It should be noted that no matter who South Carolina hired – Tom Herman, Kirby Smart, even if they somehow could have lured Nick Saban – the result wouldn’t be known for four or five years. Thus the tag of “good hire” or “bad hire” as it relates to Ray Tanner wouldn’t be known for four or five years.
So the immediate reaction to Tanner selecting Will Muschamp as the Gamecocks’ next football coach is politely summed as … curious.
Muschamp definitely knows defense, which has been a sore spot at USC for the past two seasons. He knows how to recruit, which has been a sorer spot at USC for the past five seasons. He fills Tanner’s desired criteria of being young and having had head coaching experience.
It’s that last that has many fans and media questioning the decision. Muschamp was a disaster in his only stint as head coach, and it was only two seasons ago – USC remembers it well, considering that he was terminated at Florida after the Gators coughed up an overtime loss to the Gamecocks.
An 11-win season in 2012 devolved into a stretch where the Gators were clueless offensively and couldn’t defend their home field, once one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the country. Muschamp’s defense was marvelous and from all reports, his players and staff loved him because he was a terrific person, but as a coach, he didn’t win at a school where he had to win.
The last time we saw Muschamp, he was displaying a world-class temper tantrum during this year’s Iron Bowl, earning 30 yards’ worth of penalties and having to be restrained by Auburn staffers. That doesn’t help Tanner’s cause, and neither does being able to boast of Muschamp’s defensive prowess, when Auburn finished 13th in the SEC in total defense this year – just above, coincidentally, USC.
Again, Muschamp is regarded as a defensive guru, ace recruiter and his former players and staffers rave about him. He certainly pushed for the job, even contacting Marcus Lattimore about a potential spot on his staff. He could have learned from his mistakes, be better this time around, and the pressure to win at USC won’t be nearly the pressure-cooker of Gainesville.
So that turns to Tanner’s second hurdle – how to handle the wave of negative press that has already hit, and what else will hit. A new coach would have had 2016 as a grace period, even USC fans realizing that things wouldn’t turn around right away. They could handle a second straight lousy season because the new coach had to get his system in place.
Hiring a guy that has a bad history as a head coach shortens that grace period considerably. The first time the Gamecocks lose to a team deemed unworthy by the fan base – say, Vanderbilt, which is the season-opener – Tanner is going to get more venom directed at him.
They wonder why it took so long to find any coach, considering USC had a head start on almost every other school but was among the last to get it done. They’ll need an answer from Tanner explaining that this was his plan all along, that he had a process and wasn’t in over his head during his first major hire.
USC targeted Herman and he decided to stay put, with a nice raise and I’m sure an eye on Texas in the future. The Gamecocks, I’m told, had Smart almost locked in, but then Georgia fired Mark Richt and Smart, like Muschamp a Georgia alum, went home.
Those are just bad luck. USC had its men and lost both. Then came the carousel, names of potential interviewers and other schools filling their openings. Whether it’s accurate or not, the court of public opinion painted USC’s search as a desperation scramble and there has not yet been any clearing of the air.
Again, nobody knows how this will work out. Muschamp hasn’t coached a game, hasn’t started recruiting, hasn’t filled his staff. It’s also USC, which before Steve Spurrier arrived was seven games below .500 lifetime. Three winning seasons in four years may not cut the mustard at Florida, but in Columbia, it’s worthy of a parade. And Muschamp did build this year’s SEC East champion – he just didn’t coach it.
Tanner will take some hits as the Coach Boom era begins, and more if Muschamp doesn’t start winning soon. That’s fine – he took hits during his glorious 16-year tenure as USC’s baseball coach, and he ignored all while winning prizes that had never been seen here. He often gambled during that stretch (Michael Roth to start a crucial College World Series game?) and he won. A lot.
He’s gambled again. The snake eyes or lucky seven won’t be discovered for years. While it may appear he’s being called on to pinch-hit already down 0-2 with two outs, Tanner always said it ain’t over until that 27th out is recorded.
Sometimes you rip a single to right and win the game and a championship.
Other times, you strike out.
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