Josh Kendall

Outback Bowl offensive coordinator audition not a fair test for McClendon

If the Outback Bowl is Bryan McClendon’s one-game audition for South Carolina’s offensive coordinator job, that’s a tough ask.

We don’t know if Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp truly views the Jan. 1 game against Michigan as a job application from McClendon. All we know is that Muschamp has said that McClendon will call plays for the game and has a chance to be promoted to the offensive coordinator job full-time in January. If it walks like an audition and quacks like an audition… Well, never mind.

All we know for sure is that in his ninth season as a collegiate assistant coach, McClendon will be calling the plays for the first time. McClendon actually has won a game as a head coach, when he was Georgia’s interim head coach on Dec. 3, 2015, when the Bulldogs beat Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl after firing Mark Richt.

Being the boss is much different than running the offense, though. Being the boss takes a certain set of skills that everyone who has worked with McClendon believes he has – intelligence, leadership, organization and vision. In 2016, he was one of nine minority coaches across the country selected to be part of the NCAA Champion Forum, a program designed to enhance professional development for coaches considered future head coaches.

However, running an offense takes something different – a technical knowledge combined with a feel for the job. We don’t know if McClendon has that, and honestly we’re not going to have any better idea after the Outback Bowl.

That’s because South Carolina is playing Michigan in the bowl game. The Wolverines are third in the nation in total defense (268.6 ypg) and 14th in the nation in scoring defense (18.3 ppg). They are eighth in the nation in sacks (39) and fourth in tackles-for-loss (103).

This is because of two things – they have excellent defensive talent and they are coordinated by Don Brown, one of the most respected assistant coaches in the country and a guy who quotes Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” a lot. Brown is going to spend a month figuring out a way to make Jake Bentley’s life miserable on Jan. 1, and that’s going to make life tough on McClendon.

It could be that McClendon does a great job for the next month, and the Gamecocks come out and score 10 points against the Wolverines. It could be that the Michigan players aren’t all that excited for the bowl game, a thing that happens sometimes, and don’t play that hard and South Carolina scores 35.

Either way, it’s not a fair simulation of the kind of skills necessary to build and install and manage an offense on a weekly basis throughout a season. If Muschamp thinks McClendon is his best choice as the offensive coordinator for the 2018 season (and he might be), then he should hire him no matter what happens in the Outback Bowl. If he does not believe that today, then nothing that happens on Jan. 1 should change his mind in that direction either.