COLUMBIA — It’s been nearly 13 months since Will Muschamp’s first stint as a college head coach ended, on a Sunday morning after a loss to South Carolina. Now the Gamecocks may be hoping he’s learned from those mistakes.
The current Auburn defensive coordinator and former Florida head coach remains a leading candidate to replace Steve Spurrier, who resigned Oct. 13. Muschamp is among those being interviewed for the job, a group which also includes Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and Gamecocks interim head coach Shawn Elliott.
Muschamp went 28-21 in four years as head coach at Florida, and was fired following a loss to USC in 2014. His turbulent tenure in the Swamp included the Gators’ first losing season since 1979 and first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision program. His pro-style offense also wore on Florida fans more accustomed to the wide-open attacks run by Spurrier and Urban Meyer, who combined for three national titles.
Count former USC defensive lineman Langston Moore among those who believe Muschamp learned from that experience, and would do things differently at USC.
“I don’t know if vain is the right word, but Will is like most athletes — we love the competition, we take on all challenges. But when we fail, or were perceived to fail or don’t achieve what we want to, we always do a good job of pulling out those experiences,” said Moore, a James Island native who works as sideline reporter on USC radio broadcasts.
“This time around ... he’s going to improve on a lot of mistakes he made — with his temper, with the hiring (of assistants), even with how he managed the team, all of that stuff. Even how he recruits players to run certain offenses. I like Will Muschamp the second time around as opposed to Will Muschamp before he went to Florida with all the accolades and all the hype, because he’s a guy who’s not going to be defeated by it. He’s going to take the challenge and really apply that to his next job, and that’s going to make him a better coach.”
USC athletic director Ray Tanner has said he is working with a “short list” of candidates, although national reports have also named Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, South Florida head coach Willie Taggart and former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano as potential candidates. Spurrier resigned in the middle of what would become a 3-9 season, USC’s first losing campaign in over a decade, and its worst since the 0-11 mark in 1999.
Elliott, who went 1-5 in the interim role, confirmed his interview with Tanner to the South Carolina Radio Network’s “Sports Talk” program. “It was a very informative meeting for both he and I. I enjoyed it. And when I walked out of there, I felt very positive about it,” Elliott said.
“I’m a pretty confident guy. So going in, I was very confident. Coming out, I was very confident,” he added. “And that’s the only way you can be if you’re going after something that you love, and you have a great interest in and pride and passion in. And I felt the same way. I was ready to go after it going in, and coming out I feel the exact same way.”
One of the Gamecocks’ original targets, Houston head coach Tom Herman, is staying put. Herman on Friday signed a new five-year contract with the Cougars that will pay him $2.8 million annually, according to the Houston Chronicle. “It’s a relief to get it off my plate,” he told the paper. “As a coach you want to build a program, not just a season.”
Momentum in the past 24 hours has appeared to favor Muschamp, with the Alabama Media Group reporting that he’s reached out to former USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson for references on a potential staff. The same outlet also reported that Muschamp is unlikely to return to Auburn.
Muschamp, 44, also counts Spurrier as a friend. He built top-10 defenses at LSU, Texas, and in a previous stint at Auburn, although the Tigers plummeted to 89th in total defense this year. But he’s renowned as a solid defensive strategist and strong recruiter, two things needed at USC, which has ranked near the bottom of the SEC the past two seasons in total defense, and this year saw a number of current and former walk-ons play prominent roles.
“If you ever see him lose his temper, it’s because of a lack of detail. And if anybody needed that here at Carolina, it was defense,” said Moore, who played at USC from 1999-2002.
“That same energy and want-to you see on the sideline, he uses it in recruiting. He’s a consummate recruiter, from what I’ve heard. I haven’t had an interaction with him or seen him in the home doing his deal, but obviously he’s been able to get a lot of guys and a lot of talent. Even though he’s not at Florida this year, a lot of what they’re doing is because he brought those guys in there to that program.”
The Gators, in their first season under Jim McElwain, play Alabama on Saturday for the SEC title. Meanwhile the coaching carousel continued to spin Friday, with Miami and Virginia naming coaches one day after Missouri and Memphis filled vacancies. Tanner has said he hopes to have a new head coach in place by next week.
“I applaud him for taking his time,” Elliott said. “and making sure this is the right hire for the University of South Carolina.”