The firing of Will Muschamp at South Carolina began a week ago with an embarrassing 45-point home loss to Texas A&M — and with the underlying desire of being the first school to take a run at hiring Hugh Freeze.

A South Carolina source on Sunday said the university spent much of last week finding funding to pay Muschamp’s $13.5 million buyout. The athletic department wanted to get ahead of a potential pack of teams looking for coaches. Sunday, the school announced it fired Muschamp, who was 28-30 in 4+ seasons.

There are a handful of potential coaches with Power 5 value available, and at the top of that list, according to a South Carolina source, is Freeze. The Liberty coach (and former Ole Miss coach) signed an extension with the Flames last week – an extension that won’t prohibit him from accepting another job.

Under Freeze, Liberty is 8-0 and ranked No. 21 in the country. Freeze’s career record is 65-33. He has won 8 or more games in 6 of his 8 seasons as a head coach.

Freeze led Ole Miss to back-to-back major bowls but was fired in the summer of 2017 after fallout from an NCAA investigation and for “personal misconduct” issues after calling escort services with his university-issued phone.

An industry source said Freeze is interested in returning to the SEC, and South Carolina is an attractive job with similar inherent obstacles like Ole Miss, which beat Alabama in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015.

South Carolina has had 7 seasons of 9 or more wins in program history. Muschamp had 1 of those seasons, finishing 9-4 in 2017. Steve Spurrier’s 3 consecutive 11-win seasons (no SEC championship) from 2011-13 was the high-water mark.

Other potential options for South Carolina if Freeze doesn’t work out: Louisiana head coach Billy Napier (who has worked for Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney) and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, a former Washington and USC head coach.