Will Muschamp's potential attracts UF

With a little more patience, Will Muschamp was already assured of taking over one of the best programs in college football.

If the man who is affectionately known as "Coach Boom!" had waited a few more seasons, he would have been handed the keys to the Texas Longhorns, who have more financial resources and reside in a more fertile recruiting base than just about every other team in the country.

After only 11 games as Texas' defensive coordinator, Muschamp was named Longhorns coach Mack Brown's heir apparent in 2008. The Texas brass was worried Muschamp would leave for another job, so it doubled his annual salary to $900,000 and promised him the head-coaching job as soon as Brown retired.

But Muschamp couldn't wait for Brown to retire. On Saturday night, Muschamp was hired to replace Florida coach Urban Meyer, who retired for the second time in two seasons on Wednesday after the Gators finished 7-5.

At the age of 39 -- and without having worked one day as a head coach in college football -- Muschamp walked away from what many consider to be the best job in the country and accepted a job that might be considered 1-A.

"He's ready to be a head coach," said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who worked with Muschamp on Nick Saban's staff at LSU from 2001 to 2004. "He knows what he wants to do and he's been at it for a long time. He's turned down some good opportunities and he's ready to take over his own program."

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley targeted Muschamp as soon as Meyer announced his retirement. The Gators will pay Muschamp more than $2.5 million per season, according to sources close to the situation, and it's somewhat of a gamble by the Gators.

Established head coaches would have lined up out the door to interview for Florida's vacancy. Meyer led the Gators to two BCS national championships in 2006 and 2008 and annually signed one of the country's top five recruiting classes. It's a job almost any coach in the country would have wanted.

But Muschamp was the only coach Florida met with, and Foley offered him the job over the weekend. Apparently, Foley saw more value in Muschamp's potential than he did in trying to hire an established head coach such as Boise State's Chris Petersen, TCU's Gary Patterson, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh or Oklahoma's Bob Stoops.

Foley hit a home run by luring Meyer to Florida from Utah in 2005. Foley struck out when he hired Ron Zook to replace Steve Spurrier in 2002.

Only time will tell whether Foley made the right decision in hiring Muschamp.

More than anything else, Foley liked Muschamp's pedigree and his familiarity with the SEC. Muschamp grew up in Gainesville, Fla., before attending high school in Georgia. He played safety at the University of Georgia from 1991 to 1994 and worked as a defensive coordinator at LSU and Auburn before leaving for Texas.

Muschamp knows the SEC and is aware of the advantages and hazards that he'll encounter working at a place like Florida.

It also didn't hurt that Muschamp came with Saban's stamp of approval.

Before long, the SEC might not be known as the Southeastern Conference. It might become the league of "Saban's Ex-Coaches." Saban led Alabama to a BCS national championship last season. Derek Dooley, who worked on Saban's staff at LSU and with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, went 6-6 in his first season at Tennessee.

Fisher, who replaced legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden and led the Seminoles to a 9-4 record this season, recommended Muschamp to Saban in 2000, when Muschamp was working as a defensive coordinator at Division II Valdosta (Ga.) State. Fisher and Muschamp co-own a Florida beach house together and are very close friends.

"I bet you a Florida and Florida State coach have never shared a beach house," Fisher joked.

Florida's decision to hire Muschamp is less of a risk than the one Auburn took two years ago when it hired Gene Chizik, who had a 5-19 record in two seasons as Iowa State's coach. In his second season at Auburn, Chizik guided the Tigers to a 13-0 record and the SEC championship. The No. 1 Tigers will play No. 2 Oregon in the Jan. 10 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.

Muschamp inherits a Florida program that Meyer admitted was "broke." The Gators struggled mightily on offense this year, after star quarterback Tim Tebow graduated after the 2009 season.

Muschamp will have to decide whether he'll adopt Meyer's spread offense philosophy or start from scratch. Muschamp might target Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, his close friend, to lead Florida's defense.

Just when it seemed the Alabama-Florida rivalry couldn't get any hotter, the Gators just turned up the heat again.

"There were some good coaches at LSU," Fisher said. "We all understand that we're all very competitive. You can't take it personal, but it will still be competitive as heck."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.