South Carolina will announce Will Muschamp as its head coach Monday morning. The reaction to news of the hiring has not been positive. Most people remember an unsuccessful Florida stint and don’t see reasons to believe Muschamp will do better this time around. They should.
No one knows what will happen, not with Muschamp in Columbia, Smart in Athens or Richt in Miami. There is no way to know what coach, if any, will be successful in a new job. Past performance is no guarantee of future success. Everyone knows this, but it bears being repeated. No coach is certain to be a success; none is certain to fail. The end of the Steve Spurrier era should be a reminder of that.
This disclaimer is a little superficial, and you can go down the rabbit hole playing a game of “what do we really know”. We don’t know the future. There’s no guarantee football won’t be outlawed, etc., and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I’m only pointing out that evaluating a coaching hire and projecting future success is more about guessing and thinking than it is about knowing.
Keys to Success
A coach needs to do three things to be successful. He must have a good offense, a good defense and players to execute them. Many coaches approach this many ways. Some coach the offense and turn over the defense to a coordinator, the Spurrier model. Some coach the defense and turn the offense over to a coordinator, the Saban/Dantonio model. Some turn both over to coordinators and oversee the program, the Mack Brown/Dabo model. Most fall somewhere in between where they hand over some of the coordinator and recruiting duties. Any of the models can work. One is not superior to the others.
What you have to have for success is a coach that brings something to the table. He must be able to manage, recruit or coach one side of the ball. Will Muschamp checks two of those boxes. He can recruit players. He can coach defense. He only has to have an offensive coordinator to be successful, it would seem.
At Florida Muschamp fielded infamously bad offenses, and despite his teams’ defensive prowess, the offenses were generally terrible. If Muschamp takes the same approach, he won’t be successful anywhere. But, there’s no reason to think he will. Why would he do the same thing that got him fired at the last job? He seems to know that his team must have both a good offense and defense. That alone should encourage South Carolina.
He Didn’t Win at Florida
The biggest problem with Muschamp is his Florida tenure. It was not successful; he was fired for losing too much. Before that he was the hottest assistant in the country. He was the head coach in waiting at Texas. Everyone put him at the top of their list to be the next big time head coach. Look at Kirby Smart today. That was Will Muschamp six years ago. Florida lured him away from Texas, and the results there weren’t up to par.
Muschamp had an 11 win team who went to the Sugar Bowl, but he had a lot of failures. He had a team finish 4-8, and he lost to Georgia Southern. His offenses were chronically inept, and he had some of the worst records in recent Gators history.
That’s all true, and it’s all relevant to how Mushcamp may perform as a head coach. Everyone is aware of this, but for some people that is the end of the analysis. “His Florida teams didn’t win enough, so his South Carolina teams won’t either.”
Fortunately for Gamecocks, football isn’t that simple. Florida’s offenses were bad, why? Charlie Weis was the first offensive coordinator. His acumen never translated to college in any of his three stops, not at Florida, Notre Dame or Kansas. Hiring him was a mistake. Brent Pease and Kurt Roper, the next two coordinators had very sporadic success, but they couldn’t get the personnel in place to be successful, especially at quarterback. Also, two of those years Florida was decimated by injuries. http://espn.go.com/blog/sec/post/_/id/86457/gators-hope-injury-woes-are-in-the-past Every team has injuries, and it’s part of the game, but when they happen, especially in the numbers they happened in Gainesville, it’s going to affect the results.
Florida’s offenses were bad because of poor OC coaching, injuries and inability to recruit a great quarterback. Ultimately the buck stops with the head coach, but a good offensive coordinator, with some better luck, should be able to fix those issues. Injuries are unpredictable, but there’s no reason to assume they will happen in large numbers in Columbia. They could, of course, but you can’t assume they will. And the quarterback issue? If South Carolina can hold on to Brandon McIlwain, they should have the quarterback issue resolved for this recruiting cycle.
Columbia is not Gainesville
South Carolina is not the same program as Florida. It isn’t on the same level, historically or presently. The belief is that it is easier to win in Gainesville. All things being equal it is. Florida is in a more talent rich area with a better tradition, but Florida also comes with expectations and limitations that aren’t present in Columbia.
Florida’s national championship teams have all had great offenses. The Spurrier Era defined offensive success in the 1990s. Urban Meyer’s great teams were proving that the spread was not only a viable offense; it was a dominant one. Florida fans got used to winning that way and demanded offense in the Swamp. South Carolina fans don’t.
The successes of the Holtz era and the Spurrier era were built on the back of defenses. Gamecocks are perfectly happy to win games 10-9 or 14-10. They have no demands that the scoreboard be lit up. They don’t have the tradition or history to demand such a thing. They just want to win. If it’s a dominant defense, a high-flying offense or special teams flukes, they are fine with it. They just want winning. In that sense the South Carolina job is easier.
The biggest question is can Muschamp fix his mistakes? Can he field a competent offense? Can he avoid creating an atmosphere where only defense matters (like he was rumored to have done in Gainesville)? And in doing so, can he win? Absolutely, he definitely can. Will he? I don’t know. He might not. He may make the same mistakes, but I doubt it. There’s no reason to believe he didn’t learn from his time in Florida. If he did learn, there’s no reason to believe he can’t win in Columbia.