First, my apologies for not posting on the Nix departure earlier. I wanted to counter what I believe are some wrong-headed arguments -- something I'll get to in a moment -- but I also have to point out the perhaps poor choice of words for The State's headline on Nix leaving to join Houston Nutt at Ole Miss.
Of course, that's what everyone was thinking about.
Enough cheap jokes. Let's get to the wrongheaded argument.
The line of thinking goes something like this:
It's not Nix's fault. There were injury problems, and there isn't much depth after Nix and Spurrier have only had two full recruiting classes. South Carolina is going to regret letting Nix get away.
These fans want to wipe away the 122 points coughed up by the defense in the last three games. They wanted to give Nix a mulligan on what might very well be the worst defensive collapse in years, if not in school history (if you compare where the defense appeared to be at the beginning of the year with where it was at the end).
Didn't the defense start well? these fans ask.
Well, yes, the unit was statistically stronger during the first seven weeks of the season. Those opponents: Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia, South Carolina State, LSU, Mississippi State, Kentucky, North Carolina. In other words, two teams that would be ranked at the end of the year, four SEC opponents (one just woeful on offense), a dreadful BCS team, a Sun Belt team and a Division I-AA team. One would hope the defense would look good.
It is also worth noting that Louisiana-Lafayette rang up 252 yards on the ground and S.C. State dashed for 196 yards.
Were there injuries and a general lack of depth? Yes. But that still doesn't justify what happened at the end of the season. Consider: No South Carolina team, no matter how battered or scarred or untalented, has ever allowed as many yards on the ground to one man as the Gamecocks did against Darren McFadden.
Is McFadden an enormously talented running back? Yes. But consider: Only one SEC team has ever given up as many yards to one player before, no matter how battered or scarred or untalented, despite the raft of incredibly talented running backs that have made their way through the league.
But let's look at Nix's years as a defensive coordinator, stretching all the way back to his days at Southern Miss.
In other words, the only time Nix's run defense was ranked better than 61st in the nation and 5th in his conference was in his first year at Southern Miss. (Yes, the first year at South Carolina included Nix's perhaps unwilling involvement in the triple sow-cow defensive scheme, but there's not really been any improvement.)
The total defense numbers aren't much better, especially at South Carolina. Some might look at the pass defense numbers, which are okay, particularly at Southern Miss. But when teams can run on Nix with incredible success, why risk putting the ball in the air?
And South Carolina fans who are troubled by Nix are not alone. Listen to what Southern Miss fans were saying when Nix was seen as the front-runner for their head coaching position.
Not that any fans seem to want him -- far from it, actually; Nix was a very good linebacker in Hattiesburg in the early nineties, but his defenses at USM were below average by Southern standards, especially the oft-ripped unit of 2004 that allowed 430-plus yards six times and 500-plus thrice, and his already sketchy defense at South Carolina has fallen apart down the stretch. Darren McFadden or no Darren McFadden, there is no love for a man whose charges allowed 500 yards rushing in a single night. [Emphasis, of course, mine.]
So, no, I don't think South Carolina is going to miss Nix all that much. Particularly not if the Gamecocks come up with a decent replacement.
Who will that replacement be? Ah, now that's trickier.
The Bud Foster rumor, I think, is overblown. Foster leaving Virginia Tech seems highly unlikely, though he would certainly be a solid choice. But face it: the Hokies are a perennial Top 15 team, ACC powerhouse and home to Frank Beamer, Foster's former coach. South Carolina is none of those things. (As an aside, it seems amazing that Gamecock fans who have been through the Spurrier-to-
Miami Alabama Texas A&M LSU rumors would put so much stock in message-board rumors. That said, the "denial" from Foster's agent is less than convincing.)
I'm also suspicious of the John Chavis rumors. First of all: Why? Secondly, does anyone really think Spurrier would look to Tennessee for a coach? Really?
Georgia Tech DC John Tenuta would be nice, but will likely also be entertaining offers from Michigan and LSU, at least. So label him "improbable, but not impossible." Luring him away from better arrangements -- assuming Michigan has a head coach before April -- would require an amount of money Hyman's unlikely to part with.
Brian VanGorder, if his experience at Georgia Southern is to be believed, is no head coach. But he did well as defensive coordinator at Georgia. This is where the disgusting actions of the Gypsy Coach of the South actually help South Carolina; VanGorder's job security in Atlanta is certainly questionable, and even if the new coach would be open to keeping VanGorder, he might want out of the rain of fire that is the Atlanta Falcons. (I'll have more to say on this later, though I hope I'm not being unfair to gypsies, who actually move less often than Petrino.)
If Foster's not coming, my preferences would be Tenuta or VanGorder. I'll have more on the prospective candidates tomorrow.
Until then, we watch and wait.