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Gamecocks' football staff in limbo: Who stays, who goes?

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COLUMBIA — Mike Bobo mentioned on Sunday that the reason he and his staff got into coaching was to show kids the way, not just in football technique but in life.

Many of South Carolina’s coaches will teach another lesson in how to handle adversity next week.

With the Gamecocks’ coaching search set to wrap up soon after Saturday’s regular-season finale at Kentucky, USC’s staff will start its stay in limbo. It's been said that coaches are hired to get fired, and after Will Muschamp was pink-slipped on Nov. 15, his assistants know that their day is quickly approaching.

“Everybody has emotions, and I’m sure you go home and your wife and your family are asking, ‘Where are we gonna be, Dad?’ That’s tough when you don’t know the answer,” Bobo said. “But I told these coaches today, you got to continue to show these kids the way. That’s leadership, showing them how to handle things when things aren’t right.”

It isn’t a new concept, having to move several times in a coaching career and constantly debating whether or not to buy or rent a house at the next stop. There’s no telling who could or would be retained by the new coach, with some politicking already going on despite no decision being made on the new coach.

“If coach (Bobby) Bentley comes back, I’ll definitely be back,” senior tight end Nick Muse said moments after Saturday’s 45-16 loss to Georgia.

“I know that I want to keep this on my chest,” newly promoted quarterbacks coach Connor Shaw recently said, touching the USC logo on his sweatshirt. “I don’t want to go anywhere. South Carolina’s my home.”

Bentley, USC’s tight ends coach and former running backs coach, would assuredly not want to leave as he’s a South Carolina native and the last two of his five children are sophomores in high school. Still known in high school circles after constructing Byrnes High into a powerhouse, he could help a new coach in Palmetto State recruiting.

Shaw, naturally, is beloved in Columbia as the Gamecocks’ all-time winningest quarterback. He was promoted from director of player development to an on-field role when Muschamp was fired and Bobo couldn’t spend as much time with the QBs as he’d like.

It seems likely the new coach would want to keep Shaw, as he’s a quality ambassador for the program and wants to be around. It would also help in retaining the commitment of phenom quarterback Gunner Stockton, a Class of 2022 pledge who in part picked USC for two reasons: His family’s close relationship with Bobo and he grew up idolizing Shaw. Stockton currently plays for Jaybo Shaw, Connor’s older brother.

Keeping Shaw on staff would seem to be a smart move. Bobo, who has one year left on his contract, would be a natural fit as offensive coordinator if the new coach saw fit.

Bobo’s selection of Collin Hill as quarterback for the first seven games wasn’t warmly embraced by the USC faithful when Hill struggled, but his numbers were actually decent outside of taking too many sacks. Bobo replaced Hill with Luke Doty at halftime of a loss to Missouri and has stuck with him since.

The Gamecocks’ offense has struggled, but its offensive line has been poor at pass protection, it had no proven receivers other than Shi Smith coming in and the team speed is subpar, Bobo said. He has gotten running back Kevin Harris to the brink of 1,000 rushing yards, something only eight other players in program history have accomplished.

Running backs coach Des Kitchings, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and linebackers coach Rod Wilson may also be considerations to stay under the new coach, as a mix of good production and recruiting skills. All assistants were given Bobo’s blessing to begin looking at potential landing spots should it not work out at USC, but with a caveat: Get the job done on the field first.

“We can sit here and complain and make a bunch of excuses, anybody knows this year was an uphill battle from the start because of COVID. Then you lose your coach and you’re playing guys who have never taken a snap in all phases,” Bobo said.

“But that’s the hand you’re dealt. We got to continue to do our work, but at the same time, those guys are reaching out to people and trying to talk to some people about finding places for their employment and taking care of their family, but it hasn’t shown up in how they’re preparing to get these kids ready to play.”

Kentucky kickoff set

The Gamecocks' game at Kentucky on Saturday will kick off at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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