Two years ago, Will Muschamp was coaching for his job at Florida.
After going 7-1 in SEC play in his second season, Muschamp struggled during his last two years with the Gators, posting a 11-13 (7-9 SEC) record. Prior to Florida’s final game, athletic director Jeremy Foley announced that Muschamp would be stepping down as the team’s head coach.
Ironically enough, it was a 23-20 overtime home loss to South Carolina that was considered the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
“I was given every opportunity to get it done here, and I simply didn’t win enough games — that is the bottom line,” Muschamp said during his resignation press conference. “I’m disappointed that I didn’t get it done, and it is my responsibility to get it done.”
Muschamp finished the season before defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin took over as interim coach during Florida’s 28-20 Birmingham Bowl victory.
Florida eventually moved on to Jim McElwain, who successfully led the Gators to an SEC East Division title in his first year with a roster mainly made up of Muschamp’s players. During that season, the former head coach reverted back to defensive coordinator duties at Auburn, where he previously coached from 2006-07.
Muschamp became one of the highest-paid coaches in college football by returning to a position many considered his “niche.” He had successfully led defenses to top 10 rankings for six consecutive seasons beginning in 2009.
However, Auburn’s defense struggled and Muschamp’s style clashed with head coach Gus Malzahn. The Tigers ranked 13th among SEC teams in total defense, leading only … South Carolina.
Apparently that impressed Gamecocks brass because Muschamp was hired as head coach shortly after the season. It was a move that surprised many, especially considering the coach was basically deemed unfit to coach in the SEC by a rival East program.
And yet, here we are. South Carolina has far exceeded expectations in its first season under Muschamp. The Gamecocks, who finished last in the SEC in 2015, just picked up a huge 24-21 upset victory over Tennessee, likely spoiling the Vols’ chances at an SEC Championship Game appearance.
South Carolina also has a chance to make a bowl game appearance and finish its season with a winning record, currently sitting at 4-4 (2-4 SEC). Perhaps USC knew something that most of us didn’t.
What’s even more impressive is that he’s doing it with many of his own players, not just Steve Spurrier’s. Everyone knew Muschamp was a masterful recruiter, which is something that Spurrier admittedly put less emphasis into toward the end of his career.
South Carolina currently ranks No. 15 in the 247Sports Team Composite Rankings. But it’s the players Muschamp has already recruited that are making the difference. Last week’s win provided big performances from quarterback Jake Bentley, running back Rico Dowdle and wide receiver Bryan Edwards, all three of whom are true freshmen.
The trio was praised as one of the best true freshman trios in college football, according to 247Sports‘ Barton Simmons.
South Carolina's Jake Bentley at QB + RB Rico Dowdle + WR Bryan Edwards = one of nation's best true freshman trios. Muschamp knows talent
— Barton Simmons (@bartonsimmons) October 31, 2016
What Muschamp has done in less than a year is outstanding. It’s not like he inherited a team that was “just off” expectations but didn’t lack talent. South Carolina was the undisputed worst team in the SEC last season.
But now, the Gamecocks are slowly climbing back to relevance in a wide open SEC East. That deserves at least some recognition.
It’s too early to say that Muschamp will be a great hire for South Carolina long term, especially following Spurrier, who was the program’s winningest all-time coach. Let’s not forget, Muschamp had a strong start in Gainesville before things went sour, so only time will tell.
But so far, he’s definitely exceeded expectations and seems to be moving the program in the right direction.