What's next for South Carolina's offense?
The Kurt Roper era that South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp often defended and Gamecocks fans often lambasted is over.
“After much deliberation, I have decided to go in a different direction with the offensive coordinator position on our football team,” head coach Will Muschamp announced in a statement Wednesday morning. “We appreciate Kurt’s contributions to our program and to the University and wish him all the best.”
Muschamp’s statement -- which stated that he “relieved co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper of his duties effective immediately” – put to bed a week of speculation about Roper’s job status. As recently as Sunday, Muschamp said he expected Roper to call the plays for South Carolina in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl. Instead, that will be done by wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon, Wednesday’s statement announced. McClendon has shared the co-offensive coordinator title with Roper since both were hired two seasons ago.
“I’m not going to get into speculation and sources said and business like that. Right now, he’s our offensive coordinator and that’s all I know,” Muschamp said Sunday.
Muschamp added at that time that he expected more from the Gamecocks offense.
“We need to be more productive offensively,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that, and that’s the first thing (Roper) would tell you as well.”
Roper could not be reached immediately for comment. His full-time replacement will not be named until after the bowl game.
“We have a very competent offensive staff and competent offensive coordinator and those guys do a good job,” he said in early October. “We have to be more productive. They don’t disagree. They think we need to be more productive, and they are working tirelessly to make sure that happens.”
Roper spent three seasons as Muschamp’s offensive coordinator, including the last two at South Carolina. The partnership produced a lot of praise from Muschamp toward Roper but little offensive success.
The Gamecocks finished 2016 last in the SEC in scoring (20.8 ppg) and 13th in total offense (347.5 ypg). Things were supposed to be better this season, though, with a more experienced Jake Bentley at quarterback and offensive personnel like Deebo Samuel, Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards in their second year in Roper’s system.
There was improvement, but it was slight. South Carolina currently is 12th in the SEC in scoring (24.1 ppg) and total offense (340.2), and the Gamecocks finished the regular season with an 8-4 record in spite of their offensive numbers, rather than because of them, which had been the preseason expectation.
South Carolina entered the season with offensive fanfare thanks to the experience of sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley and skill position players such as wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, tight end Hayden Hurst and running backs Rico Dowdle.
The season began well behind a torrid start from Samuel, who had 474 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns before being lost for the season due to a broken leg suffered in the third quarter of the third game of the year. The Gamecocks averaged 33 points in the two games Samuel started and completed but scored more than 30 in just two more SEC games, including one it which they scored three defensive touchdowns.
Dowdle would later suffer a season-ending injury and three starting offensive linemen also missed significant time with injury, and South Carolina never managed to put together any offensive rhythm in the final 10 games of the year. Throughout the season, Muschamp defended Roper when the subject arose.
Muschamp will now be in search for his fourth offensive coordinator in his six seasons as a head coach. He first hired Roper from Duke, where Roper served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for David Cutcliffe from 2008-2013. Before that, Roper was an assistant coach at Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss.
The Gators finished eighth in the SEC in scoring (30.3 ppg) and 12th in total offense (376.6 ypg) in that season, and Muschamp said at the time that he believed he had hired Roper as his first offensive coordinator at Florida that he would not have been fired from that job.
The Gators never finished better than 10th in the SEC in total offense in Muschamp’s first three seasons as head coach, during which time Charlie Weis and Brent Pease served as his offensive coordinators.