College coaches connect with boosters year-round
LAKELAND - It's 6:28 on a Wednesday night in late April as new Florida coach Will Muschamp walks to the podium to a standing ovation of more than 1,000 fans that paid $35 and up to hear the new Gators coach expound on the Florida State game, who will be on his offensive line and just generally get a feel for who this guy is. The ovation gets a little louder until Muschamp begins to speak in his first offseason function as the head coach. "You all are what makes Florida special," Muschamp declares. One of his favorite stories is telling how he was at an awards event in New York when UF athletic director Jeremy Foley called him about the Gators job. Muschamp thought it was a joke being played on him by a friend so he was curt with Foley … until he realized it wasn't an imposter and the interest was sincere.Muschamp finds some of the questions amusing: "Do I like big running backs that can really run fast? I think there are 1,000 people here who can answer that one." And he breaks out with a cliche: "It's not the X's and O's, it's the Henrys and the Joes." A buffet and Muschamp's remarks digested, fans file up to get Muschamp's autograph. The summer for college football has officially begun. Across the nation, coaches making millions of dollars put off recruiting and vacation getaways to court the faithful one last time. And fans everywhere are more concerned about "next season" than the past. A 2008 Gators national championship T-shirt is among the fundraising items on tables around the room. Its price: $6. "I think it's important to get out and see everybody," Muschamp said. "A lot of these folks are the ones sitting in the stands, buying the tickets, so I think it's important to get out and see them." USF coach Skip Holtz will be making the rounds this week with trips to Dallas today and Atlanta on Tuesday before hosting another event on campus Friday. He enjoys the events, particularly the personal interaction with program supporters. "You have the opportunity to be able to sit down and talk football and answer questions and to put personalities with faces," Holtz said. "Some of the questions may be about your family, how your kids have adjusted, how's your life in Tampa, those things. It's not just football. Obviously you have a message that you're trying to get across when you go out to these things and educate everybody on how you're trying to build your program and … the role that they play in the success that you're going to have." Booster events are perhaps more important to new head coaches like Muschamp and Al Golden in Miami. But FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who went through the booster circuit for the first time last year after replacing Bobby Bowden, doesn't necessarily agree. "I don't think (meeting fans is important) just the first year," Fisher said. "You have to be consistent and they have to see you and what you stand for." Holtz echoed those sentiments. "Year one has a totally different tune to it and a different message to it in what you're trying to get done than year 10, but I think every year it's important that you do it," Holtz said. "I think it maintains your touch with the communities, it maintains your touch with the fundraising club, the Bulls Club or the Iron Bulls, whatever group you're talking to. They travel here several times a year; I don't think it's too much to ask us to travel there once and to put it together. I enjoy this side of it because it's the people side of it. This is the opportunity where not only do they get the opportunity to meet you, but you get an opportunity to get out and meet them as well." '' At Miami, Golden said it's important for him to interact with boosters. His message? "I'll probably just do what I've been doing here," he said. "Be honest and communicate what I've seen and what we've done and not really look backwards but look forward, be forward with them and share what our core values are and what our expectations are. … I try to keep it casual and answer their questions and try to avail myself as much as possible to know as many of them on a personal level."
Tampa Tribune reporter Adam Adkins contributed to this report.