COLUMBIA — Will Muschamp doesn’t define University of South Carolina success as 7-6 with a bowl game in Birmingham or Shreveport.
The Gamecocks’ new (gently used) head football coach is shooting for the stars. Atlanta, at least.
“We’re about winning championships,” Muschamp said Monday during his introductory news conference at Williams-Brice Stadium. “The ceiling is limitless here.”
You wouldn’t expect athletic director Ray Tanner, the two-time national championship winning baseball coach, to think much differently.
“(Muschamp) will get us to the top of the conference,” Tanner said, “and into the national conversation.”
Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier came to South Carolina with grand hopes, too. The pair of former national championship winners combined for one SEC East title and a lopsided loss to Auburn in the 2010 SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
Of course, Spurrier’s three straight 11-2 seasons, 18 straight home wins, 5-0 streak against Clemson and four straight bowl victories were magnificent. More likely than not, such a stretch won’t be duplicated for a few generations.
A more realistic definition of acceptable success under Muschamp:
— A winning record every season
— Annual bowl trip
— A .500 record against Clemson
— No major off-the-field problems
That is no easy task.
That should have the Gamecocks in the SEC East title mix every few years, perhaps with a few steps back along the way.
Tanner went out of his way Monday to defend Muschamp’s 28-21 record at Florida from 2011-2014, pointing out that a few coaches involved in the 2015 College Football Playoff didn’t start out any better.
True, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, a former South Carolina defensive back, went 18-17 in three seasons at Cincinnati and then 7-6 in his first year in East Lansing.
Alabama’s Nick Saban after one season at Toledo (9-2) left for Michigan State, where he was 25-22-1 in his first four seasons.
Except Dantonio and Saban didn’t get fired, as Muschamp did at Florida.
The best example of a current Power Five conference head coach that had success after losing a major college job is Duke’s David Cutcliffe, fired after going 44-29 in seven seasons at Ole Miss.
It will come down to players.
Muschamp might not feel Gator-like pressure to win in Columbia. But the well-regarded recruiter seems to realize top talent is harder to get at South Carolina than at Florida with the way he answered a question about the comparison.
“At the end of the day, it’s not really about winning in February (at Signing Day),” said Muschamp, who served this season as Auburn defensive coordinator. “It’s about winning in the fall and winning with good football players who represent this university in a first-class manner.”
He is not conceding anything, however.
“Gamecock Nation,” Muschamp said upon introducing his wife Carol, “if you don’t think I can recruit, look at her and look at me. I can sell ice to an Eskimo.”
Fortunately for a new Gamecock head coach, the SEC East timing couldn’t be better.
Holtz had to deal with Spurrier at Florida.
Spurrier came in having to face Mark Richt, Phil Fullmer, Bobby Johnson and Rich Brooks.
Suddenly, third-year guys Butch Jones and Mark Stoops are the longest-tenured coaches in the division.
Ranking the best SEC East head coaches:
1. Jim McElwain, Florida
2. Butch Jones, Tennessee
3. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
4. Kirby Smart, Georgia
5. Barry Odom, Missouri
6. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
7. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Explanation: McElwain is the defending champ for a whole year; Muschamp gets the tentative edge over fellow new hires Smart and Odom because he has more experience; Mason beat Stoops this season.
Which isn’t saying much.
But maybe some of the Gamecock fans panning Muschamp on social media over the weekend feel a little better about a 2016 schedule that opens with a Thursday night game at Vanderbilt and includes soft non-conference games against East Carolina, UMass and Western Carolina.
Here comes a winning record.
A bowl invitation and those valuable extra practices.
A bowl victory.
And a good start for realistic definitions of Gamecock success.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff