ATHENS -- Mike Bobo and Will Muschamp go back far enough that Bobo attended Muschamp’s wedding. During the days that Bobo was Georgia’s offensive coordinator, and Muschamp was merely another defensive coordinator, the former college teammates spoke often.
That’s changed a bit since last January, when Muschamp was hired as the head coach at Florida.
“We haven’t talked, except when he got the job, and an occasional text in the summer or something,” Bobo said. “But Georgia-Florida’s a little different.”
Bobo said the last part with a knowing smile.
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This has been the week that has been pointed to since Muschamp, the former Georgia safety, was hired at archrival Florida. Muschamp knew the questions were coming, so he tried to head them off early in his press conference on Monday.
“I know there will be a lot of wasted ink on the fact that I played at Georgia and now I’m coaching at Florida, but this is not the first time that I have coached against Georgia,” Muschamp said.
And indeed, he did coach against his former team when he was Auburn’s defensive coordinator. So Muschamp emphasized that his loyalty lies with who signs his checks, not where he got his diploma.
“I don’t mean disrespect to anybody, but I’m loyal to people, not places,” he said. “I work for Jeremy Foley and Dr. Bernie Machen, and those are the people I need to do a good job for and this football team and staff. That’s how I view things. I’ve worked at Auburn, LSU and Texas -- I’ve worked a lot of different places, and this isn’t the first time I’ve played against Georgia.”
Muschamp was born in Rome and played at Georgia from 1991-94. But other than a one-year stint at Valdosta State, he’s never worked in the state again. And when he was hired at Florida, he played up the fact that he spent part of his childhood in Gainesville, close to the Florida campus.
The Georgia-Florida rivalry is fierce, as everyone knows. But it’s not like there hasn’t been cooperation between the schools: Florida president Bernie Machen and Georgia president Michael Adams were arm in arm over the summer in leading the charge against oversigning. And last year, Georgia reached in to Gainesville to hire its athletics director, Greg McGarity. Of course, McGarity, who had been at Florida for 18 years, grew up in Athens and is a Georgia graduate.
(McGarity met Muschamp when the coach was at Auburn, and would say hello after games. “Our paths never really crossed at Georgia, and never crossed professionally,” McGarity said.)
Georgia junior linebacker Christian Robinson said the players were aware that Muschamp is a former Bulldogs player, but placed an emphasis on “former.”
“He’s a Gator now. He’s going to be completely 100 percent behind them,” said Robinson, whose father Kenneth played at another rival SEC school, South Carolina.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt went to Miami, and faced off against his alma mater when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida State. Then, in his second year as Georgia’s head coach, he faced Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
“When I came to Georgia and coached against Florida State, I knew at least 50 percent of the players and just about 90 percent of the staff. Now, it is far removed for (Muschamp),” Richt said. “He hasn’t really coached or played with hardly anybody on our staff, so I think I can buy into what he is saying.”
The moral of the story appears to be this: While the players and coaches know how much the fans put in the rivalry, and they put a lot in it, too, It’s still a business.
And too much obsession over the rivalry, or who went to what school, can be a distraction.
Bobo, who was a freshman when Muschamp was a senior at Georgia, said he understood why his former teammate was downplaying the matchup.
“That’s the way you’ve gotta approach it, or try to approach it, even though we know some games have more importance, because they’re in our division,” Bobo said. “Or (because of) the magnitude of what fans think of the Georgia-Florida game.”