COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Board of Trustees members spoke of buyouts and whether or not South Carolina could afford them. The school president declared his support for his football coach through the end of the season. The athletics director felt he had to make the same kind of statement, although there seem to be some Board members who are thinking of removing him, too.
It’s been a wild week for Gamecock football, and that didn’t even include a 30-6 loss at Texas A&M Saturday that eliminated the team from bowl contention. So as coach Will Muschamp faced the end of his fourth season miles away from the high of his nine-win second season, after he was done listing the team’s multiple injuries and consistent failure to construct a strong offense, it was his turn to speak.
“We’ve had a rough year. We’re also a staff that won more games in three years than any other staff in South Carolina history. So we have done some good things here,” he said. “I’ve been a coach that’s been a part of national championships and multiple conference championships. And I plan on taking this program really where it hasn’t ever been before. I really do plan on doing that.”
Muschamp said that the support for him from the Board, two Presidents (Harris Pastides retired last year, ushering in Bob Caslen) and AD Ray Tanner has never changed since the day he was hired, and he appreciates every bit of it. He’s often spoke of the vacuum he cocoons himself in during the season, tuning out off-the-field noise, and claimed not to know anything that’s being publicly said.
But he did confirm that Tanner talked to him before Tanner released a statement Friday saying that Muschamp is USC’s coach now and “going forward,” although it didn’t specify how long that may be. Pressed on it Friday and Saturday, Tanner would only say the statement speaks for itself.
All of the factors that go into the will-there or won’t-there as it relates to changes will come in two weeks, after the Gamecocks host Clemson. That was always going to be the case, although USC’s board members have proven to be startlingly loose-lipped when discussing the possibilities.
Muschamp said he only feels support, although his players admitted that it was impossible not to hear what’s being said about their coach.
“We see all the stuff people say about us and we just got to let it go. This is what comes with playing SEC football,” linebacker Ernest Jones said. “With the fans we got, they want to see results, and we definitely understand.”
Facilities are top-notch, recruiting is going well and it wasn’t that long ago that USC was finishing a stretch of four consecutive years of at least nine wins, with an SEC East championship and three 11-win seasons. And Muschamp is correct that he and his staff won more games in their first three seasons (22) than anyone (Steve Spurrier, the previous record-holder, had 21).
Yet Spurrier wasn’t fired from his previous SEC head coaching job, as Muschamp was. Spurrier wasn’t hired at USC after being fired following a loss to USC, as Muschamp was at Florida.
The Gamecocks have lost 10 of their past 16 games. Even after Muschamp posted a 9-4 season in 2017, just the seventh time USC has ever won nine or more games in a season, a miserable, injury-marred stretch with awful offense brought all of the questions surrounding Muschamp’s hiring back to the forefront.
“Now publicly, I don’t know what all’s out there, but I know that, from my standpoint, everybody’s been supportive and positive about where we’re headed and what we’re doing,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got the support we need to be successful. And we’re not as far off as people seem to think we are. And that’s the most frustrating part of it for us.”
If the Gamecocks pull the biggest upset in state rivalry history and upset Clemson in two weeks, the Muschamp talk will blow over. Nobody would be happy with 5-7, but in a season where rivalry pettiness is the only possibility left to claim, it would be enough.
They don’t, as they’re expected not to, and Muschamp will find out just how much support he really has, and if it’s enough to wager against support from an angry and frustrated fan base.