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February 24, 2013

Comparing the first two seasons of the last four coaches



Twelve months ago, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp was on the hot seat. Though not from administration or even in the eyes of most members of the media, he still felt plenty of heat from the fan base after leading Florida to a 7-6 (3-5 SEC) record in 2011, the worst for a first-year head coach at the school since Charlie Pell in 1979 (0-10-1, 0-6 SEC).

And chances are, despite the fact that he had arguably the second-best year two with the Gators among the team's last four head coaches, Muschamp will likely be feeling a lot of that pressure return at some point during the 2013 season as that is the trend at Florida.

Few will argue that Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook or even Urban Meyer had more to overcome when taking helm of the Gators than Muschamp did in 2011. Sure, Spurrier was still dealing with probation hanging over the program, but he also inherited a veteran roster of talented players ready to buy in to a new coach after being passed between Hall and defensive coordinator Gary Darnell in 1989.

Zook, Meyer and Muschamp all took over a solid talent bases as well, and though Meyer claimed that he had to repair the locker room before the 2005 season, he (in retrospect) performed a patchwork job. Players were no longer throwing kegs during parties; they instead had positive marijuana tests disguised as injuries and star players received the type of preferential treatment that divided the team into haves and have-nots.

What Meyer was faced with in trying to repair the harm done by Zook was still nothing compared to the mountain that Muschamp had climb in 2011 when he tried to pick up the pieces of a team left to implode by a coach that no longer cared about coaching. Meyer left Florida with talent, no doubt about it, but there was no discipline or pride left in the cupboard.

Zook left Meyer dough to work with and mold into a championship team. Meyer provided Muschamp with flour, eggs and water, forcing him to start from scratch.

That is what makes Muschamp's second year with the Gators so remarkable. His win differential from year one to year two surpassed Meyer in every area except overall record (even). And like Meyer, Muschamp went from third-to-first in the SEC East standings in his second season (UF finished even with Georgia in 2012 - no tiebreaker). .

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Muschamp completed the best turnaround in Florida football history in 2012, but like Spurrier and Meyer before him, he is now dealing with an extremely young team in 2013. The Gators have lost 13 starters from the 2012 season including their top offensive playmaker, three of the team's four leading pass catchers, two members of the offensive line, their defensive tackle, all three linebackers, both safeties and their kicker.

Coming off a 10-2 (7-0 SEC) campaign in 1991, Spurrier had a team filled with freshmen and sophomores that took a step down to 9-4 (6-2 SEC) in 1992 with a 2-2 mark against Florida's rivals and a 2-4 record against ranked opponents.

Aside from quarterback Tim Tebow winning the Heisman Trophy in his first year as a starter in 2007, Meyer followed up his first national championship-winning season with a team featuring a porous defense that wound up being arguably the best in program history one year later but was anything but in its first season as a unit. The Gators (9-4, 5-3 SEC) fell to third in the SEC East that year, going 2-2 against rivals and ranked opponents.

Muschamp is facing the same defensive concerns in 2013 that Meyer did in 2007 but is also entering his third season with a ton of questions surrounding his offense. Can junior quarterback Jeff Driskel take the same kind of step in year three that Tebow did in his second season? Who is going to catch passes from Driskel? How will Florida replace its first 1,000-yard rusher in nearly a decade, a player that many will argue carried the team offensively?

Prior to the start of the 2012 season, many fans saw 2013 as the year the Gators put it all together and jump back in the national championship picture. However, none of those same fans were expecting Florida to finish 11-2 (7-1 SEC) in 2012 and undergo a massive rebuild of its starting roster.

The two best coaches in Gators history struggled mightily in their third seasons with the team but each went on to win a national title (in Meyer's case, a second) before eventually leaving Gainesville, FL. Muschamp, like his predecessors, must be held to a high standard, but he has also proven that he deserves the same amount of time and trust to rebuild the program in his image.


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