When we opened the season three months ago, the South Carolina Gamecocks and their fans expected to spend this week preparing for a trip to Atlanta with a possible spot in the College Football Playoff on the line. After a deflating loss to Clemson on Saturday that ended their season 6-6, the program instead spends this week discussing its future, and the future of those who lead it.
Guys Who May Be Asked to Leave
Deke Adams - Adams came to Carolina from Chapel Hill, and the returns from the defensive line in his second season in Columbia were sub-par at best. However, Adams does bring a strong recruiting presence to the staff, as eight current Carolina commitments count him as one of their primary recruiters. While the staff should never be determined based on one recruiting class, the need for talent in Columbia next season does make Adams a tough call. He's also been hamstrung by a significant lack of talent that remained in Columbia after the departure of Brad Lawning, particular in the lower classes (as of course Kelcy Quarles and Jadeveon Clowney were fine pieces to work with in 2013).
Kirk Botkin - Botkin's third year in Columbia was anything but good (this is true for all defensive coaches), as his heralded crop of linebackers simply haven't produced in 2014. He came to Columbia after spending the two previous seasons coaching high school football in Texas, and many questioned that experience when Lorenzo Ward tabbed him for the position in 2012.
Grady Brown - Given the struggles of the secondary, it's difficult to comprise any list without considering the possible loss of Brown, who watched his under-manned unit give up huge chunks of yards for most of the season, starting with the opening night disaster against Texas A&M. Brown came to Columbia with minimal coaching experience, having served at Southern Mississippi for two years as a cornerbacks coach before making the move to the SEC.
Lorenzo Ward - Of course, the biggest question when it comes to the defensive staff is if they will retain their leader, and in what capacity. It's no secret that Steve Spurrier is aggressively courting Will Muschamp to come to Columbia after losing his position in Gainesville. If he does, will Ward remain in a different position?
Everette Sands - While the running game performed well this season, at least some of that credit goes to Shawn Elliott, who serves as running game coordinator. Many in the Carolina fanbase grumble that Sands doesn't recruit well enough to retain his position, perhaps remembering the efforts of Jay Graham before him. While there's no wind that Sands is on the chopping block, there's always a chance that this position will see additional turnover.
Others That May Leave On Different Terms
G.A. Mangus - Mangus has been wildly successful at Carolina as a recruiter, and came to Carolina despite his previous role as an offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State. At some point any coach wants to increase his responsibilities, and with Elliott and Steve Spurrier Jr. seeing more responsibilities than Mangus when it comes to coaching the on game day, it's likely that at some point Mangus will look to take the next step in responsibilities.
Steve Spurrier, Jr. - Speaking of, after a decade in Columbia, Spurrier Jr. may decide it's time to get out from under his father's shadow and take on a bigger role elsewhere. He was briefly mentioned as a possible candidate for the Buffalo head coaching job, but with that position filled, it's not clear where else might be interested in looking to promote him to a coordinator position.
Names to Watch
Will Muschamp - The biggest name on the board for the Gamecocks in recruiting right now isn't a lineman or a cornerback, but the former head coach of the Florida Gators. It's become apparent that Muschamp is being heavily courted by Spurrier, but Texas A&M and Auburn both face coordinator openings on that side of the ball as well, and Muschamp may be concerned about what best positions him to obtain another head coaching job in the future.
Ellis Johnson - The position at Auburn is open because they parted ways with former USC defensive coordinator Johnson, who left for the head coaching position at Southern Mississippi before finding his way to Auburn. Although he obviously wasn't wildly successful on the Plains, he did an admirable job at Carolina before and could look to return to South Carolina to finish out his coaching career. The question might be whether he'd be willing to either take Ward's job or return to the school in a capacity where he served under Ward, as the two remain good friends.
Other Possible Candidates
Without any information suggesting these guys are names of interest - and remember, South Carolina doesn't even have an opening at the coordinator position - here's a list of other names that could draw interest for the Gamecocks if they decide not to retain Lorenzo Ward:
Manny Diaz - Wildly successful at Middle Tennessee State and Mississippi State, Diaz flamed out at Texas under Mack Brown. He returned this year to command an excellent outfit at Louisiana Tech, and would likely welcome a return to big time college football
Bo Pelini - The recently fired head coach of Nebraska brings an excellent pedigree, though there are questions of whether the hot-tempered Pelini would get along with Spurrier. Then again, Muschamp isn't exactly known for his affable demeanor on the field.
Bud Foster - Spurrier tried to pry him away from Virginia Tech before. However, with the end of the Beamer era in sight, would Foster risk disrupting his life for a stint in Columbia?
Chuck Heater - While there's been no smoke around this name, he's put together an outstanding defense at Marshall this season. Of course, that one-year success may not throw him into the position, and he's likely to have the concern that many will have, which is....
The Million Dollar Question
All of this presupposes one thing that isn't certain at this point - is Steve Spurrier returning for his 11th year in charge of the Gamecocks? If Spurrier leaves, then everything gets thrown wide open. While there's nothing that certainly suggests he'll do so, the coach has hit 70 years of age and clearly didn't have much fun watching his team struggle to a 6-6 record this season.
*As soon as we hit publish, Spurrier confirmed he will return for 2015.
It could even be the case that Spurrier's waiting to see is Muschamp will come before deciding on whether to return to Carolina. Obviously, there are a lot of balls in the air, but suffice to say, a week that Gamecock fans hoped at the beginning of the year would be a big one has become just that for reasons that have nothing to do with the 2014 SEC Championship Game.