There are two (or even three) sides to every story, of course.
But if it’s true Houston’s Tom Herman pulled out of the South Carolina job in the 11th hour (back in early December) because of a late-November home loss to The Citadel, as reported by USA TODAY writer Dan Wolken, then Gamecocks officials — in retrospect — should be thrilled that Herman indirectly ceded the head-coaching position to Will Muschamp.
(According to the Wolken report, Muschamp was South Carolina’s third choice, after Herman and Kirby Smart, the longtime Alabama defensive coordinator and current UGA head coach. But that’s a mere footnote in the topsy-turvy career description for Muschamp, the former head coach at Florida.)
The above statement shouldn’t be construed as a knock on Herman’s sublime coaching acumen, serving as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator during the Buckeyes’ national championship season (2014) and then subsequently leading Houston (as head coach) to an amazing 13-1 campaign in 2015, capped by a Peach Bowl shakedown of vaunted Florida State.
Herman will undoubtedly be a coaching force in college football for years to come.
But have you ever heard of something so short-sighted — one bad afternoon of football superseding the allure of built-in advantages like the powerful SEC brand, South Carolina’s coastal locale, the Gamecocks’ beautiful football home (Williams-Brice Stadium seats nearly 81,000 loyal fans) and the program’s backyard access to the Deep South’s fertile recruiting base?
STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA: 4- and 5-STAR RECRUITS SINCE 2010
2016 — 5
2015 — 5
2014 — 9
2013 — 5
2012 — 8
2011 — 6
2010 — 11
Citing the work of 247Sports.com (above), from 2010-16, spanning seven recruiting classes, the state of South Carolina has produced 49 blue-chip prep players with “four stars” or higher — including 5-star wunderkinds like tailback Marcus Lattimore (2010) and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (2011).
Lattimore and Clowney ended up as Gamecocks, respectively.
Throw in the day-trip access to rich recruiting states like Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia, among others, and it’s easy to see how every up-and-coming coach would treat South Carolina as a “destination” job — not a visible means to an end.
Except Herman, who inked a lucrative contract with Houston (with an annual salary of approximately $3 million) after the South Carolina flirtation.
Without question, losing to The Citadel (an FCS program) would be a tough pill to swallow for any SEC school; but history has shown these type of setbacks aren’t long- or even short-term death knells for well-heeled programs steeped in tradition, right before a new coach assumes control.
**LSU lost eight straight games in 1999, the year before Nick Saban arrived in Baton Rouge, La.
**Southern California dropped five straight in 2000, the season before Pete Carroll emigrated to Los Angeles.
**Alabama had a 1-5 finish to close the 2006 regular season, prompting the brilliant Nick Saban hire in Tuscaloosa.
**Duke endured a 1-11 season in 2007, the year before David Cutcliffe left Tennessee (offensive coordinator) to become the Blue Devils’ head coach.
**And just five years ago, Ole Miss was a rudderless bottom-feeder in the SEC, posting a seven-game losing skid and a wretched 1-9 finish to the 2011 campaign — thus motivating Rebels officials to hire Hugh Freeze away from Arkansas State.
The larger point here: Ambitious and driven coaches should prefer only one of two scenarios when accepting new opportunities at Power 5 schools:
a) The new program is loaded with in-house talent and ready to compete for a conference/national championship.
b) Or … that school just concluded a bad season, record-wise, artificially setting the bar of expectations at very low for the new coach.
Which brings us back to Herman: If his inner circle (family, agent, trusted advisers) was that turned off by a late-season defeat to The Citadel (fearing a massive rebuild) — even though South Carolina performed admirably in a 37-32 loss to No. 1 Clemson just seven days later — it’s a clear sign Houston (American Athletic Conference membership; top 10 media market) will soon jump to a Power 5 school … or Herman simply had little interest in sticking with the Gamecocks for more than a few years, essentially waiting for high-level jobs at Alabama, Southern California or LSU to open up.
You know, programs that once had the stench of failure … before turning the reins over to fearless head coaches.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.