Coach Muschamp: South Carolina football program not far off
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Will Muschamp believes the South Carolina is not that far from being the same kind of football program that went 33-6 over a three-season stretch from 2011-13.
He's been working the last month to return the program to those lofty levels.
''We're not far off. We need to continue to work and understand where we are and where we want to go,'' Muschamp told The Associated Press on Monday.
Muschamp was hired Dec. 6 as the Gamecocks coach, replacing Steve Spurrier who stepped down in mid-October with South Carolina struggling.
Interim coach Shawn Elliott guided the team through the last half of the season, finishing off a 3-9 campaign with five consecutive defeats.
Muschamp understands the gap he needs to bridge to get the Gamecocks back competing for the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division. To that end, he's spent much of his time since being hired recruiting and building a staff.
The latest addition to his staff his co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who handled those duties in Muschamp's last year as Florida head coach. Roper spent this past season as an offensive assistant for the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Roper will share coordinator duties with Bryan McClendon, who was Georgia's passing game coordinator, receivers coach and, after Mark Richt's firing, its interim coach for the Bulldogs' 24-17 win over Penn State in the Taxslayer Bowl last week.
Muschamp is aware of those critical of his offense late in his Florida tenure and believes he's got the right assistants in place to avoid that issue at South Carolina.
''I hire coaches to do a job,'' Muschamp said. ''Offensively, I just want to be on the same page philosophically of what we want to do. Regardless of what anyone says, the offensive coordinator calls the plays. We've got a good staff and I'm excited about their experience.''
Muschamp, who was Auburn's defensive coordinator, will focus on South Carolina's defense, which was last in the SEC in total defense (allowing 429 yards a game) and next-to-last in points allowed (27.5 per game).
Right now, he's concentrating on bulking up South Carolina's recruiting. After his introductory press conference, Muschamp headed to a local high school to speak with prospect TJ Brunson at Richland Northeast.
He was able to shore up the early enrollee commitment of highly regarded quarterback Brandon McIlwain out of Pennsylvania and get all-state receiver Bryan Edwards of Conway to re-commit to South Carolina after he had backed off because of the mid-year coaching turmoil.
South Carolina is still awaiting a decision from leading tackler Skai Moore on whether he'll stay for his final season or declare for the NFL draft. Muschamp said he's talked several times with Moore about the future and will continue those discussions this week.
''I know we'll have a complete meltdown in the fanbase when we don't get someone,'' Muschamp said. ''But I'm only worried about the guys that are here.''
Muschamp found time the past two weeks to review tape of all South Carolina games from last season. He found the problems that led to the Gamecocks first losing season since 2003. Muschamp also saw effort, physicality and a commitment to teammates he can build on in spring practice.
He'll make no decisions this quickly on who might start or be replaced. Muschamp said he and his staff will have plenty of time for that before next season.
''We'll let our eyeballs tell us that,'' he said.
Muschamp is grateful to South Carolina for a second chance in the SEC after his four-year stint at Florida. He asserted while things did not end well with the Gators, he cleaned up and turned around a program that won the Eastern Division and played in the SEC title game this season.
''A lot of that gets mis-seen because of the result,'' Muschamp said. ''Let's go win some games, let's go score some points and let's continue to do the other things we did extremely well at Florida and represent things in a first-class manner.''