COLUMBIA, S.C. – John Latina has only been coaching the South Carolina offensive line for a few days, but junior Cory Helms already has a go-to joke in place with the interim offensive line coach that dates back to Latina’s days at Duke.
“He actually was going to offer me out of high school, but my SAT score wasn’t up to Duke standards,” Helms said. “I give him a little crap about that.”
Coach Will Muschamp brought in Latina, a longtime offensive line coach with stops at Ole Miss and Duke, to fill the gap between Shawn Elliott departing for Georgia State and bringing in a new coach. Latina, who retired following last season at Duke, will coach the Gamecocks through their bowl prep and in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29 against South Florida.
Latina hit the ground running, players said Monday.
“At first, it was a different change for us,” sophomore guard Zack Bailey said. “He’s growing on us the past couple days. We are starting to understand his style of football and what he is carrying out. He wants you to move people off the line. That’s the goal.”
Latina is taking over an offensive line filled with players who have worked under Elliott’s tutelage for essentially their entire careers. Now, they are in the middle of a crash course with a new coach that they said is very technical, detail-driven and old-fashioned.
“Coach has been around the game for a long time,” senior offensive tackle Mason Zandi said. “He’s seen a lot of ball and he knows a lot of technique. I appreciate him coming in here and doing the job that he is doing. He is put into an awkward situation with a team that has their calls, has everything as coach Elliott set it. Now, he has to build off it and he has to relearn how to call things as well. In terms of technique and in terms of breaking down film and watching him analyze things, he’s top-notch.”
Zandi said his intent is to soak up as much knowledge from Latina as he can in the three weeks he will have to work with him. Bailey is a fan of the way Latina likes smash-mouth, inside-run football, putting the onus on the interior offensive line to “move people out of the way and make pancakes.”
Helms said there are similarities between Latina and Elliott, especially in the way they are hard on their players to get the best from them. He did say that Latina brings a more mellow presence in meeting rooms.
“He may have a different coaching style, but you’ve gotta learn to adapt,” Zandi said. “That’s the real world. Coach Muschamp, if he was to ask everyone in the room, ‘How many you want to play in the NFL?’ Every single one of us is going to raise their hands. The fact of the matter is, if you’re at the next level, you could be in Seattle one week and Detroit the next. You better learn to like them.
“Bringing that professional mentality is very important.”