Will Muschamp accepted one of the most demanding jobs in college football last Saturday. His mission: Take Florida from a 7--5 season to national title contention. Immediately.
Gator Nation has been spoiled by two national titles in the past five seasons and three in the last 15. A year ago Florida was 12--1 and headed to the Sugar Bowl, and Gators fans were steamed because they thought the program had underachieved. Muschamp, the fiery former defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting at Texas who is considered one of the best young minds in the game, will have no grace period after succeeding Urban Meyer, who resigned last week saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. (Multiple news outlets reported, however, that Meyer left because of health concerns.) But Muschamp, 39, who played at Georgia and ran the defenses at LSU and Auburn, understands the pressure to win in the SEC.
And that's O.K. Muschamp has faced a tougher task. As a junior at the Darlington School in Rome, Ga., he broke his right leg playing baseball. "Compound fracture," says his father, Larry. "Both bones sticking out. It was a mess."
At the time several SEC schools were recruiting Muschamp as a safety. That stopped after the injury. "For most people such an injury would have been career-ending," Sid Bell wrote in an e-mail to SI. Bell is the orthopedic surgeon who repaired Muschamp's leg. The doctor inserted a 17-inch steel rod in the boy's tibia and hoped he would recover enough just to walk normally.
Muschamp didn't only walk. He also played football as a senior, six months later. Then he walked on at Georgia, where he played his way into a scholarship, a starting job and, as a senior, a captaincy. "I have never had a patient with such a positive, determined attitude," Bell wrote.
After the rod was removed from his leg, Will's mother, Sally, mounted it in a shadowbox. The rod has traveled with him through coaching stops at West Georgia, Eastern Kentucky, Valdosta State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins, Auburn and Texas. Whenever a player enters Muschamp's office with an acute case of the poor-me's, the coach shows him the rod and offers this advice: "It's not what happens to you, it's what you do with it."
So what will Muschamp do now? He'll raise the intensity level on the sidelines in Gainesville. (The chest-bumping coach is, if possible, more intense than Meyer.) A relentless recruiter, he'll keep the Gators successful the first week in February.
Still, Muschamp knows he'll ultimately be judged by whether he hoists crystal footballs. "Those are the expectations here," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said last week. "The right guy, it won't be a problem for him."
Muschamp is the right guy.
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JOHN ALBRIGHT/ICON SMI (MUSCHAMP)
GATOR 'CHAMP Like the departing Meyer (below), the fiery Muschamp will inject energy into Florida.
BOB ROSATO (MEYER)
[See caption above]