Coming off a 3-9 season, USC fans have hard questions about how quickly the Gamecocks can recover under new coach Will Muschamp.
USC’s boss, president Harris Pastides, is not willing to wait long for the football team to rebound.
“So is it where we want to be today? No,” Pastides told The State after the former Florida coach was introduced Monday. “But I’m not buying into a three- or five-year turnaround. I want to be back to success next season.”
Here are excerpts of Pastides’ interview with the The State where he discussed goals for the Gamecocks, what he would say to fans who are unhappy about Muschamp’s hire and what role former coach Steve Spurrier could play with the program:
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What is the state of the program?
“A lot of people have said that the program has fallen so far and so quickly, and I look at that as a two-way street, because that’s how quickly we can get back to the top. Coach Muschamp already told me that we’re in good shape. I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ He said, ‘I can get even more out of the talent we have’ and he’s going out recruiting this afternoon.”
What does success look like next year?
“Competing for the SEC Eastern (division) championship. I think that’s got to be the proximal goal. Anything less than that to me wouldn’t feel right as a fan. I think given the state of the SEC East without necessarily a consistent, dominant team over the last few years, I think that’s within sight. Coach is going to tell us what his goals are. I’m talking more as a fan about it.”
After Muschamp’s first season, Pastides wants the Gamecocks vying for the SEC title and a spot in the national playoffs.
Has recent success of other USC programs — two baseball national titles, women’s basketball Final Four appearance and three 11-win football seasons — bolstered expectations?
“I think that’s why people were nervous about the timing of the search, and how it is was going to turn out.”
What would you say to fans who think USC settled on Muschamp after pursuits of other coaches failed?
“Actually, I think he was the first choice. I can’t speak to people who might have been in conversations with Ray (Tanner, USC’s athletics director) before that. But I can you, he never brought another name to me. And so it wasn’t like, ‘I’d like to make that person an offer,’ and then he calls me up and says, ‘Can’t get him, how about this fella?’ It never happened that way. He only delivered one name to me and to the board chairman and that was Will.”
What would you say to fans who are disappointed about Muschamp’s hiring?
“Watch the press conference and then tell me if you remain disappointed. But truth be told, it’s not about a press conference. I would say stick with us through the spring and through next season and then send me another email and tell me what you think.”
USC spoke with South Florida coach Willie Taggart, an African-American. Was there a requirement to interview diverse candidates?
“We promote inclusion and diversity. There maybe have been more (than one diverse candidate). I know coach Tanner had a consultant, somebody who specializes in seeking diverse candidates. But I also don’t think he went through the motions, like, ‘Let’s get one.’ ” (Tanner said he spoke early in the search process with other African-American coaches, one of whom recommended interviewing Taggart. “I didn’t have any (goal) to satisfy,” Tanner said.)
Much has been made about Muschamp’s fiery demeanor. How do you expect him to balance that?
“Coach Spurrier used to throw the visor. Not as much lately, but I think people liked it when he did that. I think drawing (a) penalty is what we don’t want to see. We want fans in the stands to think of (Muschamp) as passionate, intense, but a role model. I think we’ve got one.”
What role could former coach Steve Spurrier play with the program?
“I don’t want to handcuff coach Muschamp in any way. There are a lot of people I admire, respect and like within the football program, but he’s not going to hear from me with that kind of advice. If we’re talking about non-football, I would love for Steve to help the university and work with us. I plan on having dinner with him before the holidays. And maybe we’ll talk about that a little bit. I wouldn’t expect any big announcement, though, or any big role. But we hope he stays in Columbia, and we hope he’s willing to help the university.”
What would the Gamecock program look like at the end of the Muschamp era?
“By that time, I hope to be sitting in the stadium as a fan, not as a president. I hope (his USC career) outlives my tenure. Let me, for the fans, make sure that I not mince my words: We want to win it all. We want to win big. It is how you play the game, and it is also how well you play the game. So I would love for this university to experience a SEC East divisional championship, a SEC championship and then go all the way.”
With the spurt of projects under Spurrier and plans for a football operations center, will USC have the facilities to make that happen?
“I think we’re there now. And they tell me, I’m not an expert, that the operations center is necessary. That’s a decision for the board, me and others to make. I’ll hold my breath, but please don’t tell me that there’s something after that, because I can’t even dream about what that would be.”