John Adams: Rivalry no laughing matter

John Adams

Will Muschamp talks before spring meetings

DESTIN, Fla. — The Tennessee-Florida football rivalry is about to take a sharp turn. You don’t have to be aware of too much history to appreciate how sharp.

It wasn’t that long ago when Florida coach Steve Spurrier was dominating the Vols and needling UT coach Phillip Fulmer in the process. For example, try spelling Citrus Bowl without a “U” and a “T.”

And it was only a couple of years back that UT coach Lane Kiffin practiced his comedic skills at the expense of Florida coach Urban Meyer. Remember that Nu’Keese Richardson zinger? Kiffin got more laughs out of him than receptions.

But putdown humor is now passé. While the rivalry isn’t all buddy-buddy, the rivals at least have a couple of buddies in charge.

UT second-year coach Derek Dooley and Florida first-year coach Will Muschamp became friends as assistants on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU. The friendship has remained intact despite their different career paths.

“He’s a really good friend,” Dooley said at the SEC spring meetings. “Assistants become really close, especially on Nick’s staff.

“When I was at Louisiana Tech, we spoke nearly every week and every other week last season. We still speak. We just have to be more guarded.”

Dooley has had to manage friendships before in the face of rivalries. He did so last year when the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry pitted him against Saban, his friend and mentor.

Despite Dooley’s shared history with Muschamp and Saban’s profound influence on both, the UT coach doesn’t know exactly what to expect from his friendly rival.

“I’ve never seen him as a head coach,” Dooley said. “I haven’t gone against him in practice or a game in four or five years.

“Philosophically, I know what he stands for. I’m not sure that will make it any easier to prepare for (Florida).”

You probably don’t need Dooley’s input to characterize a Muschamp defense. Not if you caught his sideline act at Auburn or Texas when he invariably was the most animated person not in uniform.

So you would expect a Muschamp defense to be aggressive, energized and prone to chest bumps. Although Muschamp has made his reputation on defense, his offensive philosophy isn’t a mystery.

“I’d love to be 50-50 (running and passing),” he said. “But you’ve got to do a good job of evaluating your talent. We will tailor our offense based on those guys.”

Those guys include quarterback John Brantley, who never advanced beyond the survival level in Meyer’s spread offense last season. But the pro-style offense implemented by new Florida coordinator Charlie Weis doesn’t come with proven wide receivers and running backs attached. No system can right all the wrongs evident in Florida’s offense last season.

This isn’t the Florida you remember under Spurrier or the first five years under Meyer. This could be Ron Zook revisited.

And it could be time for another sharp turn in the rivalry, which has gone Florida’s way since 2004. Aside from Kentucky, Florida is the most likely opportunity for UT to win on the road this season.

No matter who wins in September, there’s more apt to be a follow-up phone call than a punch line.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 9

FWBVol writes:

I don't think fans really care who the coaches are at Florida or Tennessee. The fact is most Volunteer fans and most Gator fans don't like each other much...at least not during football season.

BigVolinCarolina writes:

We desperately need a "W" against Florida. Until then, we don't have a whole lot to talk about.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

My hatred for the "Swamp Things" began with coach Superior at the helm! It has transferred somewhat to the chickens, however not as much since Steve got his fill of humble pie while coaching the Deadskins! he he! For this game to become the rivalry that it once was, we need a few wins (in a row would be good!) to balance things back in our favor! It would be a feather in Dooley's cap if we could get one this year! I am leery of these preseason predictions that the Gators are not going to be good this year!...have they not had top 5 recruiting classes for several years in a row?! I know they have a new system to learn and so on, but they've still got plenty of 4 and 5 star players, so why are they being picked so far down in the polls?

VolMoment writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes, Adams is what he is. He would never mention how Spurrier said it was the perfect setting for his final victory as Fla. coach. I was there, but even if you watched on TV, The Vols dominated the game. Jason Whitten had the worst game of his carrer. He fumbled in our own territory and had a ball taken away from him around the 50 yard line. Our running game made Fla. defense look like it didn't belong in the SEC. I was in Fla. super booster fund parking area after the game, they were in shock and were blasting Stevie. I had class and kept my mouth shut. When one belligerent fan asked, "aren't you going to say anything?" I replied," Yeal I got a little worried when we gave Fla. 14 points." Is that all you can say he asked? Yes , because after all, all we did was beat Fla. what is the big deal. The cussing from some supposely righteous fans I encountered made me realize how much better it is to be a Vol fan and lose some than be a night crawler Fla. fan and win!!!

bUTchVFL writes:

6-6 should be easy this year, but it's that 7th or 8th win that would really make this season exciting. I would be happy with UF, UGA, or SC.

cage952 writes:

He's right about it being one of the road games we can win. I think florida will be overrated (along with georgia) so we might surprise some people.

Huttdawg100 writes:

The streak ends 9-17-11. Tennessee 33 Florida 13
The7Maxims on twitter

VOLliven2it writes:

I really don't care about top recruiting classes, how good FLA might be, win or losing streaks. I want to see the guys from Knoxville come out believing in themselves and playing their hearts out the whole game. If that happens we have a chance to win. Rivalry or not, I want us to give them a fight they won't forget and I'd love it if we came away with a win.

OrangeHeart writes:

I was also in the Swamp in 2001. I was hoarse for a week afterwards. I must say though, that my dealings with the Fl fans was quite different after the game. While they were upset that they lost....just like any UT fan would be....they didn't say anything negative to me, or about our team. In fact, most I talked to flat out admitted that we beat them a lot worse than the score showed. I was actually even asked to sit and drink beer with them after the game.....which I did :)Gotta say, that was one heck of a game though.

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