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Gators coach Muschamp: 'Last fall is on my shoulders'

Florida GatorsFootballWars and InterventionsMike PounceyChaminade-Madonna College Preparatory School

FORT LAUDERDALE – Appearing at his first Gator Club event  in Broward County in three years, Florida football coach Will Muschamp told a crowd of about 200 at War Memorial Auditorium Thursday night that “last fall is on my shoulders.”

Repeatedly taking full blame for a 4-8 record in 2013 that he called “unacceptable” and “my responsibility to get it fixed,” Muschamp was apologetic, but also light-hearted and relaxed during a 13-minute session with reporters before and then a 50-minute session with fans that ended with a question-and-answer segment.

Asked the greatest lessons he’s learned in his three seasons as a head coach, Muschamp, who drew more than twice as many people during his previous visit to War Memorial Auditorium in 2011, quipped: “Keep your quarterback healthy – No. 1 through 5.”

Earlier, when asked if he felt more pressure this offseason than ever before, Muschamp replied, “Absolutely not. I feel the same pressure I did Day 1.”

He said jokingly, “The hot seat is a good deal. Everybody’s praying for you. I mean, everywhere I go, they’re praying for you. So I figure something good’s got to happen out of that, right? Everybody says ‘I’m behind you.’ I’d like some of the people to get in front of me, just in case.”  

Muschamp added, “It is what it is. You’re on the hot seat at the University of Florida every day.”

Muschamp described last season as “very frustrating” and noted there’s “no question” it took a toll on him emotionally.

“My expectations going into the year was that we had a good football team,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t respond and handle adversity as well as we needed to. I certainly could have managed it better – looking back. But hey, I’m looking forward to getting this cranked up in about 94 days.”

Muschamp said he doesn’t feel he lost the team at any point last season, and also said there was never a doubt in his mind that he’d keep his job despite the team’s performance last season.

He said he likes the maturity and leadership of the 2014 Gators and “I feel much more comfortable at this time than I did a year ago with last year’s team, and that’s not because we went 4-8.” He added that he’s anxious to start next season.

“I wish we reported tomorrow,” he said. “This is a critical time for our team these next 94 days before we report. We need to make tremendous strides and I think we will.”

Asked how big of a gap there is between defending national champ Florida State and UF right now, Muschamp said, "I don't think in college football there's a whole lot of difference between a bunch of teams. I really don't. You look at what one season can do for you positively or negatively...when you start grouping together seasons of mediocrity, then you've got a problem. But I really believe there's a fine line between a lot of teams."

Muschamp told the crowd that included Miami Dolphins players and former Gators Mike Pouncey and Caleb Sturgis “we were not as flexible as we needed to be” last season, especially on offense, and noted, “we need to fix the offense.” Under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, he said he’s committed to creating more tempo and more offensive snaps per game. He’s "expecting a huge year” from quarterback Jeff Driskell.

“He was recruited to be in the [shot]gun,” Muschamp said. “That’s what we’re going to do, and that’s why I have a high confidence level he’s going to have a special season.”

Muschamp, who earlier in the day met up with former Gators cornerback Marcus Roberson, preparing for the NFL Draft after giving up his final season of eligibility, said he’s excited about the team’s players from South Florida, including running backs Kelvin Taylor (Glades Day) and Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach), offensive lineman Rod Johnson (American Heritage-Delray), defensive linemen Khairi Clark (Chaminade-Madonna) and Bryan Cox Jr. (St. Thomas Aquinas), cornerback Quincy Wilson (University School) and tight end Tevin Westbrook (North Broward Prep).

Muschamp said of Taylor: “Watching him through spring, he’s a guy who’s going to have a great year.”

Powell missed all of spring football after arriving as an early enrollee in January with a stress fracture sustained at Deerfield, Muschamp said, but “he will be a guy that will be a factor for us in the fall.”

Wilson also will get playing time this fall as a first-year freshman, Muschamp said. The coach said Clark “can clog up the middle” while joking, “I hope he’s doing more than running to the refrigerator” in the offseason.

sgorten@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @sgorten

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