By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
The wait is finally over for Will Muschamp. But instead of Texas, Muschamp is coming home to take over at Florida.
Muschamp, who has spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator at Texas and was tabbed the Longhorns’ coach-in-waiting in 2008, has been hired to replace Urban Meyer as the 23rd head coach in Florida football history.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley finalized the deal with the 39-year-old Muschamp on Saturday afternoon. Muschamp will be the second-youngest coach in the SEC behind Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, 38.
“This is a dream come true to be the head coach of the Florida Gators,” said Muschamp, who lived in Gainesville for 10 years growing up. “I grew up watching the Gators and whatever other SEC team was on television.
“I have great memories watching SEC football with my father on Saturdays and playing football in the back yard with my two brothers right here in Gainesville.”
A four-year letterman at safety in college, the 1994 University of Georgia graduate immediately embarked on a coaching career after his playing career with the Bulldogs concluded. Muschamp began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Auburn in 1995 and after later stops at West Georgia, Eastern Kentucky and Valdosta State, he returned to the SEC in 2001 when former LSU coach Nick Saban hired him as linebackers coach.
"Coach Muschamp is someone we targeted from the beginning and he is the guy we wanted,’’ Foley said. “He is the only person we met with and the only person we offered the job to.”
Muschamp was promoted to LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2002 and helped the Tigers win the 2003 national championship on a staff that also included Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher as offensive coordinator.
Muschamp developed a reputation as one of the league’s top recruiters while at LSU, something Meyer quickly learned after arriving at UF in 2004.
“He’s a tremendous recruiter,’’ Meyer said. “I have bumped into him many times over the years on the road while on recruiting trips.’’
Muschamp spent four seasons on Saban’s staff at LSU and followed him to the NFL for one season as Saban’s assistant coach for defense with the Miami Dolphins in 2005. Muschamp returned to the SEC in 2006 as defensive coordinator at Auburn, where he was a finalist for the 2007 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.
In five seasons in the SEC, Muschamp’s defenses finished ranked in the nation’s top 10 every season.
By that time, Muschamp was considered one of the game’s bright young coaching minds and he left Auburn for Texas to serve as Mack Brown’s defensive coordinator. Brown and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds were so impressed with Muschamp – and with his name linked with several open jobs – Texas made Muschamp the highest-paid assistant coach in the country in November 2008 and named him the heir to Brown.
“We all agreed that Will was young, he was a tremendous football coach, he loves what he’s doing on defense right now, so we could make him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the country,’’ Brown said prior to the 2010 BCS Championship Game. “You see so many drops with change, and you’re never sure what the right mix is. We all thought Will was the right guy with our staff to continue and build at Texas.’’
During his three-year stint at Texas, the Longhorns led the nation with 119 sacks over that span and ranked in the top 10 nationally in several other major categories, including allowing opponents to rush for 96.7 yards a game (fourth). In the 2009 and 2010 NFL drafts, Muschamp had a combined eight players drafted – seven in the first four rounds and two first-rounders in Brian Orakpo and Earl Thomas.
Prior to facing his former assistant in last year’s BCS title game, Saban said Muschamp quickly earned his respect for the way he showed up ready to work each day.
“I think Will has made his own mark in this profession in terms of what he’s done with what he’s accomplished, and we’re proud of him, and we’re happy for him,’’ Saban said. “And I know he’s going to be a great head coach when he gets that opportunity someday.’’
Foley is thankful that Muschamp has decided to return to Gainesville take over for Meyer, who announced on Wednesday that he is stepping down after the Gators face Penn State in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa.
“We are thrilled to have Coach Muschamp lead our football program,” Foley said. “When we started the search for our next head coach we wanted a coach who was familiar with the Southeastern Conference. We wanted a candidate who was a relentless recruiter and was familiar with recruiting in the state of Florida.
“We wanted a candidate who was high energy and had been on the big stage. We wanted a candidate who was respected by his players and his peers and we wanted someone who had a passion for the University of Florida. Coach Muschamp is all of those things and more. He is a grounded family man with a wonderful wife and two children and we welcome them into our Gator family.”
The son of a high school football coach, Muschamp spent a decade living on 27th Street in Gainesville. His family relocated to Rome, Ga., before he finished high school. Muschamp has been around college football his entire life.
His father played at North Carolina and his grandfather played at Penn State. Older brothers Pat and Mike played center and quarterback and Army and Duke, respectively.
Muschamp, who considered walking on at Florida, turned down appointments at West Point and Annapolis to enroll at Georgia become the Bulldogs’ defensive co-captain his senior season.
He is ready for his first head-coaching job and excited to lead the program he once considered playing for.
“I’m eager to get to work and represent this great institution,” Muschamp said. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity given to me by President Dr. Bernie Machen and Athletic Director Jeremy Foley. I promise to bring a tremendous amount of passion and energy to work every day and my goal is to have our team bring the same type of attitude in everything we do both on and off the field.
“I want our team to play hard, with relentless effort and with toughness. We want to make the Gator Nation proud.”