Waiting on the national championship game and having our own coaching staff battened down (seemingly) for another season, we can take a little time to relax and see what else is going on in the SEC outside of bowl game preparations. As you may know, I always root for SEC teams in the post-season, mainly for the holiday spirit, but it also makes for good politics. And in true political fashion, if I really wanted a particular team to lose, I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone about it. If rooting for certain conference mates really chaps your ass, just think of the strategic value of SEC wins in the bowls. They said the conference was down this year, but guess what: Nine bowl teams and another in the BCS CG.
For our own coaching dilemma, I’m glad we inked Gus Malzahn to a significant raise and lengthy contract today. That kind of ante should have been gestured before Vandy came calling, but who would have thought that the Dores would raise the stakes like that? Three mil? A year? Although I’d like to think that it says something about Auburn that Malzahn decided to stay and not take that kind of ridiculous money, I think it mainly says something about Vanderbilt and the state of their program. Throwing a Hail Mary like that at a coach may show that Vanderbilt is finally going to try and get over that hump. Or maybe not.
I must admit that it’s been fun watching the Bammers squirm over the whole Malzahn ordeal. They seemed to pin all their last hopes of anti-Auburndom on him leaving, and it was fun to watch them melt down once the news broke today. I’d say that we can return the schadenfruede favor with the death watch on Kirby Smart possibly leaving for Florida, but it looks like (for now) that he will probably be staying in Tuscaloosa. Naturally, losing Smart wouldn’t smart anywhere near as bad as losing Malzahn, but we can’t let the Gumps have all the fun. Did anyone see that 60 Minutes interview with Jerry Jones Sunday night? When is he going to call?
But the biggest news of the last week HAS to be the nice little bundle that was Will Muschamp being conveniently wrapped up and delivered to Gainesville all in less than 48 hours this weekend. First, the shock (to most) that Urban Meyer was stepping down was big enough, but not as big as the next one when it was announced that Dan Mullen would not be the new Florida coach. Okay, and the third shock (yes, three shocks. please don’t taze me, bro.) that Will Muschamp would be taking the job.
It was fun to listen to the banter about the usual suspects for the job: Mullen, of course–the prohibitive fave–then the Hail Mary choice, Bob Stoops. (Sidebar: Gator fans, listen to me: Stoops ain’t never coming back. Tebow and Jesus will be back before he is. You don’t leave a program like Oklahoma to come to Florida. I know it’s a great job with great weather and fertile recruiting soil, but it’s not as historically prestigious program as Oklahoma’s, especially considering that Stoops has spent over a decade building it his way. It’s a lateral transfer at best.)
Then of course, Jon Gruden’s name came up, like it does in every open college job, (especially those in Florida). Then came Chip Kelly’s and Chris Peterson of Boise State. Actually, you kind of wonder why Spurrier’s name didn’t get floated. A few years ago, he was associated with every open SEC job (including ours). I think finally even the biggest conspiracy theorist fan is realizing that the Florida sun is setting on the Old Ball Coach.
But honestly, I wonder why not a single vocal Gator fan uttered the name of Gus Malzahn. Seriously, why not? He runs the wide open offense that the Gators like, he’s the hottest HC prospect in the nation and since AD Jeremy Foley was evidently determined to go back to the well on an unproven assistant, what would experience matter? Vandy is one thing, but I don’t think Auburn could have kept the Gus Bus from pulling into the Gainesville Greyhound station.
I just can’t figure out why Florida would go back down that road with assistants, especially after the Ron Zook debacle. Gators wanted a proven HC winner after Spurrier departed, but ended up with a coach on staff getting promoted, which to most CFB fans, smells like laziness or defeatism. The template now for a top program is to go out and hire the biggest name they can find. Fans like the boldness of a move like that–even if the coach isn’t really all that and a bag of blue chips. I swore that Auburn was going to hire Mike Leach after Tuberville, simply because he was the hottest commodity out there–and I was ready to eat it up. Although I knew he wasn’t the best fit for us (mainly because he doesn’t like to run the ball) I thought it important for the program to go make that big splash. Good thing I was wrong.
When the Gators made the move for Meyer from Utah after his perfect 2004 season, the jury was split on whether success at a mid-major level could translate into a major program. Florida thought so, and to most, Meyer was a winner there, but could a lesser coach not also have done it in Gainesville with that talent? Lesser than Meyer, greater than Zook? With only six seasons there, we’ll have to wait for the final verdict on Meyer until we see what his successor does. Two BCS championships speaks volumes for me, though, and I think it does most Gator fans. So if Meyer was a winning formula, why not go out and hire an existing HC winner? If your program is all that you think it is, you can even poach top coaches from most other FBS schools. What is it about Muschamp that made the idea of him so attractive to Foley?
Auburn fans might want to ridicule Muschamp because he spurned our offer after Tubs left and stayed in Austin. Again, one of the hottest assistants in the country comes through our program and ends up elsewhere, but we tried to lure him back (and did again successfully with Chizik). At the time, I thought it reeked of desperation. While I thought he was definitely the type firebrand coach that a coordinator needed to be, I was unsure if he was ready to make the jump to HC. Texas thought he was, but decided to give him a few years of on the job training first just in case. Sorry, Horns. Nice try to attempt to keep your boy in place, but it was obvious to everyone then as it is now that cattle rustlers couldn’t get Mack Brown out of that post. If a season like this one wasn’t enough for Austin to turn the lights off for Mack’s departure, chances are it won’t for a while, even at a cost of two coordinators.
I thought all along that Muschamp would try his best to get back to the SEC eventually instead of carpet-bagging it in the old Southwestern scene. But Florida? How exactly does a Georgia alum get hired as the head coach at Florida? Let me tell you unequivocally, being a Georgia native myself, the reverse would NEVER happen. That would be like Alabama hiring an Auburn man, or vice versa. Perhaps the Gators look to be a bit more professional about it, certainly Muschamp would be expected to be. I’m told that the players don’t have near the level of enmity with their big rivals as the fans do. But if the days of alumnus coaches are an anachronism, then what about rival coaches? If they’re the best man for the job, is it okay? Perhaps Florida is leading us into a new coaching affirmative action era.
With Mark Richt on the hot seat this year (and possibly the next few), I always thought in the back of my mind that Muschamp might be poised for that job one day. And maybe he will be yet. If after a few years at Florida the climate becomes right at Georgia, could the prodigal son make his return? It could be hard to resist, with the desire to answer the call from your family, but it could be difficult, too–especially if you’re enjoying success in your current position. But we’ve seen it done before. Les Miles turned down an offer to return to his alma mater Michigan to stay at LSU. It could go either way. Who knows what the future holds with this crazy coaching carousel.
And at some point would Florida ever consider bringing back their son in Gene Chizik? While few Gators seem ready to give him coaching props now like the Auburn family does, let him get a couple crystal footballs under his belt and things could change. Something interesting to think about in the years to come. Or maybe not for Tiger fans.