former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden owes credit to his predecessor, Tony Dungy, for building the Bucs into a Super Bowl team. Even the most anti-Ron Zook members of the UF fanbase have to acknowledge that Zook recruited the majority of the contributors to the 2006 BCS national championship team coached by Urban Meyer.
Was former UF coach Will Muschamp a table setter a la Dungy and Zook?
The Gators’ current starting defense is Muschamp signed and coached. On offense, Muschamp left behind two scholarship quarterbacks (Treon Harris, Will Grier), the leading wide receiver (Demarcus Robinson) and two running backs (Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane, who has since transferred). It was enough to make the former coach demand at his farewell press conference, “…don’t let the new coach tell you he doesn’t have any good players.”
But McElwain has repeatedly pointed out that he inherited personnel situation far from ideal. The offensive line was depleted in spring of 2015 due to a mixture of NFL departures, injuries and recruiting missteps. The lack of quarterbacks signed in 2012 and 2013 also led to depth issues. The revolving door at wide receiver position coach had clearly hindered the pass catchers’ development.
An early noticeable difference between Muschamp and McElwain has been handling of close games. In his second through fourth games as Florida’s coach, McElwain’s squad held on for one-possession victories each time, fending off a game-tying or go-ahead attempt on the final drive in all three cases (ECU, Kentucky and Tennessee).
Some might say Muschamp, who endured one-possession losses of 30-27 (LSU), 23-20 (South Carolina) and 24-19 (FSU) last year, had bad luck. But one could counter that Muschamp created his own bad luck through coaching decisions like using converted defensive ends (Tevin Westbrok, Clay Burton) as tight ends even when they lacked demonstrated pass-catching abilities. Despite being an unreliable target, Muschamp-coached quarterbacks threw to Westbrook on key-scoring opportunities against LSU and FSU, two heartbreaking losses.
McElwain, on the other hand, has turned tight end into one of the most productive units on the Gators offense, prominently featuring natural pass catchers Jake McGee (injured last season), C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby.
It’s doubtful, that without the Muschamp defense, McElwain’s team would be 5-0 right now. But if the former coach had stayed on, it’s even more difficult to imagine the Gators as the sole leaders of the SEC East. If Florida makes it to Atlanta this year, McElwain can acknowledge Muschamp for the defensive talent, but any sharing of credit should end there.