Josh Kendall

In the SEC, the reality is the head football coach is the law

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp

This is the messy business of starting over.

Two longtime South Carolina football support staff members – team chaplain Adrian Despres and equipment manager Chris Matlock – lost their jobs in the transition from former coach Steve Spurrier to new coach Will Muschamp.

There were also the two full-time workers in Matlock’s office plus who knows how many people caught up in the transition process whose name will never appear in the newspaper. This is far from a Gamecocks issue. This is what happens at every college every time there is a coaching change.

These are real people who had regular jobs and now don’t, and it’s why the glee that often comes along with coaching changes is so distasteful.

Sure, there’s no reason to worry about the departed head coach. They sock away annual salaries that Spurrier himself once said “embarrassed” him and then usually get platinum parachutes no matter how many times they lost to Vanderbilt.

Nobody sheds a tear over the assistant coaches either. Eight of South Carolina’s nine on-field coaches under Spurrier lost their jobs when Muschamp took over, and most people responded simply with a hearty “See ya.” That’s understandable. At least in the SEC, assistant coaches now make salaries such that they could live very comfortably on half of it while putting the other half away for these inevitable transitions.

The real victims in these processes are folks like Despres and Matlock, two people who I don’t know well but always showed me kindness and that I hate got caught in a tough spot. More changes may come. Matlock, at least, will be retained in some capacity by the athletic department, the school announced this weekend.

Muschamp explained his decision not to retain Despres (and the explanation makes sense) and declined to discuss his decision to dispatch Matlock.

Here’s the thing: This is all Muschamp’s right. More than that, it’s virtually an edict from the fans and administrators of college football.

“Change the culture.”

“Right the ship.”

“Clean house.”

“Blah, blah, blah.”

The blank check that SEC athletic departments are now writing their football coaches is more than just the actual check. It’s also a license to make any and every change they deem necessary for success on 12 (or 13 or 14 or 15) Saturdays in the fall.

This is the result of Win (Now) Or Else culture of big-time college football. As the expectations placed on coaches have become more and more unrealistic, the freedom with which they are allowed to pursue those expectations has become more and more vast.

Kirby Smart hasn’t coached a game at Georgia, but he’s 1-0 in the state legislature, where the state’s politicians recently passed a law that dramatically lengthens the amount of time athletic departments have to respond to open records requests. Smart, who visited the Georgia state house before the law was passed, bristles when you call it “Kirby’s Law,” but the reality is the head football coach is the law in the SEC.

We should all hope for benevolent dictatorships.

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