HOOVER, Ala . — There is a website out there called CoachesHotSeat.com, and Florida head coach and former LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp finds himself atop their list. The numero uno college football head honcho whose chair is muy caliente.
It wasn’t just that Florida went 4-8 last season, the Gators’ fewest wins since going 0-10-1 in 1979. That would seem to be enough to warrant trigger-happy Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley to launch Muschamp out of his hot seat. Heck, former New Orleans Saints assistant Ron Zook got jettisoned after three seasons, and he never went worse than 7-5.
No, it’s the way the Gag-tors went 4-8. Florida’s offense last season was as putrid as a bog in the Everglades. The school that gave the world the Fun ‘N’ Gun offense, Emmitt Smith and Tim Tebow ranked 12th or worse in the Southeastern Conference in total offense, scoring offense, rushing yards and passing yards.
Injuries played a huge part. Eighteen Gators missed some or all of the season with injuries or illness, including quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken leg), star defensive tackle Dominique Easley and starting receiver Andre Debose (both ACL tears).
“It’s never good when you’re waiting in line in that (training) room,” Driskel said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The over-the-top moment was the night in November when team trainer Paul Silvestri knocked on Muschamp’s door at 10 p.m.
“What do you want?” Muschamp said, probably afraid to even ask.
“(Offensive lineman) Tyler Moore just wrecked on his scooter and broke his elbow,” Silvestri replied.
“I can’t tell you what I said,” Muschamp said with a wry smile from behind the SEC media days podium, “but it wasn’t good. That was the point where I asked him, ‘You’ve got to be kidding?’ It was just very frustrating.”
But the Gators were plodders offensively even without all the medical issues. And that won’t fly at Florida. The Gators have won three national championships and played for a fourth the past 20 years, and they’re not only supposed to win but do so with style and flair. Sort of like the Brazilians were supposed to do in the World Cup.
So Muschamp did what head coaches often do in such career-threatened moments: He fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease, an offering of raw meat designed to appease a highly agitated Gator Nation.
Muschamp lured Kurt Roper away from Duke, where he led an offense that broke 100 school offensive records and eight ACC marks during his six seasons there. The promise is for a spread, no-huddle attack, a dry, hard choice for a Nick “No Spread” Saban disciple like Muschamp.
But desperate times call for desperate decisions. And injuries or no, Muschamp knows as well as anyone that another losing campaign won’t cut it in Gainesville.
“I feel like we can make some amends” on offense, he said. “I feel like our kids had lost confidence in some things we were doing offensively.”
The idea is to get Driskel out from under center — like the Sundance Kid, he shoots better when he’s moving — and in a position to let him use his arm and feet as weapons.
“When Jeff was in the shotgun (in 2012), our yards were better, our explosive plays were better both in the run and pass game,” Muschamp said. “He was recruited to Florida to be a ’gun quarterback.”
Driskel insisted the Gators won’t be burdened by trying to win to save Muschamp’s job.
“We never talk about that,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re not playing for his job, but for Florida.”
Muschamp said this is probably the most complete team he’s had at Florida, including the one good team he had in 2012 that finished 11-2 and played in the Sugar Bowl.
It should be complete. Florida should never be so bankrupt when it comes to skill players as it looked in 2013. Not in a state that pumps out football talent like Saudi Arabia pumps out oil.
But there are big questions to answer. First there is the fact this will be the Gators’ third offensive scheme in as many years. The second is whether Muschamp, once the coach-in-waiting at Texas but an uninspiring 22-16 in three seasons in one of college football’s top five jobs, is the man to lead a renaissance.
“It falls on my shoulders,” Muschamp said.
He was speaking of responsibility.
He had better hope it won’t be an ax. But that will probably take at least nine, maybe 10 wins, and there’s no guarantee his Gators are up to that task.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.