COLUMBIA — South Carolina fired football coach Will Muschamp on Sunday, a day after the Gamecocks' third consecutive lopsided loss eroded chances for a winning season.
The Gamecocks named offensive coordinator Mike Bobo interim head coach, the school announced. Bobo arrived in Columbia this year after five seasons as head coach at Colorado State.
"I believe our program will be well-served by coach Bobo as the interim head coach as we search for a new leader for Gamecock football," USC athletic director Ray Tanner said in a statement. "We will begin a search immediately to find the best head coach for Carolina football."
The Gamecocks are on the hook to pay Muschamp a $13.2 million buyout, plus another $487,000 for his daily salary (approximately $10,820 per day) from Nov. 16-Dec. 31.
Tanner and USC President Bob Caslen met with the coaching staff and team on Sunday to inform them of the decision. Caslen, who has often pointed out that he rebuilt Army football at his previous stop, could be involved in the search for a new coach as well.
"I appreciate everything coach Muschamp has done for our university. He is a true professional and strong advocate for our student-athletes," Caslen said in a statement. "Our search for a new head football coach begins today, and I have every confidence that coach Tanner will find the right person to lead our program."
Muschamp's beleaguered tenure ended during his fifth season at USC and after a 59-42 loss at Mississippi on Saturday that dropped the Gamecocks to 2-5. Mired in a three-game losing streak but with a .500 season still possible, the USC administration didn’t see a reason to delay the inevitable.
Muschamp's firing came after school leaders determined the program was not improving, especially after recent performances, a source with knowledge told The Post and Courier.
Muschamp was told about his firing at 6 p.m. Sunday, about an hour before the news broke.
Bobo will get a three-game tryout to be the next coach, but USC wants a new football boss who can build the program that competes with the SEC's top teams, said the source who asked not to be identified in order to speak candidly.
Muschamp’s era began with 22 wins over three seasons, the most of any coach in that span in program history, but he is 6-13 since with a growing number of irate fans. He leaves with a record of 28–30, 17–22 in the SEC.
He lost all four meetings against archrival Clemson by at least 21 points each and went 1-2 in bowl games.
Muschamp, known as a defensive guru, has seen his defenses end in the top half of the SEC rankings only once in five seasons. The Gamecocks have given up a team-record 159 points over the past three games.
USC is the second SEC program to fire Muschamp. He was let go during his fourth season at Florida in 2014 immediately after losing a game to USC.
Even with a dark financial picture due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a large buyout, Tanner had no choice. At USC's last home game, boos cascaded along with a “Fire Muschamp” chant during the second half of a 48-3 loss to Texas A&M.
Fan apathy if Muschamp returned threatened Williams-Brice Stadium with thousands of empty seats next season when USC hopes it can be at full capacity again.
Seating has been capped at under 25 percent of capacity with the COVID-19 pandemic. A new coach could rejuvenate enthusiasm needed to make up much of the nearly $58 million that the department is forecast to lose because of the outbreak.
Bobo's offense at USC has been hit-or-miss this season, but generally more consistent than USC's previous years in part because of the play of quarterback Collin Hill, a transfer who followed his coach from Colorado State, and emerging star tailback Kevin Harris.
Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback and assistant coach, compiled a 28-35 record with the Rams. He is paid $1.2 million a year at USC.
Tanner and Bobo will talk to reporters on Monday.
Names that will surface as Muschamp's potential successor include:
• Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, a former Ole Miss head coach who left amid controversy but is having an undefeated season with the No. 21 Flames.
• Louisiana coach Billy Napier, a former Furman star quarterback and Clemson and Alabama assistant coach who has gone 18-4 since 2019 with the 24th-ranked Ragin' Cajuns.
• Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell, a former Charleston Southern head coach who has the undefeated Chanticleers ranked 15th in the country.
USC has challenges. The school hasn't had a consistent track record of success and is dealing with an in-state rival, Clemson, that now annually competes for the national title.
Still, leading the Gamecocks is viewed as a great job.
The fans' passion for the program along with more than $65 million in new top-notch facilities and a freshly renovated stadium offers some appeal to potential new coaches.
USC has leaned on hiring veteran coaches in their past three hires with Muschamp, Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz.
The search begins for a new coach who can win at a program that has claimed one conference championship in 127 years of football, one division championship in 29 years in the SEC and a mere four seasons of 10 or more wins.
Muschamp's record at USC
Year/Overall record/SEC record
2016: 6–7 (3–5)
2017: 9–4 (5–3)
2018: 7–6 (4–4)
2019: 4–8 (3–5)
2020: 2–5 (2–5)
Total: 28–30 (17–22)