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April 28, 2014
Shoulder the Blame: Muschamp's 2014 offseason
MUST READ, IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON, PLAYERS & TEAM
Will Muschamp isn't one to apologize. He's prideful, rarely publicly admitting a disadvantage or downfall even when it is blatantly obvious to those listening. In his three seasons as Florida's coach, he has defended narrow wins and one loss against bad out-of-conference opponents, an offense as exciting as a doctor's waiting room and his own job security.
But no amount of pride can cover what happened during a 2013 season in which the Gators went 4-8. On Dec. 1, Muschamp had to take the first step in admitting something he hadn't plainly admitted up to that point: He was wrong. What he had been doing needed to change.
Florida's "grind it out" pro-style offense lacked identity and production. Maybe more importantly, it didn't fit the talent base of which the Gators recruit. The state of Florida produces more speedy skill position players than it does hulking linemen, and trying to be Alabama Light only exposed the team's weaknesses.
It turned out the type of wide-open, no-huddle offense Muschamp has openly criticized in the past was what fit his team best and he made the concession when he hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator. It was just the initial stage in what has been an offseason of adaptation for Muschamp.
Not since the 2008 campaign trail has this much change and hope been promised.
"The future is bright," Muschamp said before meeting with a group of fans in Jacksonville on April 17. "It's my responsibility to get it turned and that's what's going to happen. We're going to have a good football team next year. That's not just a false sense of being positive. It's real."
Critics who wondered aloud if Roper would be permitted to run the offense that transformed Duke into a bowl team the past two years were silenced when Florida spent almost zero time under center offensively during spring camp. Muschamp cracked the Gators would only avoid shotgun snaps "when we need to take a knee after a big win."
Offensive strategy has hardly been the only wholesale change. Ever the advocate of privacy and limited information, Muschamp said friends told him the public might better understand and relate to his team if there were more chances to see it in action. He opened nine of the Gators' 15 spring practices. "It's a little bit like offense, Muschamp said at the time. "You do the same things, you're going to get the same results."
Selling a brand and an opportunity to bring a major program back to life like he did after going 7-6 in 2011, Muschamp gathered the No. 8 recruiting class on National Signing Day 2014 despite six prior months of turmoil. The class featured the Parade National Player of the Year at quarterback and a few new-look weapons on offense. Only problem: Five of the seven teams that finished ahead of the Gators are on their 2014 schedule; the cruel reality of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Judgments are made on fall Saturdays inside hostile stadiums, and that won't change just because Muschamp has been able to self-critique what has gone wrong in his first three years with humility. But the last four months have undoubtedly shown he understands the situation in which he currently resides.
No one has ever questioned Muschamp's passion, but the efficiency of that passion has to improve.
"I worked hard last year," Muschamp told the gathered fans in Jacksonville. "It isn't about that. It's about making better decisions in certain situations. ... The No. 1 thing is you've got to take responsibility."
A summary of post-2013 Florida football.