I’m going to be honest, I sensed a big dropoff in Florida football after Urban Meyer left.
In December 2010, when Will Muschamp was hired away from Texas as Mack Brown’s “Coach in Waiting,” it looked like a coup for Jeremy Foley. Although Foley’s hiring of Muschamp may have looked good on paper, it seemed to me the former Mack Brown assistant at Texas didn’t have the global grasp of a head coach who needed to be mindful of both sides of the ball.
As a former Gainesville resident and Gator fan who has served impressive apprenticeships at Auburn and Texas, Muschamp looked like a perfect fit. But Muschamp came with a touch of arrogance and a chip on his shoulder.
Thus the near-decade of disappointment began with the former Georgia Bulldog walk-on who thought he could find the offensive magic in the mind of Charlie Weis -- a big mistake. The Gators paid for a dry well of offense-less football for the next seven years. Weis was a bust and never could develop the promising career of Johnny Brantley, son of former Gator quarterback John Brantley, and National Gatorade Player of the Year. Then there was Jeff Driskell. Yada, yada, yada.
This was unacceptable to those who relished the 1990s, the sweet spot for the Gators over 107 years and nearly 1,200 games. Maybe because it was the program rebirth which began in 1990 with the return of Prodigal Steve Spurrier and led to UF’s first SEC titles (six) and a national championship. Yet the decade that followed would produce the best record overall and two national championships.
This brought about what I called “The Era of The Four M’s” – Meyer, Muschamp, McElwain and Mullen. Together with the two interims, the last year represents 81 wins, 47 losses, two SEC East titles, eight bowl games and six wins – but no titles. And very little offense.
Beginning in 2010, Meyer’s last year, the downturn came. Four coaches, seven single-digit win seasons and a dropoff to an 81-46 record with an average of eight wins a season until Mullen arrived to up the ante.
When Meyer left for health reasons – and no matter which you may think, I can guarantee you that was the reason he left – the UF football program went into a tailspin. Even the alleged guru of coaching hires, Jeremy Foley, could not waive his magic wand and produce the next Spurrier or Meyer or Billy Donovan.
So did Foley botch the Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain hires? And did Dan Mullen bail him out?
Suddenly a football program with three statues of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks out front -- and a field named after one of them -- hit such a dry spot that neither an offensive coach worth his salt or a group of skill players who could not move the chains consistently.
We thought Muschamp might strike gold in his second year, going 11-2 after losing in the Sugar Bowl, but that turned out to be an anomaly. The deep freeze never thawed or the offense. And it lasted seven years, all the way through the McElwain era, due to lack of good coaching or sound offensive philosophy. The school once known for Heisman-winning quarterbacks and record-breaking offensive stats became sterile.
By the end of 2011 (7-6) Weis was gone to Kansas and somehow the Gators went 11-2 in. 2012. Surely it was a matter of time before Muschamp would get them to the SEC championship game. Epic fail. Even the talented Jeff Driskell couldn’t get them there. Then came the crowning blow as the 2012 offense finished 116th in NCAA passing with under 2,000 yards.
By 2013 it was even worse -- the worse season since 1979. The numbers were embarrassing, 4 wins and 8 losses – losing the last seven and missing a bowl game for the first time since 1990. Even more embarrassing was Florida’s first loss ever to an FCS team, Georgia Southern. After the loss to South Carolina, the Will Muschamp Experiment was over as he finished with 28 wins and 21 losses. D.J. Durkin finished out the season.
Enter McElwain from Colorado State of the Mountain West Conference. For two seasons it appeared maybe Foley had regained his hiring touch, as Florida won 19 games and two SEC East titles. And then it all collapsed. By alleged “mutual agreement,” McElwain and Florida parted ways. Interim Randy Shannon finished 1-3 and Florida dropped to 4-7, only its second losing season in 38 years. The offense was stuck in the mud, the worst in America by 2017.
Maybe you had forgotten about that dark period from 2011 through 2017.
Despite the surge of optimism brought to Gainesville by Dan Mullen as the “Decade of the Teens” (2010-2019) came to a close, the past 10 years were not exactly memorable for Florida Football. But Mullen rehabilitated the offense and things began trending upward in 2018.
The last decade did end on a promising note, and until the Coronavirus shutdown, the 2020 team under Mullen appeared back as an SEC East contender. How that will play out is anybody’s guess, but confident Gators feel Dan’s Plan will have their team back in the hunt. And that Kyle Trask is the hope of the future.
No wonder the sight of Dan Mullen getting off the plane with his family at the Gainesville Airport in November 2017, wearing a big smile and doing the Gator comp, was such a beautiful, uplifting site to Florida Gator fans.