Commentary

Muschamp seeking blue-collar identity

Originally Published: March 15, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For a guy that's two days away from kicking off his first spring practice as a college head coach, Florida's Will Muschamp sure seems to be unsettled.

Muschamp, who was hired from Texas in December after former Gators coach Urban Meyer retired for the second time in two years, is still living in a hotel.

"They make the bed every morning," Muschamp joked.

Muschamp's wife, Carol, and two sons are still living in Austin, Texas, so his boys can finish the school year there. If Muschamp is anything like his mentor, Alabama coach Nick Saban, he's spending most of his time at the office anyway.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIWill Muschamp plans to take Florida back to the top.

In only three months on the job, Muschamp has already learned that every one of his decisions will be scrutinized by media and fans. His recent decision to close Florida's spring practices for the first time wasn't popular. Muschamp said he made the decision because he wants his team to be able to learn new offenses and defenses without distractions.

"I've got to make a decision for what I think is best for the program and winning football games and doing it the right way, and I think that is the best thing right now for us to do," Muschamp said. "Unfortunately in my position, when you make decisions that will affect an awful lot of people, there's always going to be a percentage that doesn't like the decision that's been made."

Muschamp said deciding whether his players should eat green beans or English peas at the training table even became an issue.

"Some guys want to eat green beans and some want green peas," Muschamp said. "When you choose green beans, those that wanted peas are going to be mad."

Muschamp's critics will quiet down as long as he returns the Gators to their winning ways in his first season as coach.

Muschamp still isn't sure what his first Florida team will look like. He released a depth chart Monday, but conceded it involved a lot of guessing based on game film from 2010 and players' performances in the team's offseason conditioning program.

If Muschamp has his way, the Gators will be a blue-collar, hard-nosed team on both offense and defense.

"I've said from the beginning: We have got a good football team on campus and we have to come together as a cohesive unit," Muschamp said. "The players are a reflection of their coach and that's what I've told our staff I want us to be. We are a blue-collar team, that's really what we are. We are a blue-collar unit and that's what our identity should be."

Muschamp won't tolerate complaints about playing time or changing positions, either.

"You're going to do it our way," Muschamp said. "Change is inevitable; growth is optional. It's going to happen. It's either you do it our way or you leave."

Muschamp, 39, said Meyer has been a good sounding board for his questions and concerns. Meyer, who retired for health reasons, still lives in Gainesville but hasn't spent much time in Florida's football offices since Muschamp was hired. Meyer now works as a college football analyst for ESPN.

"He has been very ghostly purposefully," Muschamp said.

Muschamp is also using offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' experience as a head coach to help him adjust to his new role.

"It's a good situation for me being here with and for Will," Weis said. "You might win your first year, but you're not going to have all the answers. It's a learning experience."

Offensively, the Gators are moving away from the spread offense that Meyer used to help the Gators win BCS national championships in 2006 and '08. Weis, the former Notre Dame coach who worked as offensive coordinator of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs last season, is installing a pro-style passing attack.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCharlie Weis' experience at Notre Dame can help Will Muschamp in his first year at Florida.

Both Muschamp and Weis said the Gators won't completely abandon the principles of the spread offense. Weis said he might utilize former quarterbacks Trey Burton and Jordan Reed, who have moved to other positions on offense, in Wildcat formations.

"Offensively, there will be some sets Florida fans have seen over the last six years," Muschamp said.

Under Meyer, the Gators struggled to find an every-down running back. Weis said he inherited a nice mixture of running backs, from sprinters like Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey to between-the-tackles runners like Mack Brown and Mike Gillislee.

"They weren't in the [I-formation]," Weis said, of Florida's struggles to run the ball. "That's a good place to start. You have inherent, built-in change of pace backs here, which is a good thing. It isn't important to have just one guy. You can have more than one guy as long as they're not the same."

Muschamp said he's worried about Florida's inexperience and lack of depth on the offensive line, and receivers like Frankie Hammond Jr., Omarius Hines and Deonte Thompson are still unproven.

"We want to be balanced in what we do," Muschamp said. "I can't tell you what we'll do because we're still not sure."

Defensively, the Gators will work mostly out of a 4-3 alignment. There's a plethora of young, talented defensive linemen, including Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd, William Green and Ronald Powell. Tight end Gerald Christian has moved to strongside linebacker.

Like the offensive line, Muschamp is worried about Florida's depth on the defensive line.

"The SEC is a line of scrimmage league," Muschamp said. "You'd better be good up front or you're going to have some long days. You have to be able to rush the passer and affect the quarterback with four guys. You have to be able to protect the quarterback and obviously dent the run game offensively, and play blocks defensively up front and get off blocks and make plays, because this is a tough league."

New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who worked as defensive line coach for the Seattle Seahawks last season and worked with Muschamp on Saban's staff with the Miami Dolphins in 2005, said the Gators will use multiple alignments to attack offenses.

"Affect the quarterback and get the ball," Quinn said. "Those are the keys. It's not just the recipe for one club or one school. It's the recipe for winning."

Over the next four weeks, Muschamp will begin to search for the recipe for a winning team.

"There's going to be changes," Muschamp said. "That's good sometimes; it's bad sometimes. We are going to do things our way, and you either are in or you're not. So jump in and be a part of it or jump out. That's fine with me. We are going to be good. Florida won a bunch of games before any of us showed up and they'll win a bunch after we are all gone."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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