It was fitting end to fired coach Will Muschamp’s season.
His tenure, too.
Florida made costly mistakes, had a critical dropped pass, settled for field goals and even provided some strange play-calling down the stretch in a 24-19 loss at top-ranked Florida State on Saturday night.
“We’ve had our opportunities,” said Muschamp, who lumped this one in with close losses to LSU and South Carolina. “You look at two other games where we had the game in hand and had our opportunities to get it done and we didn’t get it done. It falls on my shoulders, and that’s why they’re going to be looking for a coach.”
Athletic director Jeremy Foley fired Muschamp two weeks ago after a head-scratching collapse against the Gamecocks. Muschamp agreed to stick around for the final two regular-season games, including the finale against rival and undefeated FSU (12-0).
The Gators (6-5) were hoping to pull off a huge upset and carry Muschamp off the field – much like they did to Ron Zook in Tallahassee a decade ago.
Florida nearly repeated the feat.
But Muschamp’s team failed to deliver – much like it did for most of his four seasons. Players said it was an emotional locker room after the game.
“We cried for him, we hugged him, we just told him that we loved him,” center Max Garcia said. “That’s pretty much all you need to know.”
The game spoke volumes.
The Gators barely capitalized on reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s career-high four interceptions and didn’t muster enough offense in the second half to rally.
“You’ve got to get seven points in those situations, especially against a team like that, especially as explosive as they are,” Muschamp said.
Plenty of other things went wrong, too.
With Florida leading 9-0 and looking to extend the lead, Treon Harris’ pass to senior tight end Tevin Westbrook bounced off his hands and landed in Terrance Smith’s arms. Smith returned it 94 yards for a touchdown. Westbrook, who also dropped a would-be touchdown late that probably would have beaten LSU, got an earful from Muschamp as he walked toward the sideline.
“He’s had some opportunities to make some catches,” Muschamp said. “In that situation, catch the ball. That’s really the message: catch the ball. You can argue about it’s thrown in traffic or this, that and the other. We put you on scholarship at Florida. Catch it.”
Defensive lineman Gerald Willis also drew Muschamp’s ire. Standing on the sideline, Willis was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for forearming Winston out of bounds.
“If I was still head coach, he’d be kicked off the team,” Muschamp said. “Ridiculous.”
Muschamp may have felt the same about receiver Latroy Pittman, who was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after appearing to say something to an official. Pittman’s 15-yard penalty left the Gators with a 52-yard field goal that Austin Hardin missed. It would have put Florida ahead 22-21 late in the third quarter.
Hardin made four field goals but missed his final two attempts, including a 42-yarder that also would have put the Gators ahead in the fourth.
“We had to settle for six field goals,” center Max Garcia said. “It was really hard for us. It was really frustrating, especially when we started missing them toward the end. When you get that, it just really crushes your team. We tried to overcome adversity as much as we could. We kept fighting.”
The Gators played stout defense from start to finish.
They allowed 306 yards, including just 125 passing, and knocked around Winston as much as anyone has the last two years.
But Florida couldn’t get much going on offense. Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor were mostly stuffed in the run game, so Harris had more on his shoulders.
Especially on the final drive. But Harris’ final seven passes fell incomplete. And with two timeouts and about 2 minutes to play, Harris kept throwing deep.
“Hold on now,” Muschamp said. “You’re complaining about me throwing the ball? Seriously, I’ve been getting drilled for four years for running the ball. I say we throw it, and I get drilled for it. You guys are amazing.”
Muschamp will take some time off before making a decision about his future. He plans to coach somewhere next season, and he’s sure to get several offers to be a defensive coordinator.
He does have one final obligation with the Gators: his weekly TV show Sunday.
“I’m not a very good negotiator,” he joked. “That’ll be a blast. That’s part of the deal. I’m not a good negotiator. Looking forward to getting away for a while. I’m not in a hurry.”
He finished with a 28-21 record at Florida, including 2-6 against rivals Georgia and Florida State, but also went more than 13 months without a player getting arrested.
“Just a guy that did it the right way,” he said when asked how he wanted to be remembered. “I hold my head walking out of here. We did things the right way. We didn’t win enough games. I was asked to clean up a program. We did that.”