Ron Zook has been exactly where Florida coach Will Muschamp is right now, and based on his experience, he has a message for Gators fans.
“Leave him alone and let him do his job,” Zook told the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi.
“The noise in the system doesn’t help, It only compounds the problem. When there’s all this negativity, other programs start using it against you in recruiting and it makes it worse.
“Will Muschamp is a good football coach, and he’ll build a great program if they just give him time.”
Zook speaks from experience.
Two-and-a-half years into in their UF tenures, Muschamp and Zook have nearly identical records.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley says he stands behind Muschamp, but Zook knows from experience that Foley’s words can ring hollow. Foley told Zook on a Friday that his job was safe, but by Monday Zook was unemployed.
Two years later, the players Zook had recruited would win a national championship under Urban Meyer.
While both Zook and Muschamp took over from successful coaches, Steve Spurrier was beloved by Gators fans, making life miserable for Zook from day 1.
Meyer, on the other hand, didn’t exactly give the UF faithful warm and fuzzies. That, combined with the fact that Muschamp came in with the perception as hot up-and-comer with Texas‘ stamp of approval, made Florida fans awfully forgiving during Muschamp’s first season.
Though that honeymoon phase is long gone and the polish from once being Texas’ head coaching-in-waiting has officially worn off, Zook says that following a legend — well-liked or not — can make for a dangerous situation.
“Just because you succeed a great coach doesn’t mean the program is in great shape and the cupboard is full when you take over,” he said. “Will took over a program that wasn’t in the best of shape.
“There’s a reason coaches leave programs. Coach Spurrier didn’t just wake up one day in January (2001) and say, ‘I’m going to the Washington Redskins.’ He knew he didn’t have a lot coming back the following year. At least that’s my opinion.”
Today’s Vanderbilt game could be pivotal for Muschamp. Florida hasn’t had a losing season since 1979, and the Gators are 4-4 with the Commodores, South Carolina, Georgia Southern and Florida State left on the schedule.
A 5-7 or even a 6-6 finish could end Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville.
Zook knows what it feels like to be in that situation, and he wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.
“Heck yeah, I feel for Will. I wouldn’t want anybody to go through what I went through.”
Photo: Phil Coale, AP