Will Muschamp will be a success at South Carolina.
A resounding success.
There, I said it.
Stop laughing, all of you Florida fans.
I’m dead serious.
Muschamp may have flopped during four mostly forgettable seasons at the University of Florida, but he will thrive at a place where there is less pressure, lower expectations and a second chance to correct the mistakes he made at Florida.
Muschamp took center stage Thursday at SEC Media Days and was confident, reflective and, yes, funny. He joked about not remembering how he broke his finger during an emotional rant at halftime last season when he was defensive coordinator at Auburn. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve a little more than I should, so, I don’t remember that situation,” he deadpanned. “Sometimes, I black out.”
He even took a couple of good-natured shots at his Florida media critics, including poking fun at yours truly’s glowingly handsome chrome dome and distinctively melodic voice. Muschamp definitely won Media Days, but then again he always does. As one longtime SEC wag cracked on Thursday, “If his football record was the same as his record in press conferences, he’d still be the coach at Florida.”
That may be the case, but I still believe Muschamp to be a really good coach and relentless recruiter who will be able to win more than enough games to satisfy South Carolina fans. Even though Muschamp is replacing a legend (Spurrier) at South Carolina much like he did at Florida (Urban Meyer), the circumstances are completely different. The Gamecocks are under no delusions of grandeur after going 3-9 in Spurrier’s final season. In fact, South Carolina fans have never really been under any delusions of grandeur.
I still remember when Spurrier took the South Carolina job back in 2005 and I went up and interviewed him in Columbia. As you walked into South Carolina’s coaching offices back then there was a huge framed poster proclaiming: “The University of South Carolina: 1995 Carquest Bowl Champions.” And that’s when I realized why Spurrier chose to take the South Carolina job over a possible return to UF. He liked the idea of taking over at a place where winning a now-defunct bowl game was still considered a huge accomplishment.
“The fans up here are starving,” Spurrier told me then. “They’re looking for anything to be excited about. We have a chance to do things here that have never been done. I’d rather win one (SEC) division title here than five more there (at Florida).”
When Spurrier won 11 games for the first time at South Carolina in 2011, Gamecock Nation treated him like a conquering hero when he took the team to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. When Muschamp won 11 games at Florida the following year, UF fans still griped and bought less than half of the school’s allotment of tickets to the Sugar Bowl.
Of course, it was the following season when the bottom fell out and Muschamp went 4-8 with one of the most embarrassing losses in school history (see Georgia Southern). Ironically, Muschamp was ultimately fired after losing to South Carolina on a blocked punt with 39 seconds left that the Gamecocks converted into a game-tying touchdown and ultimate victory in overtime.
“I don’t get into the negative part of how it ended,” Muschamp says now. “That’s part of our profession. Things didn’t work, and a decision was made. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with the decision, but a decision was made.”
When asked what he learned from his experience at UF, Muschamp said: “We played well on defense over a four-year period. We played well on special teams … Academically, our guys did extremely well. Our coaches held guys accountable to do the right things. … We recruited very good players; Florida had more people drafted over the last two years than anybody in the SEC.
“Really, it comes back to offense. … I’m taking full responsibility for that and making it better in this situation.”
In four years, Muschamp’s offenses at UF averaged 336.5 yards per game, which ranked the Gators 117th out of the 128 FBS schools. What’s incredible is that Muschamp’s last UF offense (93rd nationally) was ranked 18 spots higher than Jim McElwain’s first UF offense (111th).
Here’s the thing to remember: When Spurrier had his greatest success at South Carolina with three straight 11-win seasons from 2011-13, it wasn’t because of the Head Ball Coach’s offensive genius; it was because of a dominant defense and a pounding running game – both Muschamp staples.
“Coach Spurrier and his staff have brought this program to relevance nationally, and that’s something we plan on building upon,” Muschamp says. “There is no three-year plan or five-year plan. The plan is to win now. That’s my mentality.”
I don’t know if Will Muschamp is going to win now at South Carolina, but he will eventually win big.
He’s too good a coach not to.
Stop laughing, all of you Gator fans.