COLUMBIA — Quit calculating buyouts. Swallow the angst.
Will Muschamp will be South Carolina’s football coach next season.
"Our athletic director and I support Will Muschamp, and we look forward to him being our coach next year and for seasons to come,” South Carolina president Bob Caslen said Wednesday in the most definitive statement on Muschamp’s future.
The announcement ended a bizarre 12 days where Caslen, AD Ray Tanner and some of USC’s Board of Trustees took turns stepping over each other with public statements, some contradicting and some requiring much, much further clarification. Caslen was at the center of the storm, making intriguing comments to reporters at The Greenville News and The Florence Morning News on buyout terms, circumstances of whether or not Muschamp would return and what may be required to save his job.
Caslen spoke in Florence and said his words in Greenville were “twisted,” which seemed to be overruled when The Greenville News released its audio of the interviews. Then when he said in Florence that Tanner had talked with Florida State about the immense buyout it’s due to pay fired coach Willie Taggart, USC released a statement setting the record straight, that Tanner had never talked to FSU.
Yet Caslen still said he did in the interview, which was confirmed by the Morning News releasing its own audio file. According to sources close to the program, Muschamp was unlikely to be fired at the end of this season anyway.
Caslen’s statement Wednesday confirmed that, but also raised other questions. Was Muschamp’s job ever in jeopardy, and was Caslen forced to release that statement just to help scrub his previous comments?
"Earlier this week, I had a lengthy conversation with reporters and editors from the Florence Morning news about our university and the importance of keeping it affordable and accessible to the people of South Carolina,” Caslen said. “In the course of that interview, I was asked several questions about the football program, one about coach Muschamp that I misinterpreted. I misspoke and the mistake was mine, and I apologize for any confusion my comments have created with Gamecock fans or our program.”
Whatever the case, Muschamp will return in 2020 for a fifth season.
He is expected to make several staff changes, most notably involving offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon, and the terms of his remaining contract (through 2024) and buyout (which will decrease around $3.45 million for next year) will likely be discussed by the Board at a later date.
Muschamp is 26-24 in four seasons at USC, recording just the seventh season of nine or more wins in school history in 2017 but going 11-13 over the last two seasons. Injuries derailed last year but the Gamecocks still finished 7-6, making Muschamp the only coach in school history to go to three straight bowl games to start his tenure and the winningest coach in USC history over the same span.
This year, the Gamecocks started badly and have progressively gotten worse. They lost senior starting quarterback Jake Bentley in a loss to heavy underdog North Carolina to begin the season and what some rated the nation’s toughest schedule began to take its toll. The Gamecocks’ offense has been increasingly dreadful and has posted one touchdown, 21 points and 66 rushing yards over the past two games.
With No. 3 Clemson coming to town on Nov. 30, the Gamecocks have little chance to win. It would finish a 4-8 season and the Gamecocks would be losing many of their most experienced and talented players.
Yet USC did beat No. 3 Georgia on the road this year, the best win of Muschamp’s tenure and the only loss on the Bulldogs’ schedule. That and the reluctance from the administration not to constantly change coaches after four or five years — something USC has done regularly throughout its history — gave Muschamp support.
“You find out a lot about people inside your program when there’s adversity,” Muschamp said on his post-game show, filmed after a 30-6 loss at Texas A&M last week. “And you find out a lot about people outside your program.”
Muschamp has mentioned several times how the support from Tanner, the Board and two presidents (Caslen and his predecessor, the retired Harris Pastides) has never wavered. All have constantly voiced how Muschamp lifted the program from the 3-9 wreckage it was in the last year of Steve Spurrier, his rising recruiting ratings, how his players are model young men and how he has done nothing to tarnish the university’s image.
But even Muschamp said the bottom line is to win, and the Gamecocks haven’t done that this year.
He’ll get at least one more chance to correct that next year.
The offense won’t have a great chance to get better in its final game. Muschamp said Wednesday that top receiver Bryan Edwards will probably miss the Clemson game.
“Bryan Edwards had a scope this morning on his meniscus and will miss the Clemson game, most likely,” Muschamp said. “I’m saying doubtful. It’s just a scope, there’s a possibility. But if he’s unable to go, it’s a huge blow.”
Edwards is the Gamecocks' top playmaker this year, and one of the best receivers in school history. He has career records for catches, yards and consecutive games with a catch.
If he can't play, he will finish one touchdown short of tying Sidney Rice and Alshon Jeffery for that career record.