Friday was a big day for Bryan McClendon. South Carolina’s wide receivers coach and interim offensive coordinator got the big break that some coaches wait their entire career for and never receive when he was promoted to full-time offensive coordinator for the Gamecocks.
It was a bigger day for the man who made the hire, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, and McClendon knows that.
“This is a big hire for him,” McClendon said Friday after Muschamp announced the hire during a morning news conference. “Let’s say what it is.”
Muschamp has led the Gamecocks to three-win improvements in each of his two seasons as head coach, and South Carolina finished the 2017 season 9-4 after beating Michigan 26-19 in the Outback Bowl. By all accounts, the Gamecocks exceeded expectations this season, but they did it in spite of an offense that was 12th in the conference in scoring and yards in the regular seasons.
That’s been the theme of six of Muschamp’s six seasons as a head coach. His teams at Florida and South Carolina never finished higher than 10th in the SEC in total offense. That was with Charlie Weis calling plays for the Gators in 2011. The number has been 12th or worse since then.
McClendon was promoted to put an end to that trend, putting plenty of pressure on both men’s shoulders. McClendon becomes the fifth full-time offensive coordinator for Muschamp, who will be entering his seventh season as a head coach this fall. He replaces Kurt Roper, who was fired on Dec. 6 after being Muschamp’s offensive coordinator for two years at South Carolina and one year at Florida.
“The continuity I do think is good,” said Muschamp, who also Friday added veteran Dan Werner to the staff as quarterbacks coach. “We will tweak and change what we do based on what our players do best. Bryan is committed to doing that.”
McClendon was a coveted coach and reportedly had an offer to join Jeremy Pruitt’s staff at Tennessee, but keeping McClendon on staff was not the reason for the promotion, Muschamp said.
“The most important thing was hiring the best offensive coordinator for the University of South Carolina,” Muschamp said. “Let’s make that extremely clear. Whether that was going to be Bryan or whoever it was, that was the most important thing.”
Muschamp interviewed between five and 10 candidates for the position, he said, before deciding to go with a coach who had never called plays in a game until the Outback Bowl.
“I don’t see this as a gamble at all. I see this as a very sure, good decision for our program,” Muschamp said. “The biggest question obviously was game day. The guy’s never called a game so, ‘How was that going to go against the best defense we’ve played this year?’ I thought it went very well. I thought our plan was good. In the first part of the game we had a hard time blocking, just call it like it is. The adjustments made at halftime to change protections, more quick game and to stay with the tempo (were good). Calm, cool and collected the entire time. I was extremely impressed with how he managed the situation and how we were able to adjust.”
McClendon, 34, was an assistant under Mark Richt at Georgia for seven years before joining Muschamp’s staff. McClendon coached running backs and wide receivers and served as assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator during his time in Athens. He was the wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator at South Carolina before this promotion.
Muschamp made his final decision Monday night after the Outback Bowl, he said. He informed McClendon in a Tuesday morning phone call.
“When coach came to me and said I was calling plays for the bowl game, that’s the same way I felt about it now. It’s truly a blessing,” McClendon said. “You get guys who go through their whole coaching career and never get an opportunity like this and so the only thing I was focused on was making sure I took care of that blessing that I have. I’m doing the same thing now. That’s what I’ve done my whole coaching career. Wherever it leads me, I am fine with that.”