GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Despite trying three coordinators and five quarterbacks, Will Muschamp never figured out one side of the ball at Florida.
And it cost him his job.
The Gators parted ways with Muschamp on Sunday, one day after a gut-wrenching loss to South Carolina that summed up the former defensive coordinator’s four-year tenure as head coach.
Muschamp’s close-to-the-vest style proved to be too conservative and too unsuccessful for a school with three national champions, eight Southeastern Conference titles and sky-high expectations.
Muschamp, who cleaned up a troubled program and made Florida one of the best defensive teams in the SEC, will stick around for the final two regular-season games against Eastern Kentucky and Florida State. He is 27-20, including 17-15 in conference play, in three-plus seasons in Gainesville.
“Upon evaluation of our football program, we are not where the program needs to be and should be,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. “I’ve always said that our goal at the University of Florida is to compete for championships on a regular basis. ... I will be forever grateful to Will and his staff for their unwavering commitment to the University of Florida and the mission of our athletic program.”
The decision came less than 24 hours after a 23-20 loss to South Carolina in overtime. It was Florida’s sixth defeat in its last eight games in Gainesville.
The last two were debacles that sealed Muschamp’s fate, making the guy nicknamed “Coach Boom” a bust at Florida.
“I was given every opportunity to get it done here and I simply didn’t win enough games - that is the bottom line,” Muschamp said in a statement. “I have no bitter feelings, but this is a business and I wish we would have produced better results on the field. We have a great group of players and a staff that is committed to this University and this football program. They have handled themselves with class and I expect them to continue to do so.
“As I’ve said many times, life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond.”
The Gators didn’t respond well enough, especially in their last two home games.
The Gamecocks blocked a field goal and a punt in the final four minutes of regulation Saturday, special teams gaffes that turned what should have been a 10-point lead into a third consecutive home defeat.
The previous loss was equally troubling for Foley. The Gators (5-4, 4-4 SEC) turned the ball over six times in a 42-13 drubbing against Missouri on homecoming last month. Chants of “Fire Muschamp” could be heard throughout an emptying Florida Field.
Foley stuck with Muschamp after that one, saying the coach and the season would be evaluated “as it plays out.” The Gators regrouped, benched turnover-prone quarterback Jeff Driskel and won consecutive games in dominating fashion, including a stunner against rival Georgia. They even had an outside shot at winning the SEC’s muddled Eastern Division.
But that ended against the Gamecocks, which entered the game with one of the country’s worst defenses.
“Hate to see it about coach Muschamp,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday. “Will is a good person and a good coach. He’s been a bit unlucky. We all, as coaches, complain about close losses and he’s had his share of them. I was telling somebody that in the four meetings we’ve had with his team, we’ve not scored more than 20 points in regulation, but we’ve won three out of four somehow.”
Spurrier also made it clear he has no intentions of returning to his alma mater, where he won the 1966 Heisman Trophy, spent 12 years (1990-2001) coaching and led the Gators to the 1996 national title.
“I’ve already had my run at Florida,” Spurrier said. “They need to hire a coach that hopefully will be there 10 years.”
Florida fell to 17-8 under Muschamp at home, where Spurrier (68-5) and fellow former coach Urban Meyer (36-5) dropped a combined 10 games in 18 seasons.
Florida fans expected and demanded better results.
The former head-coach-in-waiting at Texas, Muschamp was Foley’s pick to replace Meyer after he stepped down at the end of the 2010 season.
Foley extended Muschamp’s contract twice and gave him a raise. Because of those shows of good faith, Florida owes Muschamp more than $6 million for the final three years left on his deal.
Paying off the rest of the coaching staff could cost about another $2 million.
It’s unclear how long it will take for Foley to find a replacement. But the hire likely will be someone with head-coaching experience who comes from an offensive background. After all, the last two defensive guys with no head-coaching experience Foley hired — Muschamp and former coach Ron Zook — didn’t pan out.
Muschamp hired Charlie Weis, Brent Pease and Kurt Roper to run the offense but all failed to impress a following that had grown accustomed to seeing points a plenty under Spurrier and Meyer.
The Gators finished 105th, 103rd and 113th in total offense during Muschamp’s first three seasons. They rank 88th this year through nine games.
Players were told of the decision during a team meeting Sunday and quickly reacted via social media.
“I’m hurt man,” offensive tackle Rod Johnson posted on his Twitter feed.
“Great coach but an even better person,” kicker Frankie Velez tweeted. “I’m thankful everyday for the opportunity coach Muschamp gave me. Sad day for Florida.”