Fast fail. In July of 2015 Steve Spurrier hastily called a press conference. Not a podium and microphone press conference, a Spurrier press conference. The kind where he stands somewhere random and holds court while beat writers jockey to get their iPhones and digital recorders as close to the HBC as possible.
Spurrier went on the attack, defending himself and Gamecock football against the “enemies” trying to tear down the program. This was in the wake of his infamous “gimme 2 or 3 more seasons coaching the Gamecocks” that was being used against him in recruiting. His press conference was widely decried by the media as petulant and paranoid. But in Gamecock circles, it energized us. We were like “hell yeah, Spurrier has a second wind” and our belief in him was renewed.
Little did we know it was the beginning of the end.
A 2-4 start led to Spurrier’s abrupt midseason retirement. While it was bad to lose our head coach in the middle of the season, it gave Ray Tanner a head start in a fairly rich pool of attainable coaches. But first we botched the Tom Herman hiring (no matter what you think of Herman today, that would’ve been an absolute home run hire at the time). Then we had Georgia pull an okey-doke on us and swoop in to get our plan B, Kirby Smart.
That left us with a small group that included Rich Rodriguez, Will Muschamp and Lincoln Riley. How Rodriguez ever made it that far is beyond me, but he managed to embarrass us by publicly turning down a job he was never offered. Riley, now the coach at a little school called Oklahoma, was deemed too young and inexperienced for such a big time job as South Carolina. Not mentioned in that pool were guys like Bronco Mendenhall and Justin Fuente, who are having success at Virginia and Virginia Tech, respectively.
So we hired Muschamp, the guy who was at best our third choice. Ray Tanner smiled and tried weakly to convince us Muschamp was the guy we were after all along, but we all knew that just wasn’t true. The man who was run out of Florida after only four years was merely a consolation prize.
But as Gamecock fans we jumped on board. What choice did we have.
Muschamp faired well in his first two years, taking a 3-9 team and going 6-7 in 2016 and then 9-4 in 2017. But there were deep flaws in those teams. Even in the 9-win season there was no real signature win. The second half of the bowl game gave us great hope heading into 2018 (and earned Bryan McClendon the offensive coordinator position), but masked a lot of problems we would not be able to overcome.
A humiliating 28-0 bowl loss at the end of 2018 gave way to a disheartening loss to North Carolina to start 2019, and the rumbling began. This was starting to look a lot like Muschamp’s Florida teams – no offensive identity, inability to develop a quarterback, lack of killer instinct when you have a lead, head-scratching in-game decisions. A signature win, (finally) over fourth-ranked Georgia in Athens got us all turned around. This Muschamp guy CAN coach, it’s just taken a little time.
But that game was fool’s gold. The Gamecocks completely collapsed and lost five of six games to finish the season. The last three games we scored one offensive touchdown. The season became a complete disaster.
So now we’re left with tough questions and tough decisions. Where do we go from here.
Muschamp and Tanner. Unless there is a stunning reversal, Will Muschamp is not getting fired. Despite only winning four games in his fourth year as head coach, he is going to survive because of an unbelievably horrible business deal made by Ray Tanner.
Tanner put his faith in a guy nobody else wanted four years ago, and then gave an extravagant buyout to the same guy who STILL nobody else wants. Barry Odom was just fired at Missouri after four years, and his buyout was less than two million dollars. Is Will Muschamp really worth ten times that number? It’s mind-boggling such an irresponsible deal would not only be agreed to by Tanner, but signed off on by the USC Board of Trustees. It’s insane.
Make no mistake, if Muschamp’s buyout was five million dollars, there would be a press conference today announcing his dismissal. He’s not being retained because he’s a good head coach, he’s being retained because we are not willing to buy him out.
So next year, at the helm will be the same guy who failed miserably at Florida, and has pulled the South Carolina program out of the ditch only to drive it right back in. Muschamp is a good representative for our university, he is a decent recruiter, he talks Xs and Os with the best of them.
Unfortunately, he’s just not a good head coach. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with him.
BMac. By all accounts a great recruiter, a great guy and a wonderful asset to our football team, Bryan McClendon has to go. I feel bad for McClendon because he was put in a very difficult position. Instead of hiring a proven play caller to try and fix the ONE THING that has dogged him in his head coaching career, Muschamp hired a guy who was never an offensive coordinator. Now he’s going to have one more chance to hire the right guy.
The players. Going into 2020 we lose our best defensive player (Javon Kinlaw) and our best offensive player (Bryan Edwards). We will have maybe one or two players listed on pre-season all-SEC teams, which whether you like it or not is an important measuring stick. Our recruiting class will be top 25, but number ten or worse in the SEC. We have no idea if Jake Bentley will return, and if not we have no idea if Ryan Hilinski is the player we thought he was going to be. We lose our top running back. We lose the best punter we’ve had in years. From a personnel standpoint, the outlook is bleak.
Recruiting. One prominent Gamecock twitterer/podcaster was fretting over losing our “top 20 recruiting class” if we let Muschamp go. First, the overall direction of the program is more important that one or two recruiting classes. Second, we struggle to beat teams, and often lose to teams that consistently have worse recruiting classes than us (see: Kentucky, Missouri, Appalachian State). Maybe we’re getting decent talent, but we’re letting it go to waste.
Use your eyes. We’ve said this a lot over the last couple of years. When you look at this football team and this coaching staff, what do you see. What I see is a middling SEC team that struggles to win games going away, and with one very notable exception fails to compete against teams with more talent than us.
We lost eight games this year, and five of them were by 20 or more points. FIVE. That’s unacceptable. That’s not competitive. As South Carolina fans we probably shouldn’t expect 10-win season after 10-win season, but is it unreasonable to expect we don’t get blown out in 40% of our games?
Hope. I’d say over the course of the ten years we’ve been running this blog and Twitter account we’ve been much more positive than negative. But it’s hard to be positive at the moment given what we’ve seen from the administration and coaching staff over the last few months. It has been severely mismanaged at the administrative level and our players have been victims of coaching malpractice on the field. Yet we are choosing to stay the course with a head coach who has never once proven he can be successful at it.
I hope one day someone can send this link back to us and say “haha you idiots wanted to fire Muschamp” because we’ve just won an SEC title. I hope Muschamp can make it work, I really do. I hope we can get this thing turned around and at least field a competitive team sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy.