HOOVER, Ala. — Will Muschamp is a rare breed indeed. Not only did he get another opportunity to be a head coach at South Carolina little more than a year after losing his first one in just four seasons, but he got that chance in the same division of the same conference. And the SEC is a pretty good league, by all accounts.
Other coaches have made similar transitions, but usually following successful tenures at their previous institutions. Bear Bryant famously went from Kentucky to Alabama, with a brief stop at Texas A&M in between. Tommy Tuberville once went from Ole Miss to Auburn.
Muschamp’s predecessor, Steve Spurrier, came to South Carolina after an unsuccessful stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. But nobody was bemoaning the hiring of the man who used the Fun-N-Gun to lift Florida to greatness just a short time before.
No, Muschamp’s situation is somewhat unique in that he was named the Gamecocks’ new head coach just 385 days – or 55 weeks — after he was fired as Florida’s head coach. And he never stopped working in the league in between, spending last season as Gus Malzahn’s defensive coordinator at Auburn. But that stint didn’t go marvelously, either.
Neverthless, there Muschamp was, back in front of the main media room at SEC Football Media Days, relaxed, cracking jokes and breaking down the challenges that now face him in Columbia.
“You guys look rough here on Day 4; there’s not a lot of juice and energy in the building,” Muschamp quipped. “… You guys have got to pick it up. We’re in the fourth quarter.”
You figure out pretty quickly, Muschamp see things differently. He doesn’t see that stint at Florida as unsuccessful, and certainly not as a failure. He was, after all, named the SEC Coach of the Year after his second season.
He points to the Gators’ defensive accomplishments all four years during his tenure. He points to academic and off-field behavior successes. He talks about doing things the right way in Gainesville, and “holding guys accountable to do the right things and make good decisions.”
But if there’s anything he could do differently, if there is any area in which he hopes to make the most of this do-over, it’s on the offensive side of the ball. The Gators simply could never get it going in that regard, and Muschamp is focused on changing that this time around.
“Really, it comes back to offense, and that’s where, from a practice standpoint, to make sure we’re practicing the right way, whether it’s staff, scheme, decision-making, whatever,” Muschamp said Thursday. “But that falls on my shoulders. So I’m taking full responsibility of that and making it better in this situation.”
That’s what makes his offensive set-up at South Carolina somewhat unusual. He brought with him the same offensive coordinator he had his last season at Florida, Kurt Roper. But Roper will be sharing those duties this time, splitting them with former Georgia wide receivers and running backs coach Bryan McClendon. And Muschamp has defended Roper many times, stating that if he had him at the beginning of the his Florida tenure he’d probably still be there.
Roper, who spent last season in an offensive analyst role with the Cleveland Browns, galvanized his reputation as an offensive guru at Duke, where he spent six record-setting seasons with David Cutcliffe. In 2013, the Blue Devils established a school record for total touchdowns (60) while also becoming the first squad in program history to post 20-plus rushing and 20-plus passing touchdowns in the same season.
They did that with the fast-paced, hurry-up style of offense so prevalent in college football today. And that’s the plan now at South Carolina.
“We’re going to be fast,” offensive lineman Mason Zandi said Thursday, who then repeated that statement for emphasis.
Nick Saban, one Muschamp’s mentors, embraced a similar philosophical change at Alabama, and it has paid dividends. Muschamp is hoping it will do the same for him at South Carolina.
“We haven’t had any conversations, (but) what Nick has done and what we tried to do, not as successfully, obviously, is adjust to what our players can do,” Muschamp said. “And he really, you know, did a great job this past year adjusting to putting in more open sets, because it fit his personnel and what they needed to do to be successful and still keep the hard-edge mentality that you’ve got to have in our league.”
It’s going to take some time. The Gamecocks have only four starters back on that side of the ball and one of them, quarterback Perry Orth, is in a battle for his job.
The difference is Muschamp feels like he has some time this time around. He wants to win right away, but everybody familiar with the South Carolina program knows it’s going to take some work to get back to those 11-win seasons Steve Spurrier was putting up not so long ago.
“When I first got to campus, I met with every player,” Muschamp said “It was pretty evident after a 3-9 season it was a beat-down bunch, as far as mentally. I told our guys a positive attitude in life guarantees you nothing but a negative one does. So we’ll be positive about our outlook in what we’re trying to do and accomplish.”
Muschamp wants to make the most of his rare second chance. And the Gamecocks are betting that he will.