Coach Will Muschamp Busy Looking Forward With the Gamecocks
By Joey Johnston
In two seasons, University of South Carolina coach Will Muschamp has changed the trajectory of the school's football program. It's on the upswing as the Gamecocks (8-4) prepare to face the Michigan Wolverines (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner, who hired Muschamp following the 2015 season, saw it coming.
"You look for a lot of things during the encounter of an interview, but there was a connection,'' Tanner said. "I said, 'This is a ball coach.' This was his passion, his life. He impacts young people in a positive way, loves what he's doing and his work ethic is off the charts.
"The combination of who he was and what he stood for was what we needed at South Carolina. People always want to win the interview or win the press conference to make that big splash. Well, to me, he was a big splash. I felt like we were getting a special coach. But in the beginning, some of our fan base was skeptical.''
They saw a coach who had been fired at Florida, following seasons of 4-8 and 6-5.
Tanner dug a little deeper, finding a coach who had changed the culture, improved academics and established a foundation.
He also saw great success. Muschamp had been a highly acclaimed defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas, even being named Mack Brown's head coach-in-waiting before the Florida opportunity came along.
In 2012, Muschamp guided the Gators to an 11-2 mark and a Sugar Bowl appearance.
"I think things tend to get over-evaluated these days,'' Tanner said. "I called the people at Florida to check on Will's relationship with people not in the football circles who he worked with every day. As the slogan goes, Will was 'great in the building.' They loved him.
"You can certainly be a great coach, but not great in the building. In Will's case, he was first class and did things the right way. It was a hard thing for them to let him go. I thought we were getting a great coach and great person. That's exactly what we got.''
Muschamp said he stepped into a good situation at South Carolina.
"I have a great boss (Tanner) and there's lots of stability in our organization,'' Muschamp said. "These days, the more and more you get paid, the more and more they want you to win. If you're not winning, they're going to find somebody who can. Right now in our conference, with the SEC Network, schools can pay a lot and they can also pay off coaches to move on. That's the reality.''
Muschamp said he remains grounded in his upbringing, when he advanced from walk-on to scholarship player to co-captain at Georgia. When he began his coaching career at West Georgia, he also had to line the field for practice. And his salary? "I believe it was below the poverty line,'' he said with a laugh.
Through it all, Muschamp said "there haven't been many days I get out of bed when I'm not excited going to work.''
That includes South Carolina.
"I love where I am and I love where we're headed,'' Muschamp said. "We don't have a lot of history and tradition, but we have a great fan base, terrific facilities and no ceiling on what we can do.
"I'm looking forward to being part of the first SEC championship team at South Carolina. That's what I tell recruits. I'm looking forward all the time. I don't have a rear-view mirror in my life.''
Still, Muschamp can reflect back to his Florida tenure as a valuable learning experience. He also has pride in the relationships he built.
"I want to win games and I'm as competitive as anybody,'' Muschamp said. "But it is important how people see you as a person. It's important how you handle yourself, how you represent your university and your family. You want to be first class in all you do.
"Ten percent of life is what happens to you. The other 90 percent is what you do about it. At the end of the day, because you got fired doesn't make you a bad coach. It means that situation didn't work. When you handle things the right way and treat people well, you create opportunities for yourself. That's what I have now at South Carolina and I couldn't be more excited.''