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Next year ‘huge’ for Florida Gators
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Gator Bait Editor Marty Cohen said the Gators new recruits are a “very, very good class on paper.”
ST. PETERSBURG – The editor of a publication about University of Florida sports said he is willing to give Florida Gators’ head football Coach Will Muschamp a “mulligan” for his performance this past year.

Asked his opinion of Muschamp, who had a 7-6 record for the 2011 season, Gator Bait Magazine founder Marty Cohen told Gators fans Feb. 9 at Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg that “being a first year coach at any school, you’re usually walking into a difficult situation; there’s usually a reason why the previous guy left.”

“He walked into a very tough situation,” Cohen said. “He did not have a great deal of talent across the board at all spots. He was facing a murderous schedule. His quarterback, (John Brantley) who again was good but not great, got hurt.”

Muschamp had to play a freshman quarterback against Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge; “good luck with that,” Cohen said.

“So I think he had a lot of things going against him,” Cohen said. “ … There were some things he could have done better.”

“I don’t think he did a good job with you guys,” he said, adding that there is a “growing disconnect” between the grassroots fans and the program.

Muschamp is cautious and follows many of Alabama head Coach Nick Saban’s traits, such as “not very media friendly,” Cohen said.

“That style of coaching when you win 13 games a year is wonderful; when you go 7-6 people aren’t as thrilled with you,” Cohen said.

However, Muschamp “seems to have a pretty good personality when we get to see it,” he said.

Cohen also thinks Muschamp has put together a good staff.

“I will say this and it’s not his fault. I think it’s awfully difficult to be the head coach of the University of Florida when you have never been a head coach before,” Cohen said.

He said Florida went through the same situation before and the results were “kind of disastrous,” he said.

“The problem is, the next year is huge for him,” he said.

The Gators play a tough schedule, the team is young. A lot of holes need to be filled on the roster.

“It will be interesting how much patience the administration and you guys (the fans) have,” Cohen said.

Cohen, speaking at a post signing day Pinellas County Gator Club tailgate party, said Florida finished fourth or fifth in recruiting in the nation and signed 23 prospects.

One of the top offensive players is Matt Jones, who rushed for about 900 yards at Armwood High last season. Jones is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 213 pounds.

“If he is good as advertised, he’s going to get an opportunity,” Cohen said. “They’re hoping that Matt Jones is that big tailback for them.”

He said the Gators came up a “little short” at wide receiver, but were able to sign Latroy Pittman (6-0, 195) from North Marion High.

“He’s a very good athlete; he could play on both sides of the ball,” Cohen said.

Florida signed the top two tight ends in the country, he said, adding that tight ends have become more important in the offense that Muschamp wants to run. Among the signees is Ken Taylor (6-5, 225) from Land O’Lakes High.

On defensive, the Gators signed seven linemen, including one of the best pass rushers in America. Jonathan Bullard (6-3, 263) went to Crest High School in Shelby, N.C. – as did former Gator All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes.

“Keep your fingers crossed. He (Bullard) has some academic concerns,” Cohen said.

The biggest news for Florida was that outside linebacker Dante Flower (6-3, 263) from Lakewood High School signed with the Gators after committing to Florida State for 14 months, Cohen said.

Another local recruit, Jeremi Powell, (6-1, 193) who played outside linebacker at Pinellas Park High, is a “terrific athlete,” Cohen said.

Powell will have to “put on some size” to play linebacker, Cohen said, but could play safety if he doesn’t.

“To me this was a very, very good class on paper,” he said. “Not to the level of say Urban Meyer’s second class or Ron Zook’s (former head coaches) second class.

Muschamp will have an opportunity to look at the tape and “see what it is that he wants for the second class,” Cohen said.

“It’s that second class where you really have to make something happen,” he said.

Commenting on other issues, he called Tim Tebow “the greatest college player I ever put my eyes on.”

“If you look at the NFL, there are 15 guys off that 2008 national championship team who starred in the NFL this year,” he said.

It shows there has been a drop off in talent at Florida, he said.

“Who’s to blame for it? That’s a debate for another day,” he said.

For more information about the Pinellas County Gator Club, visit www.p­inell­ascou­ntyga­torcl­ub.co­m. E-mail at pinellasgators@yahoo.com.

Correction: Fixed spelling of Meyer.
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