Muschamp and the State of College Football Coaching Hires

Matt Barber(follow on twitter @dixiefriedsport)

It's been nearly a week now since Will Muschamp coached his last regular season game as head coach of the Florida Gators and rumors throughout the world of College Football are running rampant.  Muschamp's without a doubt the hottest free agent among defensive coordinators in the game and his future landing spot is a hot topic nationally.  Where does Muschamp end up?  Where should he go and what should he do?  The answer isn't as easy for Muschamp and the programs that are seeking his leadership on defense.  

Auburn is one of the first spots that were mentioned as a possible landing spot for Will Muschamp.  It has been reported that Gus Malzahn, Jay Jacobs, and the Auburn Tigers are willing to offer Muschamp somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million a year to become their next defensive coordinator.   Yes, Auburn is a place Johnson once coached, but there are some issues to consider

Auburn just fired Ellis Johnson following the Iron Bowl, a veteran defensive coordinator who has coached all over the South.   I would stay away from Auburn if I'm Muschamp.   Ellis Johnson didn't all the sudden forget how to coach defense in the SEC, a place he has called home for many years.   I believe that Johnson's philosophy differed too much from the offensive minded Malzahn, which may also be the case with Muschamp.   Malzahn's hurry up no huddle philosophy puts up dynamic offensive numbers, but it also leaves the defense on the field far too long leaving them at a severe disadvantage.  Would Muschamp really want to go to a system like this?   I personally would stay away from Auburn because the system in place isn't to the advantage of any DC.

Texas A&M is also a place that has been reported to have offered Muschamp.  This makes a little more sense than Auburn because A&M has big oil money, huge facility upgrades in progress, and a rich talent pool to dip into.  Muschamp also has coached in Texas having been the coach in waiting for The Texas Longhorns.   I do think a similar problem with philosophy could come into play here.  Sumlin, like Malzahn, likes the hurry up no huddle approach.  I just don't think this is a system Muschamp will want to be a part of, especially with so many other options left.  

The next program that is rumored to have interest is The University of South Carolina.Which I can tell you today HAS NOT OFFERED WILL MUSCHAMP ANYTHING, BUT HAS TALKED TO SPURRIER.  Before we look at the prospects of South Carolina for Muschamp, it must be pointed out that this job is far different for Muschamp.  First, South Carolina currently does not have a defensive coordinator position available.  At this moment Lorenzo Ward is still the defensive coordinator for the Gamecocks.  South Carolina is also coached by a much older head coach Steve Spurrier, who may or may not be in Columbia for multiple years.   

South Carolina isn't likely to out bid either A&M or Auburn for Muschamp's services.  Few schools nationally can match A&M money and the money Auburn offers isn't going to be dramatically out matched by USC in any way. The attraction for Muschamp is that South Carolina could potentially offer Muschamp the title of "Head Coach in Waiting and Defensive Coordinator, the same position he held for Texas.  

Would South Carolina be willing to offer Muschamp the title of Head Coach in Waiting?   South Carolina AD Ray Tanner has show in the past he is not fearful of making hires within his top programs.  Current Gamecock Baseball Coach Chad Holbrook was an assistant coach for Ray Tanner during USC's 3 consecutive National Championship Series Appearances.   It certainly isn't unthinkable that Tanner would also give Muschamp the chance.

The question then becomes should Ray Tanner offer this title to Muschamp?   The title of Head Coach in Waiting has failed in some places, but worked in others.   Maryland giving James Franklin this title is a recent example of a failure, but Jimbo Fisher is proof of a success story.   Many other examples exist and there really is no true deciding factor if this is a bad approach by athletic directors.  Decades ago hiring within a staff was common for schools when coaches retired, the title of Head Coach in Waiting wasn't necessarily applied, but you can look at guys like Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne as success stories as guys hired within.   

Is Muschamp a guy that deserves another chance at a SEC school as a head coach?   Many consider Muschamp a failure at Florida.  His 28-21 record certainly wasn't astonishing, but was it a total failure like Curely Hallman at LSU in the 90s?   Should his ability to be a SEC Head Coach be completely dismissed? 

Keep in mind Muschamp inherited an 8-5 Florida team from the 2010 season.  He didn't inherit Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, or any of the other playmakers from the Urban Meyer system.  When Jeremy Foley hired Will Muschamp he knew that the personnel at Florida had been recruited for Meyer's spread option approach and a blind man could see Muschamp wasn't going to bring that approach to him in Gainesville.  

From the very start Muschamp was behind at Florida.  Not only did he have to clean up discipline issues, but he also was transitioning from one offensive style to something completely different.  This could be compared to some of the challenges Rich Rodriguez faced at Michigan changing systems or what Bielema is struggling with now at Arkansas.  A spread option and Muschamp's prostyle take different personnel along the lines, at QB, and even at the skill positions.  There is no quick fix or solution to this issue. 

Muschamp himself I think realized he made a huge mistake hiring Charlie Weiss from the start.  It isn't that Weiss isn't a good offensive mind, but his ego and personality wasn't going to fit for Muschamp.  Weiss had been head coach at College Football's biggest name program and now was taking orders from a first time, young head coach.  It was a bad mix from the start.  Weiss then jumped for the Kansas Head Coaching job and Muschamp would then be forced to hire 2 more Offensive Coordinators for the next 4 seasons.  

Had Muschamp hired a guy similar to Kurt Roper from the start then I think he is still head coach at Florida.  Muschamp's first offensive coordinator hire should've been for a young coordinator who was ready to make a name for himself and ran a pro style offense.  In my personal opinion Muschamp himself would probably admit that his handling of the offensive coordinators at Florida was done poorly.  It's an experience Muschamp is smart and young enough to learn from.  

One thing Muschamp never struggled at Florida with was defense.  His defensive units were always among the nation's best and led the Gators to a Sugar Bowl birth in 2012.   This side of the ball was never an issue for him and that is why he is so popular a name among DC searches today.  If he has learned from his OC hire mistakes, I have no doubt Muschamp can be a good College Football Head Coach one day.  Studying under a guy like Steve Spurrier I believe could help Muschamp in his future beliefs on how an offense would run.  

Some out there will say things like "Well, Muschamp failed at Florida, so why would he succeed elsewhere?"  It's a good question, but examples do exist of guys being fired and then becoming championship head coaches.  Lou Holtz was fired as an assistant coach at South Carolina by Paul Dietzel in the 60s.  Did Holtz give up?  No, he learned from his mistakes, worked his butt off to get better and became one of the best College Football Coaches of his generation.   Gene Stallings was 27-45-1 and a head coach at Texas A&M, but at his next head coaching spot he went 70-16-1 at Alabama and won the 1992 National Championship. Currently Rich Rodriguez, who Michigan fired, has Arizona in the top 10 and playing for the PAC 12 Championship   History tells us that just because you were fired once in the coaching world(or the business world), doesn't mean you will fail at your next stop.  Muschamp is young enough to learn from his errors, study under a legendary coach like Spurrier, and end up being a top notch head coach.  

Of course there is nothing certain out there saying Muschamp would succeed either.  Muschamp could always end up like Ron Zook(who to his credit did go to the Rose Bowl) and be fired the next chance he becomes head coach.   Many head coaches at big name programs that were fired have gotten new jobs at lesser programs and failed miserably.   Gerry Faust, Tyrone Willingham, Ray Perkins, and many other examples exist of these kind of coaches.  

South Carolina has to decide if Muschamp is worth the risk.  Of course there is always a risk when it comes to coaching hires.  South Carolina maybe the luckiest group of fans in the country because their last two coaching hires were what most would consider home runs.  If they don't offer Muschamp the job of head coaching in waiting, it isn't likely South Carolina hits a 3rd straight home run.  

Big name, home run hires just aren't made that often.  Just look at recent hires by elite programs.  Florida hired Jim McElwain and Nebraska hired Mike Riley.  While there are plenty of positives with both these coaches, no one would consider these big name, certain to win now hires.   In fact look at the recent hires of all big name programs and you will see very few home run hires.  Michigan hired its last coach from San Diego State, Oklahoma hired a defensive coordinator, Penn State hired Vandy's head coach, LSU hired Oklahoma State's head coach, Texas hired Louisville's head coach, Florida State hired an OC, Southern Cal hired Steve Sarkisian who many Washington fans wanted fired.  Fact is the only real "Home Run" hires in the last decade were made by Alabama and Ohio State, both of who hired coaches who weren't currently employed by a college football program.  

Even the supposed "Home Run" hires aren't always sure things.  Oklahoma hiring Howard Schnellenberger in the mid 90s resulted in 1 .500 season.   Southern Cal rehired John Robinson in the mid 90s, a man who led them to greatness in the 70s, but finished his 2nd tenure with the Trojans with back to back 6 win seasons.  Arkansas hired Danny Ford, who was a dominant coach in the 80s, but ended his career as a Hog with a losing record.  

Fact is every coaching hire is a risk and there are no sure things.  There isn't a name in the College or NFL level that South Carolina or any other program could bring in and guarantee success.  Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz were the hottest free agent names available during USC's last 2 coaching hires and the Gamecocks, while far better than they ever have been, still haven't reached elite national status.  

Muschamp could end up anywhere he wants in College Football, but is this where he wants to be?  I personally believe that Muschamp's relationship with current Seattle Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn is something to look at.  Quinn is one of the hottest assistant names in football and has been mentioned to be a potential head coach in the NFL in 2015.  Quinn and Muschamp formed a tight relationship together while serving as assistants on Nick Saban's Dolphin staff in 2005 & 2006.   If Quinn takes a head coaching job, Muschamp is going to be his first pick.   Other NFL offers are going to come for Muschamp, so his next move might not be known until after "Black Monday" in the NFL.  

So fans calm down.  No one knows where Muschamp may land and it really doesn't matter because Muschamp nor any coach is a sure thing.   Winning in College Football is more than just hiring a big name head coach.  The right foundation has to be intact from top to bottom and many times not even the greatest of coaches can break through that barrier.