GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As Will Muschamp approached the podium in front of a throng of media members for one of his last times as Florida’s head coach, he smiled and took a quick peek over at the fine-dressed men who preceded him just moments earlier.
“I guess I'm underdressed for the occasion,” Muschamp said, “I apologize for that.”
Florida president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley had just finished delivering their own eulogies for Muschamp, but he sliced through the funereal atmosphere with some quick wit, while fully understanding the gravity of the situation.
Even when a reporter told him he looked good and appeared to be taking the news well, Muschamp responded with more dry humor.
“My wife thinks I've gained some weight this year,” Muschamp said.
Sunday’s announcement of Muschamp’s eventual departure was heartbreaking for the coach and a tough decision emotionally for his bosses. They praised him for his high character and dedication to improving Florida’s locker room and raising the team’s GPA.
Players spent all Sunday supporting Muschamp via social media, and the three players who spoke at his news conference were grieving over the loss of their coach, who couldn’t escape his fourth year.
“It was something that we were kind of ready for, given all the buzz around the program,” offensive lineman Chaz Green said. “We knew how important it was to get that South Carolina win. That’s why it was so heartbreaking in the way that it ended, too.”
A 27-20 record with an anemic offense isn’t going to save you at a place like Florida, and Muschamp was one of the first to say that. Muschamp has no ill will toward Foley or the university and knows he didn’t produce enough to keep his job.
He relayed that same message to his team during a Sunday meeting. Muschamp has always been a no-nonsense kind of guy, and while it no doubt pained him to stand up Monday and talk about the impending end to his Florida tenure, he knows that life goes on, and that in a business sometimes you have to leave the emotions out of it.
“I'm going to root for these guys as hard as anybody,” Muschamp said. “I want the University of Florida to be successful. I'm always going to be a Gator, unless I'm on the other sideline. I always will want these guys to be successful in what they do and I always will be there for them.”
Florida players love Muschamp. The cliché sayings dealing with coaches being like fathers and players being like kids definitely applies to this team. Muschamp doesn’t view his dismissal as personal, but leaving his guys is. It hurts, and it will for a long time.
That’s why he wants to help see his guys out the right way.
There will be no SEC title for the Gators, but a bowl berth is possible.
A playoff appearance isn't happening, but imagine what it would mean to this team if it upset Florida State to close the Muschamp era?
Hey, Zookier things have happened.
“We want to definitely get this win for Coach Muschamp,” Green said. “Given the fact that he wants to finish the season and given the fact that how much we care about him and how we feel about it, it’s only right that we dedicate these last two games to him.”
These players care about ending things the right way because some feel as though they let their coach down. He wasn’t the one missing assignments and dropping passes. He didn’t throw wild passes into traffic or miss blocks.
Development and finding efficient ways to win games are on the coach, but there are plenty parts of Florida’s failures that fall right on the players as well, and they know that.
“We failed to an extent, but I say some things just didn’t fall our way,” linebacker Michael Taylor said. “Sometimes we tried hard in certain areas where it needed to be done in different areas. Sometimes it felt like we were doing the wrong thing with the right purpose.”
Things had been building to Sunday’s inevitable end, but there are two more opportunities to send Muschamp out with the smile he walked into Monday’s news conference with. Saturday marks what should be an emotional Senior Day in the Swamp, while next week brings a trip to Tallahassee.
There’s still a lot of motivation for this team.
“We’re playing for each other, we’re playing for Muschamp, we’re playing for Gator Nation,” center Max Garcia said. “Nothing has changed.”