Mind of Mike: Will Muschamp's time is up at South Carolina
Remember when COVID-19 was going to keep every coach safe this season? Not true. The Will Muschamp era is over at South Carolina, an era that started with a lukewarm reception by the fanbase, highlighted by some big recruiting wins but far too little on-field success. Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell breaks down his thoughts on the Muschamp years in Columbia.
RELATED: Will Muschamp out at South Carolina
IN THE BEGINNING...
Muschamp was hired in December 2015 following a dismal 3-9 season for the Gamecocks and he improved things slightly at first. However, he was not a popular choice at all and fans didn't see much hope for him at South Carolina following his failure at Florida. And with coaches like Kirby Smart, Lincoln Riley and Justin Fuentes out there, new blood was wanted. But the Gamecocks went with Muschamp hoping his second act would be his best.
South Carolina went 6-7 season in Muschamp's first year and followed that up with a 9-4 record the next year that included a win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecock’s 5-3 record in the SEC was the best since 2013. Things looked hopeful.
GEORGIA HERE WE COME....
Muschamp arrived at South Carolina with plans of hitting the states of Georgia and Florid hard in recruiting. The problem? Smart began recruiting Georgia like a man possessed, Dabo Swinney was picking and choosing elite prospects from the state as well and everyone was hitting Florida. Muchamp had some big recruiting wins but most were in-state prospects like Zacch Pickens and Jordan Burch who seemed destined to the program beforehand. For every Jaycee Horn success story in Georgia there were many swings and misses and he didn’t have much success overall in the state and that was a huge downfall.
Muschamp had some solid recruiting classes, including his first full one in 2017 which finished 15th nationally. South Carolina finished No. 18 in 2018 and No. 19 in 2019 and back to No. 18 in 2020 led by Burch and five-star running back Marshawn Lloyd from Maryland. The issue? Muschamp's classes consistently finished in the bottom half of the SEC and did not move the needle much, and 2021 was a disaster as the Gamecocks were ranked 50th at the time of his dismissal. Muschamp was known as a solid defensive recruiter who didn’t have much of a clue on offense and that played out. Oh, and meanwhile the Gamecocks' in-state rival Clemson was winning national titles, drubbing South Carolina each season and recruiting nationally at a top-10 level. As Clemson got stronger, the Gamecocks got weaker. While Gamecock fans often claimed in-state victory in recruiting with prospects like OrTre Smith, Pickens, Burch and some others Clemson was getting Trevor Lawrence from Georgia, Tee Higgins from Tennessee and still keeping kids like Xavier Thomas and Derion Kendrick in-state.
SAME OLD STORY...
After the success in his second season, Muschamp’s infamous stubbornness that killed him at Florida started to do him in with the Gamecocks. Continued offensive problems and lack of quarterback development led to some rough performances by Jake Bentley and eventually lack of development of Ryan Hilinski and an insistence on sticking with Collin Hill this season. He went 7-6 in his third season at South Carolina and followed that with a 4-8 season last year. The pattern was similar to his time in Florida where he started off 11-2 in his first season and was 4-8 the following year. The ups and downs have been maddening. This year the Gamecocks are 2-5 and nothing is working on offense or even on defense which is Muschamp’s specialty.
Billy Napier, who has done a great job at Louisiana, and Hugh Freeze, who has been amazing at Liberty, have been talked about and both can recruit. Athletic Director Ray Tanner, who thought Riley didn’t have enough experience to be hired when he pulled the trigger on Muschamp in 2015, had better think more outside the box as Muschamp was a retread hire and has led to a step backwards. The Gamecocks' program is clearly second to Clemson in-state but this is an SEC program that can get its share. A young, energetic coach who can inspire and recruit is a must.
If I had to categorize the failure of Muschamp down to two key factors it would be these — once again his offense was not dangerous and his stubbornness hurt him in the locker room and on the recruiting trail. One huge recruiting win in Georgia, 2022 quarterback Gunner Stockton, is now up for grabs again and Georgia is circling. He will be the first point of order for the next coach as a player to build around.