Take a man with previous head coaching experience in the SEC. An architect of defenses that never finished lower than 15th nationally in yards allowed. A well-known recruiter whose signing classes ranked fifth, eighth, 12th, and fourth nationally.
Sounds like a home run hire for South Carolina, doesn’t it?
That man, 44 year-old Will Muschamp, was introduced Monday as South Carolina’s 34th head football coach at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Yet the last question that athletic director Ray Tanner fielded at Muschamp’s press conference was about the social-media anxiety his hiring had generated.
“We got our man. We got a Gamecock,” Tanner replied, drawing applause from the Board of Trustees and Gamecock Club members seated on the right side of the Zone. "Buckle up your seatbelt. Get on board.”
It’s true that Muschamp went 28-21 in his four seasons at Florida (a tenure that included a Sugar Bowl appearance, which at last check, wasn’t given out by raffle). Even he acknowledged that he wished his time in Gainesville had ended differently.
But move past the optics. Focus on the fit, not the flash. Muschamp addresses the two areas that can help turn around the Gamecocks the fastest: defense and recruiting.
South Carolina’s halcyon era, a 33-6 run from 2011 to 2013 was built on both. Yes, the Gamecocks had all-time great offensive players like Connor Shaw, Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Bruce Ellington, and others. But during that span, South Carolina never finished higher than 36th nationally in total offense, 31st in scoring offense.
The Gamecocks’ lowest finish in total defense during that time? 19th. South Carolina churned out terrific skill players, but defense was still the bulwark of those teams.
At Florida, Muschamp was known for assembling defenses that played fast and physical. In two of the last four seasons, the Gamecocks’ worst offensive games came against – you guessed it – Florida. The defense he bequeathed to the Gators finished sixth nationally in 2015, and reached the SEC Championship game against Alabama.
The SEC will always be a “line of scrimmage” league. From Auburn to LSU to Florida, Muschamp has shown an ability to build defenses that are up to code.
He’s also built a reputation as a dogged recruiter and talent evaluator. It was no surprise that three hours after he stepped off the podium at Williams-Brice Stadium, the first photos surfaced of Muschamp visiting a prospective recruit. The Gamecocks’ new coach may have said he doesn’t pay attention to star ratings, but the numbers are undeniable. At Florida, Muschamp strung together four consecutive signing classes that ranked 12th or higher nationally according to Rivals.com. South Carolina has only had one of those in the last decade.
“I see myself as a lot like Coach Tanner – a blue-collar guy who’s going to outwork you,” Muschamp said, an ethos that could easily apply to his efforts on the recruiting trail. That inexhaustible energy will help the Gamecocks shrink the talent gap, and fast.
Give him the trust that he’ll learn from his experiences in Gainesville, and bring consistency and stability to the offensive side of the ball. Give him the faith that he’ll hire a bright, tenacious group of assistants, full of big ideas and bigger chips on their shoulders.
Here, take another blind taste test. Read the following paragraphs about another once-fired, defensive-minded head coach:
“You know what I said when I heard they were hiring [fill in the blank]?
Maybe you said the same thing.
That came from a Los Angeles Times column published December 16, 2000. Care to guess the head coach the writer was referring to?
Pete Carroll at Southern Cal.
It’s easy for Twitter and message boards to feed fans’ angst and distort their perspective. But here’s a better idea: embrace Will Muschamp with the same energy and passion that he plans on bringing to South Carolina. The Gamecocks just landed an elite recruiter, a proven defensive mind, and a man who has already been tested in the head coaching crucible of the SEC.
Gamecock football fans have always thrived on a “prove ‘em wrong” mentality. Will Muschamp, entering his second stint as an SEC head coach, may be the embodiment of that.
Talk about a fit.
Better yet, just heed the words of the athletic director who hired the Gamecocks’ new head coach.
Said Ray Tanner at Monday’s press conference, unofficially kicking off the Will Muschamp era: “Here we go. If you want to be fast and furious, that’s where we’re going.”