Orange clad tables, a silent auction and a packed room of Gators fans greeted coach Will Muschamp on one of the final stops on his offseason speaking tour at the 2014 Gator Gathering at Emerson Alumni Hall — closer to home than any of the other spots around the state.
“I think (the reception on the tour) has been very good,” Muschamp said. “I think everybody’s disappointed. I think everyone’s upset. I don’t blame anybody for being upset. 4-8’s unacceptable and we’ve got to get it fixed and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Muschamp gets an unfair label of being a brutish oaf or a dummy. Fans see him on the field screaming but would be surprised to see him hold court showing his softer side in a room packed with fans full off of a catered barbeque dinner.
He started by appealing to the natives, giving anecdotes about his time going to games with his father, sitting in the north end zone and watching the old AstroTurf on Florida Field emit heat in the fall sun.
He talked about playing football at the local Northwest Boys & Girls Club, growing up and even was asked a question by someone who built the house he used to live in as a boy.
He was asked about who the real Will Muschamp is by a fan in the audience, and quipped about his Big Green Egg in the backyard that nobody can touch but him. He spoke about taking his kids to Crystal River for a week — something he did with his father Larry, who recently passed away.
He also let fans in to the fatherhood aspect that he as a coach has to do for his players.
“We have something we do in the offseason called beyond football,” Muschamp said. “Everybody focuses in on Saturday afternoons, and believe me it’s very important. But also, whether it’s treating the opposite sex, understanding about writing a resume, dealing with a lot of things which really is beyond football and educating these young men in balancing a checkbook.”
Muschamp gave an in-depth and humorous anecdote about coaching at LSU and almost being upset by a visiting Oregon State team. He promises the offense will be better and that the Gators will “contend for a championship.”
But 2013 is still the elephant in the room when a girl is handed the microphone and asks “the question everyone’s thinking.”
“Are we going to beat Georgia this year?” she says, “And FSU for that matter? Please say yes coach.”
“I’m very confident in where we’re headed,” Muschamp answers with a smile as the rest of the room chuckles in agreement.
The question was posed in a way that you can tell the fanbase is tired — tired of losing, especially to the bitter rivals his predecessors dispatched so frequently.
A lady asks how Muschamp deals with all the pressure, especially from people like her husband, who she throws under the bus by claiming that he thinks he knows more than Florida’s head man at times — a remark that sent the room into a tizzy of laughter.
“I don’t put any more pressure on myself regardless of the outcome,” Muschamp said. “It’s frustrating, don’t get me wrong. It hurts, your pride hurts. If you’re a prideful person, and you take pride in your work, and it’s frustrating as heck, I’ll be honest with you. … Let’s fix what happened, and let’s make some changes and adjustments in what we do and let’s continue to evolve as a program.”
Muschamp is the first to remind you that what Florida was doing was good enough to win 11 games in 2012, and he may be right.
But his biggest task in 2014 may just be to get the mojo involved with that season back on his side for the upcoming year, because if 2013’s cosmic over-regression to the mean happens again, he may not be doing a Gator Gathering again next spring.
Follow Richard Johnson on Twitter @RagjUF