The Florida Gators didn’t wait long to replace the deposed Will Muschamp, who got $6.3 million to go away.
That last fact should not be discounted, because make no mistake, that remaining buyout is the reason Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley waited one more year after last season’s embarrassing 4-7 debacle that included a loss at home to Georgia Southern.
(In fairness, Georgia Southern won the Sun Belt Conference this year in its first year in FBS, so the Eagles are better than you thought. Still a revolting loss, though.)
In any case, Muschamp got an extension after the Gators lucked their way to an 11-2 record in 2012, and that was where Foley made his big mistake. Once Muschamp was exposed as an inept offensive coach, the program was on the hook for dead money that was going to pay him NOT to coach.
(Another side note, Charlie Weis is the king of this, as he will receive a combined $4.6 million salary from Kansas and Notre Dame next season to sit at home and do nothing.)
Florida was under no pressure to lock up Muschamp, as no one was coming for him. Foley got caught up in the great Mack Brown Scare of 2013, which saw a year-long speculation that Brown was on the outs with Texas, meaning that they had an extra year to secretly plot for his replacement.
It was at this time that it seemed like Oprah Winfrey was handing out extensions. Jimbo Fisher, Les Miles, Nick Saban, and yes, Muschamp, all got extensions out of fear for a burnt-orange dump truck full of money pulling up to their houses and luring them away.
This never would have happened with Muschamp, even though he was once Brown’s coach-in-waiting. The Longhorns’ boosters had bigger, better plans and they ultimately got who I believe is the right man for the job in Charlie Strong.
But back to the current scenario.
Add to the dead money the $5 million Florida is responsible for in the buyout deal to get Coach Jim McElwain and you’ve got $11.3 million invested in the former Colorado State coach before he coaches 1st-and-10. So, as one Twitter pontificator put it, the boosters own him now.
(Side Note No. 3: Florida’s athletic program is informally referred to as “The Firm.” If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, go check it out.)
Also, he got a six-year deal to coach the Gators, which is a deal that is longer than his head coaching career so far. But it was going to take a deal like that to keep him from averting his gaze toward Michigan or Nebraska, though those programs seem to be mired in mediocrity and it feels like the stories of their greatness are drifting into college football’s past like Iowa Pre-Flight.
(Side Note No. Whatever: Iowa Pre-Flight beat both Michigan and Nebraska in 1942.)
Florida is kind of program that can be revitalized with the right leadership, and offense has always driven the Gators’ successful seasons.
Even in 2006, when Florida’s national title was largely based on its defense, the Gators were 10th in total offense and 23rd in scoring offense. So much of recruiting is perception, and there is a strong vibe around McElwain.
When Ron Zook was hired (I was there the day he walked through the door), the infamous web site fireronzook.com already was up and running and no one felt good about it. (I’d give you the link, but it’s all in Chinese now.)
Like Muschamp, Zook is a heck of a nice guy, but he wasn’t qualified to be head coach of the Gators.
(Side Note Yet Again: Foley said that day – and I was sitting there listening to it – that he “bet his job” that Zook was the right guy. Despite the fact that he landed Urban Meyer later and presided over two men’s basketball titles and two more BCS titles, why didn’t Foley quit the same day he fired Zook? Isn’t that what betting your job is?)
Since Muschamp came along in a new era, there were several Twitter accounts dedicated to his professional demise, most of which have been raging since the Vanderbilt game last season.
At the end of the day, with Bob Stoops staying put, Chip Kelly settling in Philly, Jon Gruden smartly staying in the booth and Mike Shanahan being over the hill, there was no home run hire for the Gators with a name everyone knew.
But every one of those big-name coaches got their start somewhere, and the key is recognizing that guy before he becomes a legend.
Foley was only associate AD when Steve Spurrier was hired, so technically Foley is 1-2 in football coach hires. Let’s say we give him credit for nabbing future Hall of Fame basketball coach Billy Donovan and call it even.
So this is the tie-breaker.
If McElwain fails, it’s got to be the end of the Foley Era at Florida. If he succeeds in getting the Gators back to national prominence, Foley will likely be heralded as one of the greatest ADs of all time.
Foley may have forgotten that he bet his job on Zook, but he’s betting his legacy on McElwain.