COLUMBIA — After two weeks of fumbling over statements on the future of the school's football coach, University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen has hired former Gov. Nikki Haley's communications chief to work in his office.
Rob Godfrey, who also has worked with corporate clients and trade groups, started aiding Caslen this week as a contract communications adviser, USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said.
Godfrey, who is working with a company owned by one of USC's largest donors, has not signed a contract yet, so his compensation was not available Wednesday.
Several trustees recommended Caslen bring in Godfrey after the Muschamp comments. He is expected to work with Caslen, who started at USC on Aug. 1, as he tries to spread his message about controlling costs and halting tuition increases while boosting research and fundraising at South Carolina's largest college.
While Harris Pastides, Caslen's predecessor at USC, had communications staff in his office, Godfrey's ties to Haley and Gov. Henry McMaster, who lobbied for the former Army general's hiring, will set off alarms with critics of the presidential search that ended with a what they called a less-than-qualified leader for a school with 51,000 students over eight campuses.
The former West Point superintendent was criticized for not having a doctorate degree or research pedigree of past USC presidents. Some on campus thought he made insensitive remarks about diversity and sexual assault during a meet-and-greet with students and faculty.
Caslen was hired by the divisive 11-8 board vote in July after McMaster's lobbying.
Godfrey worked on McMaster's 2010 governor campaign before he lost to Haley. Godfrey then joined Haley's campaign and her governor's office where he helped handle response to the massive data breach at the state's tax agency in 2012 and the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in 2015.
"President Caslen is doing great work, and he is bringing people together," Godfrey said. "I am excited about it, I am honored to be a part of his team, and I am invested in working with them to keep the university and the state moving forward."
Caslen is coming off two weeks of having to backtrack statements made to reporters about the future of the Gamecock football program, which is going through a losing season under coach Will Muschamp.
Caslen's statements, including one that suggested Athletics Director Ray Tanner called Florida State about buying out its coach, fueled speculation that Muschamp might not return for the 2020 season.
Caslen later issued a statement admitting he misspoke about Tanner and stressing Muschamp would return after four seasons at USC: "We look forward to him being our coach next year and for seasons to come."
Outside of his football comments, Caslen continues to battle critics of his hiring who have taken to social media to questions the motives behind his hiring, which they believe is changing the perceived liberal political climate on campus to something in line with the conservative leaning of the Republican-heavy state.
USC's Faculty Senate issued a vote of no confidence in the board for the presidential search. Critics worked to make sure the four pro-Caslen trustees up for re-election in the Statehouse next year faced competition to keep their seats.
Now Caslen must help USC battle accreditors.
McMaster's involvement in the presidential search is the subject of possible sanctions by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which could deem his lobbying as too much external interference in university operations.
Godfrey is expected to help Caslen prepare to meet with accreditors at a meeting in December where the school's fate will be decided.
After Haley resigned in 2016 to become United Nations ambassador, Godfrey worked with the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.
The University of North Carolina graduate is working with Nephron Pharmaceuticals of West Columbia, which is run by Lou Kennedy, one of USC's top donors. Godfrey said he will continue his job with Nephron.
Kennedy expressed doubts about Caslen right before the vote to hire him but has since offered to work with the new president.
Others haven't been so forgiving. Lake City financier Darla Moore, USC's largest donor, has not spoken publicly since she sent a letter to trustees voicing her disapproval over Caslen.