HOOVER, Ala. - As Will Muschamp stepped to the podium in front of a large group of print media at Southeastern Conference media days Wednesday afternoon, moderator Kevin Trainer welcomed the first-year University of Florida football coach back to the annual event.
Though he was making his media days debut after leaving his defensive coordinator position and coach-in-waiting label at Texas, Muschamp is no stranger to the SEC.
The former Georgia safety coached with Alabama coach Nick Saban and Tennessee coach Derek Dooley on Saban's staff at LSU before a stint as Auburn's defensive coordinator and remains close with his former coaching mates.
"I wouldn't say we all get along that well," Muschamp said smiling. "I don't have any problem with having great respect and liking somebody that we're competing against."
The 39-year-old takes over a Florida program that won the 2006 and 2008 national titles under former coach Urban Meyer, so the rebuilding job Muschamp faces with the Gators might not be as difficult as most first-year coaches.
"I think more than anything, if it's not broke, don't fix it," he said. "Urban did a phenomenal job. He and his staff, they did some great things that we're going to continue to do. But obviously from a scheme standpoint, we feel different defensively [and] offensively."
Muschamp does have some repairs to do, however.
Florida's status among the nation's elite was in name only in 2010 when the Gators struggled offensively and went just 8-5 The Gators' roster is a little broken as well, as Florida begins fall camp with just 73 scholarship players, including 23 upperclassmen (eight seniors and 15 juniors).
The usual attrition that comes with coaching changes continued after spring practice when receivers Chris Dunkley and Javares McCoy and running back Mike Blakely chose to transfer and Muschamp dismissed Janoris Jenkins following the star cornerback's third arrest in 23 months.
Sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball, who was diagnosed in spring with vascular condition with which he was born, won't be part of team, and his status, Muschamp said, will be reevaluated in January or February
"We can't afford any injuries up front," Muschamp said. "I have to do a good job of balancing that throughout fall camp. On the offensive and defensive lines, right now we're going to have to cross-train guys at both positions to prepare for injury. We have a lot of moving parts that could hinder our process."
The Gators could be short one of their playmakers as well. Tailback Jeff Demps, with his coach's permission, is currently with the U.S. national track team in Italy, and Muschamp will meet with the 2010 NCAA indoor 60-meter and 100-meter outdoor champion next week to discuss Demps' long-term football status.
"I expect him to be a part of our football team," Muschamp said. "Based on our conversations, he'll be back."
Muschamp will have the familiarity of coaching in a conference he's known for most of his life.
"That's a big thing," Florida quarterback John Brantley said. "He knows what to expect, and when you see your head coach, your main leader, not getting rattled going into these places, that's contagious to us and that makes us more relaxed."
Said Muschamp: "I've got high expectations for what we need to accomplish, what we need to do. We talk to our team all the time about winning championships on and off the field."