When Shawn Elliott left South Carolina to become Georgia State’s head coach, Eric Wolford’s wife had a question for Wolford.
“Do you know Coach Muschamp?” Melinda Wolford said.
“I was like, ‘No, but I’m sure I know enough people that know him,’ ” Eric Wolford said.
Turns out, he did, including John Latina who was the offensive line coach at Kansas State while Wolford was a graduate assistant at the school and who served as South Carolina’s interim offensive line coach for the Birmingham Bowl last year. Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp hired Wolford on Jan. 9 to the same job Wolford held in 2009 – offensive line coach at South Carolina.
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The friendships the Wolfords made in that one year stuck with the family for the last eight years.
“A lot of our friends from here still came to see us in Youngstown (where Wolford was the head coach at Youngstown State), still came to California (where Wolford was an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers for the past two seasons),” Wolford said. “The community was so receptive and we made a lot of great friends.”
Now, they’re back. Wolford first stepped onto the field for the Gamecocks, this time, on Saturday when the team opened spring practice.
“He’s been a really good fit on our staff,” Muschamp said. “I love his mentality. It’s a blue-collar mentality, much like myself and how he coaches guys on the field.”
Muschamp is happy with his hire. So far, he said, tongue in cheek.
“He hasn’t given up a sack or a tackle for a loss so we love him,” Muschamp joked. “That’s kind of how it works. First time we have a tackle for a loss, we will be booing him. He’s a really good football coach ... but after that first tackle for a loss, we will all be yelling. That’s part of it.”
Wolford inherits four returning starters up front and credits Elliott with leaving him a more mature group than the one he had his first stint in Columbia. The Gamecocks opened spring practice with Zack Bailey and Malik Young at tackle, D.J. Park and Cory Helms at guard at Alan Knott at center in the starting lineup.
“Shawn had these guys accountable. He coached them hard,” Wolford said. “Last time, we were getting things corrected off the field as well as getting thing corrected on the field. I feel much better about where Shawn has left these guys. These guys understand about being on time, they understand about working hard, they understand some days aren’t going to be a bed of roses and we’re going to coach you hard. They are not going to go into the tank when you get upset and get after them. That part of it is in place.”
Now, Wolford wants to improve what he’s got.
“We’ve got to become better at changing direction, we have to become quicker, we have to become more explosive,” he said. “We know what our focus needs to be.”
For Wolford, that is and will always be the intricacies of technique. During a meeting with the media last week, Wolford stood up unsolicited to demonstrate a technique with a reporter.
“Where’s your weight at right now in your stance? Why?” he said. “If I tell you to step with your right foot and you have all your weight on your right foot, you’re going to have to shift your weight to your left, pick your right foot up and put it back down.
If I tell you to put all your weight on your left foot, look how much quicker your right foot is?
“It sounds like baby steps, but that’s how you have to break it down. You can’t assume anything. My mentality is, it’s never been talked about. That’s how you have to be. You’re not always going to have the fastest guys. You’re not always going to have the most athletic guys. But how can I help you play faster? You have to break it down into that detail.”
South Carolina’s linemen have heard this kind of thing plenty in Wolford’s six weeks on the job.
“He’s a really big technical coach. We talk about technique all the time,” Helms said. “He focuses on every little thing. We have been practicing without a football for two or three weeks now and you can see the improvements.”