College football coaching changes are tricky.

Execute one too early, and you sometimes get players going through the motions. That leads to fan apathy, unhappy boosters and a less appealing situation for the new coach.

Let a lame duck coach finish the season, and you might miss out on the next Justin Fuente or Tom Herman.

Timing matters when a program decides to change coaches, and it also matters when those powers that be determine the next leader for that program.

South Carolina finds itself in a unique position. With Steve Spurrier’s mid-season departure, the “Help Wanted” sign has been hanging up for more than a month now. That’s true at 10 other FBS schools right now, and that list will grow in the coming weeks.

Interim coach Shawn Elliott is still a candidate, but the chorus of folks campaigning on his behalf grows smaller with each passing week.

So, let’s assume for a minute that South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner has his man right now. When should the deal go public?

The answer, of course, is all about timing.

The first date to remember is Feb. 3, 2016. That’s National Signing Day — also known as the most important non-Saturday of the year for any football program.

Tanner has to give his new hire the time to sort through the existing verbal commitments and try to keep those players he wants. The new coach also needs time to fill out the rest of the class, as there is always attrition on the commitment list when a new coach is hired.

But as important as the recruiting cycle is, there are barriers in place that prevent the naming of a new coach right now, too.

Let’s assume for a moment that the next coach at South Carolina is currently employed. While there are a couple of names out there that could technically start tomorrow, all of the “most likely” candidates (Fuente, Herman, Rich Rodriguez, Ed Orgeron, Kirby Smart, etc.) already have jobs.

For most of those names, Nov. 30 or Dec. 7 are the dates that makes the most sense. Those are the Mondays following the end of the regular season and the conference championship games, respectively.

Anyone looking to hire Smart (or anyone else likely to be involved with the College Football Playoff) will have to wait a bit longer. Even if Smart took the job, it probably will only be a part-time gig until after the title game. It’s rare that a guy wouldn’t stick around to coach for a national championship.

Jim McElwain, now coaching at Florida, stuck around to coach Alabama’s offense in the 2012 title game despite already working as Colorado State’s new head coach.

The national championship is set for Jan. 11, 2016, and the last recruiting window opens two days later. So, if Smart decides to take a head coaching job somewhere, it likely won’t be until mid-January. That would give him (or anyone else in a similar position) 17 days to duct tape together a recruiting class.

South Carolina’s unique situation helps in this case.

Whatever a fan’s opinion of Elliott might be, there’s no question that the Gamecocks have been playing hard for him. They might be a little depressed if news of a coaching change got out this week in advance of the game against The Citadel. But Mickey Mouse could be announced as the new head coach on Monday, and the team would still be excited about the chance to ruin Clemson’s playoff dreams on the season’s final weekend.

There’s no need to rush this decision. South Carolina, despite what you may have read in a few other places, is a great job. Even if a secret handshake deal is already in place, and it very well may be, it won’t harm the program to let Elliott and his staff coach out the string.

Who knows, that bit of professional courtesy might help them land an even better coach.