Josh Kendall

Competitive edge fuels Will Muschamp’s drive to succeed

Editor’s note: This story appears in the Fall 2016 edition of GoGamecocks The Magazine, which was available inside Sunday’s edition of The State for home delivery subscribers.

The fieriness didn’t start at Florida certainly. It didn’t start at Texas, where his exuberance as defensive coordinator begat one of the first of what would becomes scores of YouTube clips with titles such as “Muschamp Meltdown” and “Muschamp goes nuts.” It didn’t even start at Georgia, where he was a walk-on turned team captain as a player in the early 1990s.

In fact, it didn’t start on a football field at all. It started in the backyard in Rome, Ga., with marathon games of Mike Throws, Pat Catches, Will Tries to Intercept.

“I’m still embarrassed that we couldn’t come up with a better name for it,” says Mike.

That’s Mike Muschamp, oldest of the three Muschamp boys. He’s seven years older than Will. Pat is five years older. The game rarely went young Will’s way.

“We would play that for hours,” said Mike Muschamp, the head high school coach at The Lovett School in Atlanta, Ga. “I’d throw it and Pat would catch it and score, and Pat would do some kind of touchdown dance and Will would just get so mad. You could just see the steam coming out of his ears.”

Everyone’s seen it by now. At least every South Carolina fan has since Will Muschamp was hired on Dec. 6 to be the Gamecocks next head football coach. Shortly thereafter, the group text message that circulates among the Gamecocks wide receivers started filling up with photos of Muschamp excoriating Gators and Tigers and Longhorns on the sidelines of fields across the country.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is crazy,’ ” South Carolina sophomore Deebo Samuel said.

All those players who have seen it first hand, and all the college football fans who have seen it on their TV screens, have Mike and Pat to thank.

“I got the hell beat out of me a lot, I can tell you that,” Will said. “There is no question I benefited from being the youngest, just because I had to play to their level. I wasn’t going to take it. They rubbed it in my face enough. I learned to fight when I was little, I know that.”

Mike can confirm that.

“We just beat the snot out of him,” he said. “The competitive edge that he has now I think can be directly correlated to that.”

That competitive edge has driven Muschamp to histrionics at times, but it’s driven him to plenty of other places, too. The first was the University of Georgia, where he walked on as football player after turning down appointments to both the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy, where he also would have played football.

Muschamp visited West Point at the behest of his father Larry Muschamp, who was the head football coach at East Rome High School in north Georgia before moving into administration and leading schools in Gainesville, Fla., and back in Rome.

“My dad was my hero,” Will Muschamp said. “He was a huge historian. He made us watch (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur’s speech and (General George) Patton’s. Many nights that’s what he wanted me to sit and watch with him and we did.”

So Will made the trip to New York to visit West Point, where Pat played football.

“At the end of the day, I didn’t want to march to breakfast,” Will Muschamp said.

Muschamp likely wouldn’t have been a walk-on or at Georgia if not for a broken leg suffered during a high school baseball game his junior year. An outfielder, Muschamp collided with his team’s shortstop and suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia. The recruiting interest he’d been receiving from Florida, Georgia, Clemson, N.C. State and Georgia Tech vanished that day, leaving Muschamp to find a place where he could walk on.

His first choice was Florida. Although he finished high school in Rome, Ga., at the Darlington School, he spent his formative years in Gainesville going to games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“The true story is I went down to Florida with my mom and dad, and I was supposed to meet with Coach (Steve) Spurrier to talk about walking on their program,” Muschamp said. “He had gotten there the year before. He wasn’t there, and he blames it on Jamie Speronis.”

Turned off by the slight, Muschamp ended up a Bulldog. Spurrier is the man Muschamp just replaced as South Carolina’s coach. Speronis was Spurrier’s and is now Muschamp’s director of football operations.

“Things happen for a reason in life,” Muschamp said. “I wish we had won more games, but I had a great experience as a football player at Georgia.”

Muschamp walked on as a safety at Georgia in 1991 but was quickly put on a scholarship and became a team captain in his final season. He finished his Bulldogs career with 11 starts, 156 tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups, almost all of it due to understanding the game and the intensity fans now see on the sideline, said Ray Goff, Muschamp’s head coach at Georgia.

“He’s a fireball, been that way ever since I have known him,” Goff said. “He was a great kid, still is today. I couldn’t say enough good things about him. I think the world of him. He’s a great football coach and more importantly I think he’s a great person.”

Goff also is the man who got Muschamp his first paying job, although it wasn’t in football. It was selling YellaWood for Great Southern Wood company founder and Goff friend Jimmy Rane. Immediately after his Georgia career, Muschamp worked as a graduate assistant at Auburn for two seasons. When he couldn’t find a coaching job after that, he took Goff’s offer to set him up at Great Southern Wood.

“I used to ride with him some days because I had gotten fired and I didn’t have a job, and I was just tickled to death to be able to get a free lunch,” Goff said. “One day, he said, ‘Coach, West Georgia called me, and I’ve got a chance to go over there and coach football and I think I’m going to do it. I looked at him and I said, ‘Will, you ain’t never going to make any money coaching football.’ My last year at Georgia I made $112,000, and I was overpaid at that probably.

“He didn’t take my advice and he went to West Georgia, and the rest is history.”

Muschamp spent a year at West Georgia and then a year at Eastern Kentucky before landing at Valdosta State, where Blazers head coach Chris Hatcher hired Muschamp and new Georgia coach Kirby Smart on the same defensive staff.

“I knew within five minutes of interviewing (Muschamp) that the guy was a great coach,” Hatcher said. “I think our interview lasted less than 10 minutes because you just knew right from the get-go that the guy had the ‘It’ factor. He’s a fiery coach. He’s very intense. He’s extremely smart. A lot of people see the fieriness about him, but they don’t understand that he has a great football mind and he does a great job of communicating with the kids and making them play hard and that’s what has made him successful.”

Hatcher saw the fieriness on more than just Saturdays. The stories of their staff basketball games were a hot topic at SEC Media Days, where Smart insisted Muschamp once stormed out of the gym after a tough loss. Although Muschamp insists with a laugh that the stories are embellished, Hatcher remembers it the same way Smart does.

“Kirby and I got the hot hand and we drained a three and we were known to talk a little smack. Will picked up the ball and threw it across the gym,” Hatcher said. “We were supposed to meet back and work the rest of the afternoon. We didn’t see Will until the next morning at 7:30 at the staff meeting. He didn’t take the loss very well.”

Still doesn’t take losing very well. Muschamp’s big break came after his first season with Hatcher, when he was hired to coordinate the defense and coach linebackers for second-year LSU head coach Nick Saban. His sideline shenanigans have been their own plotline at all his stops since, and there have been a lot of stops. After spending five years with Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, Muschamp coordinated the defense at Auburn, coordinated the defense at Texas, was the head coach at Florida and coordinated the defense at Auburn again before landing the South Carolina job.

Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner addressed Muschamp’s game day demeanor at length during the interview process and both parties agreed Muschamp would be mindful of his behavior.

“I asked him a blunt question. I said, ‘How’d you explain it to your boys?’ ” Tanner said. “That wasn’t easy for him, he admitted that. I understand. None of us are perfect. Sometimes enthusiasm and passion takes you over the line. That was one of those moments that you’d like to do over. While that’s a situation that we would not want to occur, it doesn’t define someone either.”

It kind of does define Muschamp, though. He’s commonly known now as Coach Boom. He even did his first summer speaking tour at South Carolina accompanied by the Boom Bus. The name comes from one of his favorite sideline exhortations, which sometimes is followed by words that aren’t appropriate for the side of public transportation. In one famous YouTube clip, Muschamp is shown punching a whiteboard during a halftime talk at Texas. Muschamp broke a finger punching a clipboard during halftime of an Auburn game last year, Tigers defensive lineman Montravius Adams said.

“He’s always been been very fiery,” Hatcher said. “I have a lot of stories on them, but I can’t say them. He takes it pretty serious, and he wants to win.”

“I am a passionate guy,” Muschamp acknowledged on the day he was hired. “I do coach with a lot of energy on the field and I want our players to play with relentless effort and great energy and great passion. I do know that your players generally take the personality of the coach, and I want our players playing with that kind of competitive edge.”

Instead of being put off by Muschamp’s volatility, his players generally are drawn to it. Samuel, whose first impression was ‘This guy is crazy,’ now says, “He is going to do a good job of pushing you to do the best you can. I feel like Coach Muschamp is more active and a player’s coach that Coach (Steve) Spurrier was.”

Senior offensive lineman Mason Zandi agreed.

“Coach Muschamp at times can be a lot more personable, a lot more interactive with the players (than Spurrier),” Zandi said.

Every Auburn and Florida player polled at SEC Media Days expressed fond memories of Muschamp and wished him the best at South Carolina.

“At the end of the day, what they see is real. What they see is somebody who does care,” Muschamp said. “Nowadays with social media, kids talk from South Carolina to Florida to Auburn to Texas to LSU. Over a period of time when you develop a rapport with your players and the player says, ‘You know, the guy’s a good guy. He may coach you hard, but at the end of the day his door is always open. He’s going to listen to you. He cares about you and your family.’ The kids talk, and when you have been able to build good relationships over the years, you benefit from it.”

Muschamp also has a lighter side that he reserves mostly for his inner circle.

“Will’s got a tremendous sense of humor,” Mike said. “Sometimes that doesn’t translate with people because they just see the sideline stuff and they automatically draw a conclusion. He’s very self-deprecating and able to laugh at himself. I think that plays well with kids.”

It also helps when he thinks back to those days selling lumber, something he did often in his more frustrating early days as a coach.

“It’s probably the best thing I ever did from a career standpoint because now when things got tough or things got frustrating, I thought, ‘You know what, (coaching) is what God put me on the Earth to do,’” he said. “I knew that this was my calling.”

MUSCHAMP BIO

Hometown: Rome, Ga.

Birthdate: Aug. 3, 1971

Alma mater: Georgia (1994)

COACHING TIMELINE

1995-96: Auburn (Graduate Assistant)

1998: West Georgia (Defensive Backs)

1999: Eastern Kentucky (Defensive Backs)

2000: Valdosta State (Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs)

2001: LSU (Defensive Backs)

2002-04: LSU (Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs)

2005: Miami Dolphins (Assistant Head Coach)

2006-07: Auburn (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers)

2008-10: Texas (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers)

2011-14: Florida (Head Coach)

2015: Auburn (Defensive Coordinator)

2016: South Carolina (Head Coach)

HEAD COACHING RECORD

2011 Florida: 7-6, 3-5 SEC; Gator Bowl

2012 Florida: 11-2, 7-1 SEC; Sugar Bowl

2013 Florida: 4-8, 3-5 SEC

2014 Florida: 6-5, 4-4 SEC; Birmingham Bowl

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