14 October 2015

Can South Carolina's next coach further what Steve Spurrier built?

With all the hub-bub surrounding the coaching situation at USC, perhaps the bigger and more surprising coaching news came from the Midlands of South Carolina when Steve Spurrier announced his sudden resignation as the head coach of the Gamecocks. And now a program that reached its highest heights under its now-former head coach wonders just what is next.

Mind you, it was only this offseason that Spurrier said he planned to be coaching South Carolina for five or six more years even as some critics arose after last season's disappointing 7-6 finish. So what changed? Apparently, the team's current struggles with a 2-4 record.
2-4 is probably what did it. Times change. I meant what I said back then. I thought we had a better team. I thought I could help us be a better team. I was wrong. I guess we're all guilty in the preseason of thinking we're going to be better than we are. Nobody ever says, 'We're going to struggle to have a winning record.' I might have built us up too much, but I believed it.
Of course, Spurrier made it clear that he was resigning, not retiring but also that he doubted that he would be coaching again. And just like, one of the truly iconic figures in the history of the SEC, not to mention the best coach in the history of not one but two SEC programs, was out the door.

Spurrier did not have the success in Columbia that he had in Gainesville but to compare the two really oversells how little football tradition the Gamecocks had before he arrived (although Florida was a perennial underachiever pre-Spurrier in their own right). They had only three bowl victories with the first one coming in 1994. They had only won ten games once.

The Ol' Ball Coach took the Cocks bowling every season but one, had three straight 11 win seasons, has won four straight bowl games and, most importantly, went 6-4 against Clemson with a five game winning streak being ended last season.

So in keeping that in mind, this next coaching hire is critical as it could mean the difference from being a top-tier contender in the SEC East and settling back into mediocrity in the toughest conference in America. Who could be that next coach?

It seems like a name that is going to be thrown around a lot is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, whose name always seems to be thrown a lot for jobs like these. Smart has earned his reputation of being one of the top defensive coaches in the country and his current experience coaching in the SEC certainly would not hurt but would his lack of head coaching experience hurt him like it appeared to hurt Will Muschamp at Florida?

Another coach who will be on many a short list is Justin Fuente at Memphis. Fuente took over a program that was in shambles, got them to ten wins in only three seasons and now sits at 5-0 with Ole Miss coming to town in what has become one of the biggest games in program history. He has done as good a job as any in America the past few years and his stock may go through the ceiling should his Tigers pull off the upset.

A pair of talented freshman coaches in the state of Texas, Chad Morris at SMU and Tom Herman at Houston, could also find themselves some interest. Morris would be intriguing because he spent four years as the offensive coordinator at Clemson, but he would come in as he is early in the rebuilding process at SMU and hasn't proven himself that much as a head coach. Herman is 5-0 at Houston and certainly has plenty of offensive chops but he really hasn't recruited the Southeast all that much.

Jeff Brohm, a Bobby Petrino protegee, doing some really good things at Western Kentucky and has got them on the fringe of the being the Group of Five representative playing in a New Year's game. He is a good quarterback guy but going from the Sun Belt to the SEC seems like a big jump for somebody who is only in his second season as a head coach.

And of course, you could throw other names into the pot including guys on the rebound like Will Muschamp or Ed Orgeron. But given that the next ball coach will not be the Ol' Ball Coach, the times will be changing quickly in Columbia.

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