COLUMBIA — With the Gamecocks at 4-6 and facing two tough games left on the schedule, University of South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner reasserted his support Friday for embattled head football coach Will Muschamp.
“Today, I want to make it clear that Will Muschamp is our football coach and will be our coach going forward. President (Bob) Caslen and I are fully supportive of his leadership and his development of student-athletes on and off the field," Tanner said in a statement.
Tanner's statement acknowledged the losses that have caused some fans to doubt the direction of the football program.
"While we wish the outcome of some of our games would have been different, we are excited about the future of our program,” said Tanner, whose own future also has been up for discussion much of this season.
Muschamp's job seems to be secure for now, although the phrase "going forward" promised no definite length of his tenure. There has been no indication a change would be made before the end of the current season.
Asked at a USC board meeting later Friday whether Muschamp will be back for the 2020 season, Tanner said, "The statement speaks for itself."
If Muschamp is let go before the end of the year, he is owed a buyout of roughly $19 million, which would be among the highest ever paid to a fired NCAA football coach. Departing assistant coaches also would have to be paid. Adding to potential costs: USC might need to buyout the contract of a new coach arriving from another college.
If Muschamp returns for the 2020 season, it is expected that he will make several staff changes. One anticipated move would be to change the role of offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon. The Gamecock offense has struggled this season and ranks in the bottom half of the country in total yards and average points scored per game.
Fan anger grew after losing at home to Appalachian State last weekend, a game many thought USC should win. The Gamecocks season has been widely inconsistent with a huge upset at Georgia, one of the nation's best teams, and a losing streak-busting victory against Kentucky to go along with losses to North Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee.
The Gamecocks are underdogs in their last two games at Texas A&M on Saturday and at home against in-state rival Clemson on Nov. 30, boosting chances for the team's first losing regular season since 2015.
That was the year before Muschamp arrived to succeed Steve Spurrier, who had led USC during its most successful period in history with three consecutive 11-win seasons and five straight wins over Clemson. Muschamp has yet to beat the Tigers.
Without two more wins to reach 6-6 this season, the Gamecocks will not go to a bowl game.
A USC board member who asked not to be named to speak freely about colleagues expressed his dismay that the tenures of Muschamp and Tanner are being discussed in public, especially after the uproar trustees went through when hiring Caslen over the summer.
Calsen, a retired three-star general who changed football coaches while he was superintendent at West Point, declined comment after a board meeting on Friday.
Caslen told The Greenville News this week that he backed Muschamp, but said the coach, like others in the Gamecock athletics program, will be evaluated at the end of the season.
Still, he expressed doubt the school could come up with the money needed to buy out the coach's contract that runs through 2024. Muschamp is making $4.4 million this season with one of the nation's toughest schedules.
Tanner, a two-time NCAA champion baseball coach, has drawn the ire of some fans because he hired Muschamp. The former Florida head coach won nine games in his second season at USC, his high point with the Gamecocks. Muschamp is 26-23 in a little under four seasons in Columbia.
Tanner's job is not in any imminent danger, the board member said, before adding, "But this situation changes day-to-day, and nearly hour-to-hour."