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Where There's A Will, There's A Way

By Jay Coulter

Women love him and men want to be like him. That’s a statement usually reserved for leading men in Hollywood. These days it applies to a defensive coordinator residing in Lee County, Alabama.

In less than two years, Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has drawn a cult like following among Auburn fans. The former Georgia Bulldog safety and co-captain is the toast of the college football world.

Earlier this week, Muschamp was named Defensive Coordinator of the Week by the Master Coaches Survey - a group of former head coaches. His defense shut down the two best running backs in the country in Darren McFadden and Felix Jones – something that had not happened until Saturday.

Muschamp gets as many looks during a game as his defenders. It’s not uncommon for the 36 year-old to come off the field after a game sweating as much as his linemen. Watching him jump up and down and scream at and for his players is just as entertaining as the action on the field.

To say this guy is intense is an understatement. Listening to him during a recent radio interview, you could hear the intensity in his voice – and it was only Tuesday.  

Watching him on the sidelines, you get the sense that he’s dying inside because he can’t suit up and play. And few would argue that he could still play if he had any eligibility left.

Head coach Tommy Tuberville couldn’t be happier with what he sees in Muschamp and the defense.

"I stay out of his way, especially when the team has done well, and they are coming off of the field," said Tuberville.

"I've thought about doing the same thing, but I have to think about the other side of the ball, too. Will does a good job. He coaches hard from the time the ball is kicked off to the end. He takes it personal and the players like that.

"He will get in their face, and he will grab them. They know that he is out there for them, and that's fun to see. You can do that more with defense.

"Offense is more finesse-type side of the ball and defense is more of just getting after it and hitting somebody and making plays. He's right there in that as all the coaches are, and it's been fun to watch."

The sideline acts are amusing, but what makes him the most popular guy in Auburn these days are the results.

The statistics from the last three games have been mind-boggling. Despite playing without the services of arguably his four best players for all or part of the run, the Auburn defense has dominated three of the best offenses in the country.

At Florida, the Gators came into the game averaging 517 yards of total offense. They left Florida field that night with 312 total yards.

The following week at home against Vanderbilt they clamped down again, allowing just 221 yards of total offense against a Commodore team that was averaging 350 yards a contest.

Last Saturday was perhaps Muschamp’s most impressive feat. In what was expected to be a high scoring contest, the Auburn defense throttled the Arkansas running attack, allowing only one touchdown late and surrendering a meager 193 yards of total offense.

Even more impressive was how the Tiger defense surrendered less than 100 yards of rushing to the Razorback duo.

This weekend at LSU means a lot to Muschamp even though he won’t admit it. He served as defensive coordinator for the Bayou Bengals from 2001-2004, helping lead them to the national championship in 2003.

"He kind of puts that aside and doesn't make that a big focal point, but you know it's a big game for him," defensive tackle Josh Thompson said. "He doesn't want to lose to anybody, but especially LSU."

Auburn enters Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge with the tenth-ranked defense in the country. LSU will counter with the second-ranked defense nationally. They are 1-2 in the SEC in total defense.

Speculation has already started on what the future holds for Muschamp. It goes without saying that he’ll one day lead his own program.

The question is, where does he go from here?

Georgia fans are already speculating that the Dawgs will make a play for him at the end of the season. He turned down Alabama coach Nick Saban in January. Muschamp served under Saban at both LSU and the Miami Dolphins.

Auburn lost Gene Chizik as its coordinator to Texas a few seasons back. Chizik said he left the Tigers for Texas because he felt like the Longhorns gave him the best shot to land a big name head coaching job.

Things didn’t exactly pan out that way for Chizik. He’s currently the head coach at Iowa State, regarded by many as the Vanderbilt of the Big 12 (on the field). Heading into Saturday’s homecoming game with Oklahoma, Chizik carries a 1-6 record.

You would have to think that Tuberville will get the checkbook out at the end of the year to try and keep Muschamp. Tuberville is considered one of the best coaches to work for in Division 1-A. That was proven when Muschamp told Saban no.

Muschamp has made it clear that he has no intentions of returning to the NFL. The lure of his alma mater will be strong. But you have to believe that Muschamp knows a good thing when he sees it.

He’s beloved in Auburn and should Tuberville decide to leave in the near future, you have to believe that he would be given a hard look when filling the job (no, I do not think Tuberville is going anywhere).

One thing is fairly certain. At this point in the season, these things are the furthest from Will Muschamp’s mind. He’s too busy having the time of his life with a group of young players who would follow him anywhere.