Sports Legends: From Athens To Gainesville

Will Muschamp may be the new head football coach at the University of Florida, but to many he will always be a Bulldog. And he may not be a legend yet, but “it is only a matter of time,” says Ray Goff, his head football coach when he played for the University of Georgia.

“He is a leader,” Goff says. “Guys just gravitate toward him. And he is one of the hardest hitters I have ever seen.”

A native of Rome, Muschamp played high school football for the Darlington School. He was a standout at Darlington, but not enough to be offered a scholarship at Georgia. He was a walk-on, and he earned his scholarship as a redshirt freshman.

He was a student on the football field as well as in the classroom.

“He studied the tendencies of his teammates and of the opposition. I think that made him the best strong safety in the SEC,” Goff says.

Muschamp became a two-year starter, co-captain of the team his senior season and was named to the SEC honor roll in 1993.

“Nothing he achieves as Florida’s head football coach will surprise me.” Goff says.

Derek Dooley, Vince Dooley’s son and the head coach at the University of Tennessee, coached with Muschamp four years at LSU and one year with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

“We had a close relationship,” Dooley says. “We talked regularly. I have great respect and admiration for him. No one will ever work harder than Muschamp, I can guarantee that. But we are competitors now.”

Although there will always be a Bulldog in his heart, you can bet he will get after the Bulldogs when they and the Gators clash in Jacksonville.

From 2008 to 2010, Muschamp was defensive coordinator at the University of Texas. Before his first season was done, his defenses so impressed the Longhorns that they hiked his salary from $425,000 to $900,000.

In a way, Muschamp can be a lot like the late Georgia coach, Wally Butts. “I had never seen a coach headbutt a player in the middle of the chest before a game and be the same player’s best friend off the field,” says one of the Texas players. “If you had a problem and you needed to talk to him, you could call him any time of night and he would listen.”

At Darlington High School, Muschamp was the classic all-around athlete. He lettered in football four years, basketball three years and baseball four years.

Muschamp comes by his athletics ability, playing and coaching skills honestly. His father, Larry, played football at the University of North Carolina and later coached high school football in Rome. His oldest brother, Mike, played football at Duke and now coaches football in high school. Another brother, Pat, was an offensive lineman at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Muschamp turned down appointments to West Point and the Naval Academy to walk on for the Bulldogs. He earned his bachelor’s degree in communications at Georgia and his master’s degree in speech communications at Auburn, where he served as a graduate assistant football coach.

As a coach and defensive coordinator, he has worked in 10 bowl games, including the Sugar Bowl BCS national championship with LSU in 2004 and the 2010 BCS national championship with Texas in 2010.

Muschamp coached at West Georgia, Eastern Kentucky and Valdosta State before he was hired by Nick Saban to be his defensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers led the nation in scoring defense and total defense.

In his five seasons as an SEC defensive coordinator, Muschamp’s defenses ranked among the nation’s top 40 in total defense every year. His defenses twice lead the nation in rushing defense, yielding less than 75 yards per game.

“That’s nice,” Muschamp says, “but that does not impress me. Stats are for losers. What counts is winning games. At Florida we are going to put the best players on the field regardless of seniority and experience.”

At age 40, Muschamp is the second youngest head coach in the SEC. (Dan Mullen at Mississippi State is 39.) He is married to the former Carol Davis. They have two children, Jackson, 10, and Whit, 6.

“The ball is in my court now,” he says. “My dad used to tell me 10 percent of life is what happens to you; 90 percent is what you do with it.”

Categories: Legends