Muschamp is loving it at Lovett

You may call it the Muschamp Croup, although the condition is by no means unique to any one family of football coaches. By late fall there are countless of their kind who, like Lovett’s Mike Muschamp, are afflicted by a raspy cough and a voice rubbed raw from a long season of Metallica-grade screaming.

The Muschamps just get an inordinate amount of publicity for their intensity. Well, Will, mostly. The Florida Gators coach is frequently pictured going all Krakatoa on the sidelines. But big brother Mike cedes nothing.

“We’re pretty much a dead heat,” he said, croaky around the edges here with Christmas fast approaching. “Will may be a little more (volatile) than I am but he’s calmed down a little bit. If you bottle it up, you’re going to have some serious health issues. You got to let it out and we’ve always done that.”

“One moment it’s, ‘What’s up, buddy?’ The next, he could be screaming in your face,” smiled Lovett’s Grant Haley, senior running back/defensive back. “That’s what football coaches do. It means he cares about you.”

The Georgia Dome on Saturday will be filled with the sounds of deeply caring Muschamps when 13-1 Lovett plays 14-0 Lamar County for the state Class AA championship. Father Larry, who began the family tradition coaching at East Rome High School, will be there. As will Will, who might get a little recruiting done on the side. Another brother, Pat, is a civilian, the vice president of a Georgia-based home décor company. Pretty sure Mike will show, too, given the chance to win Lovett’s first state football title in 43 years.

While Will Muschamp’s season was a certified disaster — beset by a plague of injuries, the Gators had their worst record (4-8) since 1979 — brother Mike enjoyed a diametrically opposite experience. Every team on the Lions schedule save one made the playoffs and yet they suffered only the single loss, in overtime, to Class AAA finalist Washington County. Among their victims this year was Class AAAA semifinalist Marist, Class AAA semifinalist Blessed Trinity as well as a playoff team from Alabama’s second-largest classification, Ft. Payne.

Photos of different state championship teams line two walls of the Lovett athletic building. There have been 106 through the years, 27 alone in boys and girls tennis. Muschamp has had his moments in nine seasons at Lovett, reaching the semifinals four times and the finals once (2007). Yet football has had a difficult time breaking through onto those solid walls of acclaim.

“If we’re fortunate enough to win that trophy Saturday, it would be a tremendous reward for our kids, because of the time and effort they put into everything they do around here,” Muschamp said. “Football is a very demanding sport. Hopefully this team can create incentive for the next several classes to try to attain the same level in it as our other sports. That would be a great tribute to this group of kids.”

It is a little different breed of player at a little different type of high school than many in the South whose orbits are prescribed by football. On the banks of the Chattahoochee, set among the lovely homes of Paces Ferry Road, Lovett is not a place easily ruled by one distraction. These kids have the means to sample from many.

Preparations for last week’s semifinal against Brooks County were interrupted when a large portion of the team, including the quarterback, had to leave practice early for a chorus commitment.

Both parents of the most skilled player and only Division-I commitment, Haley (Vanderbilt), are doctors.

One lineman would rather drink lye than Pepsi. Senior Patrick Keough is the grandson of former Coke President and COO Donald Keough.

If a fellow happens to be a big man on this campus, it’s “not because you’re a football player,” Keough said. “It’s usually by the way you carry yourself. Being a football player is secondary.”

For the kids who have so much, a state football championship is still a golden goal. That’s something you can’t buy. Haley, also a centerfielder, won one in baseball last year, yet conceded, “There is something about football. We have been together from camp for what, 21 weeks? After all that, you want to do it for each other.”

“It’s something I wanted to be a part of my whole life,” said senior linebacker/lineman Charlie Ingram, who has been at Lovett from pre-K days. “I remember being in middle school in ‘07 when the team went to the state championship. In the semis when we got blown out by Dublin (in 2006) and didn’t get in, it was awful. I’ve always been looking up to the football players my whole time at Lovett, wanting to have this kind of opportunity. It’s so good to have it in my senior season.”

Muschamp has drilled into these teenagers the value of sacrificing some of the perks of privilege to put their hands in the dirt and keep their pads low.

He has fought back the easy stereotypes of private school kids being too soft or too spoiled to play hard-nosed football, producing an undersized team that is flinty enough that it could have come right off the farm.

“We battle with our kids to grasp that: When you step between the white lines, it doesn’t matter how much money you got, doesn’t matter who Daddy is, it’s about how well did you prepare. How much do you want it? That’s the bottom line,” Muschamp said.

“If you’re going to sacrifice the amount of time we’re asking you to — putting in that time and effort into the weight room and conditioning and practice — then you need to make this count. This is an investment. You going to do all this? Then you need to get a payoff.”

Approaching his 50th birthday, Muschamp has found his place in the coaching universe. He, like brother Will, was on the college coaching track early in his career, a coordinator at the University of West Alabama, an interim head coach who recommended an acquaintance to fill the vacancy. That fellow got the job, then promptly fired Muschamp. “That was a great learning experience for me,” he now says.

Guided by the words of another old coach, now gone — “Make the job you got the job you always wanted” — he has made Lovett a position that he can wear like a custom-tailored suit.

“I have the greatest job of all time. I have fun every day,” he said.

You may call that the Muschamp Coup.