It’s been seven months since Will Muschamp first stood at a lectern and promised his players would abide by a specific code of conduct.
“There’s a certain thing that I’m going to refer to as the Florida Way, and that’s the way they need to act and that’s the way they need to represent our university,” Muschamp said at his introductory press conference.
“I’m going to demand that, and I think that you’ll understand in time that that’s something that’s very important to me.”
Six transfers later, the rookie head coach’s message appears strong as gospel.
With Urban Meyer-era players bolting for the door, other teams across the South are welcoming UF’s diaspora-like transfer of alleged drug users, academic slackers and depth chart dissenters with open arms.
South Florida, Auburn, North Alabama and Texas Tech have all gotten stronger after taking on Chris Dunkley, Mike Blakely, Janoris Jenkins and Javares McRoy, while Florida’s ranks have thinned at key positions.
Although Muschamp’s hard line against these players has been popular, it’s tough to predict if it will translate into early wins Florida fans demand.
Expectations for this season will undoubtedly be high despite last year’s 8-5 record, and most will look to Meyer’s inaugural 9-3 season as a fair starting point.
But even with the aid of a coaching staff featuring six Super Bowl rings, Muschamp’s initial slate of Southeastern Conference games looks daunting with a brutal four-game stretch against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
Having Jenkins, arguably college football’s top cornerback, would’ve been invaluable against teams like Auburn, Alabama and Florida State which are unproven at quarterback after the departures of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, Greg McElroy and Christian Ponder.
The Florida Way, however, demanded Jenkins’ departure after his third arrest in 23 months and deprived the Gators of a rare chance to play their strength against another team’s weakness.
But if anything can be learned from recent coaching transitions in the SEC, it’s not to rush to judgment following a coach’s first campaign.
In 2007, Nick Saban, Muschamp’s mentor at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, endured a 6-6 regular season with the Crimson Tide. Two years later, Auburn’s Gene Chizik fared only slightly better at 7-5.
But in their sophomore years, all three coaches turned the corner.
Alabama finished the 2008 regular season undefeated and one win from an appearance in the national title game, while Chizik led the Tigers to the 2010 BCS National Championship.
Even Muschamp’s predecessor made the jump from second-tier SEC contender in 2005, to national champion just a year later.
With just 58 days before Muschamp’s first kickoff in The Swamp as head coach, the Florida Way has instituted a launching point for the future.
The only thing left to do is win.