Commentary

Muschamp's fast track leads through Texas

Updated: January 18, 2008, 12:33 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

As soon as former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp ripped off his headset and screamed, "Boom! That's what I'm talking about!" -- and a few not-so-subtle obscenities picked up by ESPN's sideline microphones -- that highlight from the Tigers' win over Arkansas in 2007 became Internet legend.

What if Muschamp had used as much emotion and volume in "Calling the Hogs" as Arkansas' new football coach?

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
John Reed/US PresswireAuburn finished No. 6 in total defense under Will Muschamp this season.

According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, Muschamp came within a few hours of replacing Houston Nutt at Arkansas. Instead, Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino abruptly changed his mind and took the Arkansas job before the Falcons' season ended. With a coveted SEC head coaching job unavailable, Muschamp took the next-best thing: he left Auburn and was named Texas' new defensive coordinator earlier this month.

Muschamp, 36, was Texas coach Mack Brown's first choice after co-defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff resigned Jan. 2. Co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina was reassigned to secondary coach/assistant head coach after Muschamp was hired. The Longhorns ranked sixth in Division I-A against the run last season, but were 109th against the pass during the Longhorns' 10-3 season.

"Coach Brown called and gauged my interest," Muschamp said. "I had some interest and after going out there and seeing the facilities, I thought it was the right move. Everything is headed in the right direction and everybody is on board. Personally, for my family and I right now, I thought it was the best situation for us."

Muschamp, who has been on college football's fast track over the last seven seasons, came very close to becoming the country's youngest head coach. When Nutt resigned Nov. 27, the Razorbacks labored through a two-week search for his replacement. After being turned down by Petrino early in the search, Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long focused in on several candidates: North Carolina's Butch Davis, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, Clemson's Tommy Bowden and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe.

Bowden and Grobe both came close to taking the job, only to change their minds and remain at their respective schools.

On Dec. 7, four days before Petrino would ultimately leave the Falcons after only 13 games to become Nutt's surprising successor, Long called Muschamp to inquire about his interest in the Arkansas job. Muschamp worked as an assistant coach at Eastern Kentucky in 1999 when Long was the athletic director there.

The only candidate standing in Muschamp's way was Petrino, who couldn't make up his mind after initially telling the Razorbacks he didn't want the job. After meeting with Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Petrino called Long on Dec. 10 and said he was going to remain with the Falcons. With Petrino seemingly out of the picture, Muschamp was at the top of Long's list.

Long was scheduled to interview Arkansas interim coach/defensive coordinator Reggie Herring on Dec. 11, but the meeting was nothing more than a formality. After Herring was interviewed, Muschamp would be named the Hogs' new coach -- or so both sides believed.

Things changed when the Falcons were embarrassed by the New Orleans Saints 34-14 on Monday Night Football on Dec. 10, the same day former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to nearly two years in prison for dogfighting. Petrino called Long the following morning and told him he wanted the Arkansas job. Long canceled Herring's interview and began negotiations with Petrino. That night, Petrino was introduced as Nutt's successor during an impromptu news conference.

Muschamp, who had earlier declined an offer to become Southern Mississippi's head coach, declined to comment on the Arkansas situation.

Will Muschamp and Mack Brown
UT PhotographyWill Muschamp will be handling Mack Brown's UT defense in '08.

It didn't take Muschamp long to land on his feet, however. Although he wants to become a head coach, Muschamp insists he isn't using the Texas job as a springboard.

"I took this job to be the defensive coordinator at the University of Texas," Muschamp said. "I took it to do the job for this staff and this team. I hope to be here for a long time."

However, history suggests Muschamp might not be at Texas for long. Gene Chizik, who Muschamp succeeded at Auburn, was the Longhorns' defensive coordinator for two seasons before he was named Iowa State's head coach in November 2006. Greg Robinson, a longtime NFL assistant, worked at Texas for only one season in 2004 before he was named Syracuse's coach.

Not having Muschamp around for long is a risk Brown was willing to take. Muschamp's contract at Texas will pay him $425,000 annually, making him the Longhorns' highest-paid assistant. He earned the same compensation at Auburn.

More than anything else, Brown liked Muschamp's pedigree. Muschamp was an overachiever as a safety at Georgia from 1991-94. He began his coaching career a year after graduation and was named defensive coordinator at Division II Valdosta State in Georgia in 2000. Muschamp's big break came in 2001, when Nick Saban hired him as LSU's linebackers coach. Muschamp was promoted to defensive coordinator before the Tigers won the 2003 BCS national championship. After working one year under Saban with the Miami Dolphins, Muschamp went to Auburn as defensive coordinator before the 2006 season.

In six seasons as defensive coordinator at LSU and Auburn, Muschamp's units ranked among the top 10 nationally in total defense four times and scoring defense three times.

Brown is expecting the same results from Muschamp at Texas.

"There is a lot of experience in a short period of time," Brown told reporters during a news conference in Austin on Jan. 11. "He's high energy, he's tough and he coaches like he played. He's really aggressive, he's smart and everyone I talked to says he is as good at adjusting to his talent and to what the other team is doing during the ball game as anybody possibly can be."

Brown, 56, will begin his 11th season at Texas and his 25th as a head coach. Brown said his plan wasn't to hire his successor, like Florida State's Bobby Bowden did when he hired offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher last year.

"Is Will a coach-in-waiting for me?" Brown asked. "I'm probably going to wait until I'm 78 before we do that. Will is one of the really bright young guys in America that will be head coach when he wants to be. He turned down jobs this year. He's one of those guys that wants to go where he has a chance to win a national championship as a head coach. His long-term goals are to win a national championship here, and I would hope that would present an opportunity for him to become a head coach at some point."

Probably sooner than later.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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