HOOVER, Ala. — Will Muschamp’s second act began in earnest on a day when his past, present and future converged at a convention center outside Birmingham. His tenure at Florida, his stint at Auburn, his ties to Nick Saban, his hopes for South Carolina — they all made for a busy return to SEC Media Days for the Gamecocks’ new head coach.
“I’m going to disappoint you now,” Muschamp told the crowd in the main press room Thursday morning. “... There’s only one Steve Spurrier in life, and I’m not it.”
Indeed, Muschamp’s predecessor was usually the main attraction at Media Days, delivering a quip-filled address that was among the most tweeted-about of the week. While Muschamp didn’t pack the room like the Head Ball Coach once did, he proved more than capable answering questions that broke down into two main themes — why it didn’t work at Florida, and how he’s going to win with a South Carolina team that went 3-9 last season.
“There is no three-year plan, five-year plan. We plan to win now. OK?” Muschamp said. “That’s my mentality.”
Toward that end, he continues to tinker with a roster that used eight current or former walk-ons in starting or backup positions a year ago. Lorenzo Nunez, a sophomore who started two games for Spurrier last season at quarterback, has been working at wide receiver in the summer and will play some of that position as well as quarterback in the fall.
“Whether we play one quarterback or we play two, and who it’s going to be, I don’t know right now,” Muschamp said. “I’m not going to put a timeline on it. I would agree that at some point in camp you have to narrow things down and get the guys the snaps they need, because there is the possibility that one of those guys is going to be a young guy.”
True freshman Brandon McIlwain, who threw two touchdowns in the spring game, is listed as co-No. 1 at the position along with senior Perry Orth, a former walk-on who started eight games last year but missed much of spring with a broken collarbone. Michael Scarnecchia, vying for a backup position, will be out this fall after undergoing shoulder surgery in May.
And entering the picture is Jake Bentley, a four-star recruit who graduated high school a year early, and is on campus working out this summer. “We do play-around practices twice a week,” receiver Deebo Samuel said. “When he gets in, he makes the best of his opportunities.”
Muschamp said Bentley, who passed for 2,800 yards and 28 touchdowns as a high school junior, “is going to have every opportunity to contribute to our football team,” although it will take a few weeks of camp to see how well he’s picked up the offense. He’ll be at a clear disadvantage to McIlwain, who because of injuries to other quarterbacks was left taking the bulk of snaps in the spring.
“Brandon shows a lot of command,” Muschamp said. “Brandon’s a competitor. He competes. That’s what jumps out at you. He’s extremely talented, he’s a really good athlete, he throws the ball really well, got a great arm, all of those things. But he’s got a competitive edge about himself, (has) the right demeanor, and is positively affecting the guys around him. He displayed all those things to me in the spring.”
Nunez missed almost all of spring practice due to a hyperextended knee. “We need help at the receiver position,” Muschamp said. “Unfortunately for him, with the injury after four practices, it really put him behind the eight-ball at (quarterback). That was an unfortunate situation for him. I hate it for him. But he’s still going to be involved at quarterback.”
The quarterback questions came primarily from South Carolina media, who met with Muschamp before he entered the main room. Once he took the stage, the subject shifted from his present to his past. Alabama media asked about Saban, the Crimson Tide head coach and his former boss, and his stint last season as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. And from Florida media, there were plenty of questions about why it didn’t work in the Swamp.
“I see people get so bogged down in negativity after a setback. That ain’t me,” said Muschamp, who went 28-21 in four seasons in Gainesville and was fired after an overtime loss to USC in 2014. “I move forward. Whatever happened, happened. I’m sorry it didn’t work that way, but I know I made a difference at Florida. I know our staff made a difference at Florida.”
He believes the endorsement of Florida president Bernie Machen and AD Jeremy Foley helped him get the job in Columbia. “I don’t look back on it as a negative experience,” Muschamp said. “I look back on it as a situation that didn’t work.”
His focus now is on turning around the Gamecocks, and he’s armed with relentless confidence. He spoke of injured linebacker Skai Moore being back for “bowl practice,” even though USC has to win at least six games to get there first. Back in the bright lights of SEC Media Days, this time with a rebuilding job, Will Muschamp refused to blink.
“When I first got to campus, I met with every player. It was pretty evident after a 3-9 season, it was a beat-down bunch mentally,” he said. “I told our guys a positive attitude in life guarantees you nothing, but a negative one does. We’ll be positive about our outlook in what we’re trying to do and accomplish.”