Lance Thompson still gets a laugh when he thinks about Auburn’s bowl game.
The 30-year coaching veteran coordinated the Tigers defense in a 31-10 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn promoted Thompson from linebackers coach following the regular season after Will Muschamp left to become South Carolina’s head coach.
The Tigers held Memphis to 205 yards, and it seemed to Thompson like that surprised a lot of people.
“Before the game, Coach Malzahn came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to do great.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think so too coach.’ Like, ‘What the heck?’ ” Thompson said.
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Thompson has coached at Georgia Tech, Alabama, LSU, Central Florida and Tennessee and has developed a reputation as one of the south’s best recruiters. Sometimes, he wonders if people think of him only as a great recruiter.
“After the bowl game, people said, ‘You did so good, you did so good.’ Then my buddies called me and said, ‘Man, you did great. You guys kicked their tails.’ I said, ‘Don’t tell me that you’re surprised. These other guys that don’t know me, they can act surprised, but you guys are my buddies, you should know I was going to do good,’ ” Thompson said.
Thompson is now South Carolina’s defensive line coach and assistant head coach for defense, and he’s far from the only new Gamecocks coach who has built his reputation chiefly on the recruiting trail.
New defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson was named the country’s best recruiter by ESPN for the Class of 2014, wide receivers coach and offensive co-coordinator Bryan McClendon was named the country’s top recruiter by 247Sports in 2014, and running backs coach Bobby Bentley is a South Carolina high school coaching veteran who Muschamp expects to recruit the state exceptionally well. The list of recruiting bona fides for this new staff goes on and on.
Muschamp introduced his assistant coaches as a group to the media on Friday at Williams-Brice Stadium, and they then spent almost an hour talking about their visions for the future of the Gamecocks football program.
“That’s a huge part of the recruiting process, somebody who’s got the gift of gab a little bit,” Muschamp said.
Now this group (which will add one more on-field coach) must prove it can do the job once the players arrive on campus.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘prove,’ ” Robinson said.
Some others would, though. Robinson is 34 and has never been a coordinator before.
“I’m not really worried about what outsiders think,” he said. “I’m worried about what Coach Muschamp thinks of me. I’m worried about what (athletics director Ray) Tanner thinks of me. That’s what I’m worried about it right now. I always thought I was a good football coach. I always thought I was a good recruiter. I always thought I was a good person.”
Muschamp believes he has assembled “an outstanding staff,” he said. The coaches will meet their players face-to-face for the first time Sunday when South Carolina holds its first team meeting.
“The season starts Sunday night when we start with our team,” Muschamp said. “Our guys need to understand that.”