Think of Will Muschamp’s “Boom Bus” — luxury digs for a new head coach on the booster club circuit — as a rolling bandwagon. Plenty of room for South Carolina football fans who believe Muschamp when he says the Gamecocks can bounce back from a 3-9 season and win the SEC East this year.
South Carolina won’t finish first. Some “experts” are picking them to finish last.
Muschamp has it easier than Lou Holtz, Brad Scott and Sparky Woods did in their Gamecock rebuilding projects. But he lacks the veteran quarterback play Woods and Scott walked into and the fever-pitch enthusiasm that greeted Holtz and Steve Spurrier.
Comparing the five South Carolina head coach transitions involving coaches who worked in the Gamecocks’ SEC era is a mixed bag.
Rated by mess inherited (from somewhat manageable to backyard tire fire smelly):
1. Steve Spurrier
2. Will Muschamp
3. Sparky Woods
4. Brad Scott
5. Lou Holtz
Rated by fan/media enthusiasm for the new guy:
1. Steve Spurrier
2. Lou Holtz
3. Brad Scott
4. Tie: Sparky Woods and Will Muschamp
Rated by inherited quarterback situation:
1. Brad Scott (Steve Taneyhill)
2. Sparky Woods (Todd Ellis)
3. Will Muschamp (Brandon McIlwain)
4. Lou Holtz (Phil Petty)
5. Steve Spurrier (Blake Mitchell)
A more detailed look, in chronological order:
First season: 1989
Replaced: Joe Morrison (died but probably would have been fired amid steroid scandal revealed by Sports Illustrated and The Post and Courier)
Morrison record in 1988: 8-4 (no conference affiliation)
Woods record in 1989: 6-4-1 (no conference affiliation)
Mess inherited: Though a steroid scandal didn’t involve all of Morrison’s assistant coaches, athletic director King Dixon insisted Woods replace the entire staff and bring in a full group of assistants from Appalachian State. That major college inexperience was a bad mix with talent slippage and a 1992 transition to the SEC.
Quarterback situation: Great, for a few months. Todd Ellis was the star of a 5-1-1 start but an injury ruined his senior year.
Outlook at the time: Cautiously optimistic. Woods brought fresh enthusiasm but lacked big-time credentials.
Rescue grade: C. Woods got off to a decent start and would have been in a bowl game in 1989 and 1990 (6-5) by today’s easier qualification standards.
First season: 1994
Replaced: Sparky Woods (fired)
Woods record in 1993: 4-7. 2-6 in SEC
Scott record in 1994: 7-5, 4-4 in SEC
Mess inherited: The Gamecocks lacked SEC-caliber talent but lost three games by four points or less in 1993.
Quarterback situation: Very good. Steve Taneyhill was establishing himself as one of South Carolina’s best quarterbacks.
Outlook at the time: Bubbly. Scott had come from Florida State, where he was offensive coordinator for the Seminoles’ innovative national championship team featuring Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward.
Rescue grade: C. The Gamecocks slightly improved as a program but it was tough sledding against Spurrier’s best teams at Florida and the rest of the SEC. Recruiting mistakes and a rash of close losses doomed Scott in the 1-10 swoon of 1998.
First season: 1999
Replaced: Brad Scott (fired)
Scott record in 1998: 1-10. 0-8 in SEC
Holtz record in 1999: 0-11, 0-8 in SEC
Mess inherited: Holtz complained that the “cupboard was bare” midway through an infamous 0-11 season.
Quarterback situation: Callow. Holtz had to start over with Phil Petty, who eventually became a solid college game-manager.
Outlook at the time: Ecstatic. Holtz, having won a national title at Notre Dame, played on the giddiness at every opportunity.
Rescue grade: B. That first step was a doozy but 8-4 and 9-3 seasons followed, including back-to-back Outback Bowl victories over Ohio State. While things were falling apart at the end of the Holtz tenure, he gradually built SEC credibility.
First season: 2005
Replaced: Lou Holtz (resigned)
Holtz record in 2004: 6-5. 4-4 in SEC
Spurrier record in 2005: 7-5, 5-3 in SEC
Mess inherited: The Holtz Era ended with a lack of discipline, an NCAA investigation and a 29-7 loss at Clemson in The Brawl game.
Quarterback situation: Weak. Spurrier settled on Blake Mitchell, making marginal talent look better than advertised.
Outlook at the time: Off the charts. Landing Spurrier was a coup for former athletic director Mike McGee. A frequently brilliant Palmetto State columnist predicted more than one SEC championship.
Rescue grade: A. Though a gradual and sometimes painful rise, Spurrier eventually built a Gamecock Golden Era program that went 11-2 three years in a row, won four straight bowl games and five straight games against Clemson before taking a sudden dip.
First season: 2016
Replaced: Steve Spurrier (resigned)
Spurrier record in 2015: 3-9, 1-7 in SEC
Mess inherited: South Carolina’s talent level crashed in 2015 to pre-Spurrier levels. The best player on the current roster is left guard Zack Bailey, a sophomore from Summerville High School. Only four or five Gamecocks could start for Clemson.
Quarterback situation: Rosy, eventually. South Carolina rarely has had two better future options than 2016 freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley, the latter entirely a product of Muschamp pursuit.
Outlook at the time: Cautiously optimistic. Muschamp mentors Nick Saban and Mack Brown think the world of the guy. He’s off to a good recruiting start and his staff is stocked with star recruiters. But he was fired by an SEC East rival the day after Florida inexplicably lost to a struggling South Carolina team and remains unproven as a head coach.
Rescue grade: TBD in what projects as another interesting transition season in Columbia.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff