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Muschamp to the Gator Nation: Stay Positive

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It was Orange and Blue as far as the eyes could see Tuesday evening in Fort Lauderdale, FL as new Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp took the podium to address Gator Nation for the second time during his tour of the state. Appearing before nearly a thousand members of Broward County Gator Club, Muschamp portrayed the same characteristics fans have quickly come to know and embrace.
He was bright, energetic, excited, passionate, confident and focused all while knowing full well that the latest news surrounding the program was negative in nature. Muschamp addressed those issues head-on, neither shying away from the problems nor denying their existence.
However, he also spoke about a number of other topics, displayed a quick wit and entertained fans after they enjoyed a large buffet, silent auction and opening announcements from both former Gators wide receiver Nat Moore and local disc jockey (and die-hard Florida fan) Paul Castronovo.
Applause was something Muschamp received plenty of Tuesday, but he made sure to spread it around. The mere mention of a handful of coaches and players drew enthusiastic reactions from the crowd. Both offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill were honored by the fans, as were redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey, sophomore safety Matt Elam and sophomore athlete Trey Burton, who was applauded before Muschamp could even get his last name out.
While running down the list of coaching staff hires, he praised each and every one but shared some new insight on three in particular.
"Brian White - I don't like using the word 'retained,'" Muschamp said of the team's new running backs coach who led the tight ends under Urban Meyer for two seasons. "Brian White was hired to stay at Florida. He's an outstanding football coach and a guy that has been a coordinator before. It's important sitting in a room with a guy that's coached and called it before."
He also conveyed a personal story on how he first learned about the existence of linebackers and special teams coach D.J. Durkin.
"I'm recruiting a young man out of Atlanta," he said. "I was at another school in the SEC at the time. [The] young man grew up an SEC football fanatic and wanted to play in the SEC his whole life. A guy named D.J. Durkin is coaching the linebackers and the special teams at Stanford. I lost this kid out of Atlanta, Georgia to Stanford. You ain't a ball coach when you lose one to Stanford."
In new defensive line coach Bryant Young, Muschamp has found a NFL veteran who is not only still hungry but also has the "I've been there before" mentality that can help young players develop.
"Bryant has only been coaching for two years [but was] a 14-year professional with the San Francisco 49ers," he said. "You talk about first class. You talk about presence when he walks in a room. He is in charge of all discipline. He's about 6'5" and 315 lbs. and our guys are scared to death of him."
He also shared his thoughts on some standout players from the spring:
- Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley: "We end every practice with some sort of two-minute situation where the decisions are magnified because that's where you're going to win and lose football games. And I thought he did a great job.
- Freshman tight end A.C. Leonard: "You're talking about seeing a guy grow and mature. He came in here, was homesick, wanted to go home. We had a bunch of heart-to-hearts in my office. He's falling in and is going to be a really good player for the Gators."
- Burton: "Trey just gets it. He understands football. It comes easy to him."
- Rainey: "He bought in. He's all in. He's worked hard. He can't beat [senior RB Jeff] Demps. I still text him every day to tell him he can't beat Demps."
- Sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley: "They need to consistently keep coming along and understand they can't be 'union guys.' Can't be two-on and two-off. It's got to be all-the-time. It's an all-the-time thing. It's an all-the-time process about being a good player."
- Senior defensive end William Green: "[He] just works hard. He brings his lunch pail to work every day and he puts in a good day's work for us. I'm really pleased with him."
- Senior kicker Caleb Sturgis: "He's back healthy, which is good. Makes me sleep better at night."
Muschamp concluded his player evaluation with a short story about helping freshman punter Kyle Christy overcome his nervousness during practice. After fumbling a punt snap because, according to the player, he couldn't handle the ball, Christy told him that Muschamp peering over his shoulder made him nervous.
"I'm going to be here most games," the coach said with a smirk. "You need to get used to that feeling. I'm going to be further away [during games], but I'm going to stand by you in every practice when you punt."
Some other highlights:
- Muschamp pointed out that Riley Cooper, Terron Sanders, Brandon Antwine, Justin Trattou and Justin Williams will all be graduating in the spring.
- An audience member stood up to ask for advice with his wife being a Georgia fan. Muschamp relayed the inaudible question to the crowd and responded with a sarcastic quip. "He's married to somebody from the north state up there. Um, alright, really great to have you here."
- Told that his relationship with Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was a sore spot, he suggested that the audience to trust him around Thanksgiving time. "As far as playing on Saturday, I can guarantee you: I want to beat them worse than anybody."
- Getting some light-hearted boos after mentioning he was also close with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Muschamp again delivered a snazzy reply. "I know you don't want to hear that, but the guy's a good 'ball coach."
- His stance on accepting junior college transfers: "It's [an option] for a position of need. Most guys, when they go to junior college, there are some obvious reasons why they go. You've got to do a great job making sure it's the type of young man you want within your program. That's the first thing you've got to ask yourself. And then, 'Can they come in and contribute?' Generally, if a junior college guy comes in and if he doesn't play, he's unhappy because he's already spent two years of his career at a junior college. He needs to come in with a position of opportunity to play."
- Muschamp said he has not yet decided whether or not fall practice would be open to the public but, if it is, it will be "small" and likely for a short period of time.
Near the end of the event, an audience member asked Muschamp a question that produced a smile on his face from ear-to-ear: "What can the fans do to help you and the program?" He was taken aback by the query, seeing as it is one of the few he has yet to be asked, but knew exactly what to say to the crowd:
"Just be positive about our football team. Be positive about the Gators. Let's worry about the Gators. We get so caught up in what somebody else does or what somebody else says or how somebody else practices or, 'They signed this guy.' You know what? Who cares! Let's worry about the ones we sign. I got to worry about them 365 days [a year]. I got to worry about them other ones one day out of the year. More than anything: Be a positive member of our team. If you've got an issue or a problem, don't boo. Boo me if you want to; wait until after the game is over and let me know. Our guys need positive reinforcement in what we do and how we do it. I understand, 'We pay our ticket; we deserve [the right] to be critical.' Be critical of me. Be critical of our staff. We deserve that; our players don't. Be a positive team member, that's what I ask."