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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley gets it: the school is still paying former coach Will Muschamp and paying for it on the recruiting trail.
It's not an ideal situation.
But it's one the Gators put themselves in when they fired Muschamp and had no real protection from something like this happening in his contract.
"I get the angst that that causes," Foley said Monday. "But at the end of the day, we terminated Will. It's not like he moved on on his own. We terminated his contract. We said we needed to go in a different direction. He's free to work. He's free to go get a job. He's free to do his job."
Foley has gotten plenty of flak for how things unfolded with Muschamp, who was fired in late November with three years remaining on his deal. Auburn hired Muschamp less than two weeks later, and Muschamp recruited against Florida while still getting paid by the Gators.
Muschamp played a pivotal role in signing five-star defensive end Byron Cowart, widely regarded as the nation's top recruit, and fellow four-star linebacker Jeffery Holland. Both Sunshine State recruits were among Florida's top targets. Muschamp also helped Auburn flip offensive tackle Mike Horton, and land receiver Ryan Davis of St. Petersburg and Javarius Davis of nearby Jacksonville.
Muschamp had a provision in his Florida contract that precluded him from recruiting against his former program — but only if his new school had not had any prior contact with those recruits. Auburn and Florida, both in the Southeastern Conference, have contact with hundreds of the same high school players every year.
Nonetheless, Florida is still on the hook to pay its former coach $6.3 million, and got no relief from that settlement — called mitigation — when the Tigers made Muschamp the highest-paid assistant in the country.
Foley is still working on details of new coach Jim McElwain's six-year contract, but declined to say whether mitigation would be part of the deal.
"I'm not really hung up on that," Foley said. "I know some people are. If Will didn't work at all, we're still paying him the same amount of money. That's the world we live in. This is the big leagues. These coaches have a tough job. These coaches are in demand. When you're negotiating contracts with them. I'm not really worried about that."
McElwain more than held his own in recruiting, landing 21 players and a few top prospects despite being on the job just two months.
But much of the attention that day focused on Muschamp, who was working for Auburn and against Florida.
"Well, obviously the guy's a great ball coach and he had obviously some insights that I'm sure they were able to use," McElwain said on signing day. "But it's never about anybody else. It's about what we have and who we are, and we're very secure in that and know we're going to move forward and be successful in what we're trying to accomplish. That's part of the game."
McElwain has made it clear he wants to modify Florida's infrastructure, most notably by adding a few extra bodies to coordinate the year-round grind of recruiting.
He also said the Gators needed to upgrade their facilities. Last week, Florida broke ground on a $15 million indoor practice facility. Foley said other projects could follow, depending on finances. Florida already has more than $100 million in on-campus projects on tap, including a $50 million renovation to the O'Connell Center that's scheduled to begin in March.
And the athletic program has $90 million in debt, with Foley making it clear he doesn't want to take on more than $100 million.
"Obviously the Gator Nation wants to get this ship turned when it relates to football," he said. "It's our job to do everything we can. It's not like Mac has been banging on tables. Mac has been very good to work with, easy to work with and he's conveyed his vision as he did during the interview process. ... His fingerprints are going to be on the program. That's no different any time you bring a coach in here, but he made it clear what his vision was as it related to infrastructure, and it's my job to help him achieve all those things."
Of course, it will come while the Gators are still paying Muschamp.
"We're all fine," Foley said. "It's good conversation. It's angst. But, you know, we terminated Will's contract. He's free to go make a living like anybody else."
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