David Cloninger

Commentary: Muschamp not sugarcoating Gamecocks’ problems

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp tdominick@thestate.com

It’s spring practice, so everything is supposed to be taken with a spoonful of salt.

Offense looked good? Well, it was going against your defense. Defense was outstanding? Well, what does that say about your offense?

The best way for a coach to approach it is to be generic. Overall, the team improved. Don’t worry about what happened in public viewings, because that was mostly for fan entertainment. When wrapping up spring practice and preparing for the interminable burned-chicken (no pun intended) booster club summer circuit, list a few high points and hope you don’t get asked about that screen pass on third-and-13 in the fourth quarter of the Wassamotta game last season.

Coach Will Muschamp handled his first spring at South Carolina very well. I expected the same coach-speak I’ve always heard. What I got was no-frills, which is fitting for a team facing a struggling 2016.

Disclaimer: South Carolina might very well have a nice season in 2016, for specifically the reason above. Spring practice, in the grand scheme, doesn’t mean a whole lot.

But I think we all agree that Muschamp didn’t walk into a great situation.

There are many questions about this team. There are several undecided spots. There isn’t a lot of returning talent.

Muschamp’s said every bit of that this spring, and it wasn’t in the Lou Holtz tone of explaining how Eastern Michigan could pull the upset. No sugar, no syrup from the Gamecocks’ first-year coach.

“We need to have more playmakers. We don’t have too much depth,” Muschamp said, after beginning with USC’s ongoing search for a quarterback. “On defense, the secondary is a concern just for coverage ability down the field.”

There’s no presenting the Gamecocks with a shiny new bow just because he’s in town. It’s not like a lot of injuries caused 3-9 last year and all those players are healthy now. While USC added a lot of new faces, they’re just that – new, as in inexperienced for the SEC. When Muschamp said the secondary was “light years” away from where it needed to be, that was not an insult to the players’ ability or startling news to folks who have watched the Gamecocks try to defend the pass the past two years.

As has been covered several times, the Gamecocks’ systemic failure in recruiting since the middle of the 33-6 three-year run has left them well behind what they’re going to face this season. I think the line you’re going to hear repeated more and more this year is the classic Steve Spurrier Jr. riff from last year, when asked why there were so many walk-ons on the depth chart – “It means we’ve got some good walk-ons here,” he replied.

As in, “Good enough to play over guys we put on scholarship.”

Muschamp didn’t come in saying that USC was going to start competing for SEC titles and making yearly plans to not be home for Christmas. He came in saying that he and his staff won’t be outworked (and they’re living up to that) and his players would be great representatives for the school (no problems thus far).

He didn’t promise great things, because he’s seen the Gamecocks the last two years from spots at other SEC institutions, and he viewed this year’s roster the way the two pier workers in “Major League” described the Indians’ Opening Day 25-man. And he knows better than anyone how early success in a new spot doesn’t mean automatic long-term grace from the outside.

The best way to start his USC tenure is to say without saying, “Be prepared for a long and rocky road.” That’s what he’s been doing. He gets the added bonus of whatever success the Gamecocks have under him will be directly because of him, since nothing was inherited from the previous regime.

It’s Muschamp’s program now. He’s taking ownership of its problems despite having nothing to do with creating them.

Success starts at the foundation, and Muschamp has started building it.

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