It's been a bad month to be a South Carolina Gamecock fan - the team lost to Clemson, followed by a rash of decommitments based on a statement by Steve Spurrier that he only planned to coach for "two or three" more years.
So, what's the status of the program? And how are we as fans handling it? Jorge and I decided to hash it out.
Jorge: I don't know if you've been keeping up with The Internet, but this hasn't been a banner few weeks for Gamecock football. The Clemson loss, the Muschamp whiff, and now recruits are flipping faster than you can say "technique and funnamennals". Our once mighty 2015 recruiting cycle finds itself on life support. Our beloved Ball Coach is stirring up anxiety in the fanbase via his perceived lack of urgency vis-a-vis the coaching carousel and the repercussions of his ostensibly poisonous "2 or 3 years" comment. The alarmists among us might deem these factors portentous of a return to the dark ages of Carolina football, when chaos reigned supreme and a 7-5 season was a titanic accomplishment and the thought of reaching a January bowl was only ever discussed in the abstract.
Hoops, given our coaching stagnancy and steadily atrophying recruiting class, have ye any hope for brighter days ahead or has the sun set on this Golden Age of Carolina football?
Hoops: I'm not panicking yet. But I'm near it.
I've always said you should never feel beholden to one recruiting class - you get one of those things every year no matter what. On the other hand, you're normally stuck with coaches, and even if you aren't, that's usually because something bad happened.
A lot of people two years ago argued vociferously that we needed to keep Lorenzo Ward as our DC because it kept the recruiting class together. I don't mean to play Monday morning QB on the issue (I was tepid but not against promoting Ward), but to the extent we prioritized that class over the coach that best fit the role, we may have watched our chickens come home to roost this season.
If there's one thing that Malzahn, Sumlin and others have taught us, it's that any program can move up and down the ranks of college football quickly given the right coach. And that's certainly still true for Carolina - in both directions.
So yes, I have hope, but it's all premised on two fundamental questions - can we hire a defensive coordinator that moves the needle, and can we recruit in the next 2-3 years despite what Spurrier said? The answer to the first question may provide the answer to the second. How do you think these questions are answered, and what do you think that portends for us going forward?
Jorge: Will we hire a new defensive coordinator for 2015? I don't know. After missing on Muschamp, perhaps the favored approach is to salvage what we can of this class and see what Whammy can do with a 2015 defense that should allow fewer excuses with regards to experience. If 2015 is a disaster, Spurrier's "2 to 3 years" may turn out to be 1 year and then we're building anew anyway.
No matter who's running the defense, our program would be out of its mind not to have a plan in place to address counter-recruiting measures of our competitors. If HBC is averse to the HCIW title, fine, but surely he understands the necessity of having some shareable transition strategy in order to assuage the concerns of prospects who'd rather not commit to a coaching staff with a murky future. But even the most deftly crafted answer won't mitigate all concerns, which is to say recruiting very well may be an uphill battle for a few years. Like you say, we can sustain a bum class. But 2 or 3 consecutive? That would be a major setback.
Hoops, I'm tossing you the keys. Assume you've got a rolodex of realistic DC candidates and a couple years til you ride off into the sunset. How do you approach the situation?
Hoops: So here's the thing that just kills - KILLS - me about all of this: I think we have to bring in a defensive coordinator that we're going to hire as a head coach. How many of those are out there right now? Even one?
Follow my logic - we're now forced into a situation where we have to have a HCIW to stem the recruiting tides. But who are we going to bring in? There's no way that a strong offensive coordinator is going to come here and toil under Spurrier, and we've done well on that side of the ball, so that's a huge issue. And there's no one on the staff at present that I think is a sure-fire promotion to the position. Not to mention, if we make someone on staff the HCIW, then that's one less tool we have to use when trying to convince a defensive coordinator to come here.
So now we can't just focus on the question of "what defensive coordinator," but it's "what defensive coordinator would you then make into a head coach?" And honestly, I got no one. If you just want to hire a defensive coordinator, then bring me Manny Diaz, who succeeded wildly at Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, and last year at Louisiana Tech. Yes, he had a bad couple of years at Texas, but that was a sinking ship, and I'll happily treat that as the exception, not the rule.
But Diaz doesn't deserve the HCIW tag. And without it, I'm not sure why he'd come here knowing he's giong to have to look for another job in 2-3 years. But that just takes us back to the start - without a HCIW tag, I don't think we can get a good defensive coordinator. And without a defensive coordinator, we're screwed. Who can we hire that checks all the boxes?Hell if I know, but it's a huge issue, and it's not going away.
So that was a terrible answer. I toss the keys back - what coaching changes would you make to stop the bleeding here?
Jorge: [ducks, keys fly off cliff] Well, great.
For real though, I don't have any better answers. A defensive HCIW seems to be the necessary step here, and like you say, the pickings feel slim. To wit, I would consider the following to be a satisfying scenario: we scrape together a quasi-successful 2015. Say, 8-4 regular season. End with a win against Clemson (freshman sensation Lorenzo Nunez throws for 250 yards and runs for 100 more! Pharoh Cooper has 3 touchdowns!) A few days after the game, Steve Spurrier, viewing this as a satisfactory final act, announces his retirement. The university, having quietly known Spurrier's intentions for some time, launches into a coaching search. We nail the hire (Smart? Dantonio? Doesn't matter!) and scramble to maintain the 2016 class and begin the process of instilling a new regime. We look ahead to a brighter future, and maybe build a Spurrier statue when we get around to it.
That's a pie-eyed scenario, but it feels awful nice to slide into that rhetorical jacuzzi right now. Plenty of room, Hoops. You want in on this soak, or does your ideal "what's next" hypothetical take another form?
Hoops: That's the idea, but I don't know how you pull together a successful 8-4 season with the current staff, and I don't know how you get a good defensive coordinator (or any coach, for that matter) to come into the current situation. It's going to hurt us in recruiting not just players but coaches - as Muschamp himself worried, you don't want to have to keep changing jobs as a coach if you don't have to, unless you're moving up, of course.
So while I'd take your scenario, I don't see how we get there. So now we're left with the current problem - what's a current defensive coordinator that we can plug into a DC/HCIW position? Here's a list of a few names, though none of them are perfect:
- Brent Venables, Clemson DC
- Manny Diaz, Louisiana Tech DC
-Bud Foster, Virginia Tech DC
- Mike Stoops, Oklahoma DC (he went 41-50 as head coach of Arizona)
- Justin Wilcox, Southern Cal DC (formerly at Tennessee)
- Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State DC (but works under D'Antonio, who runs a lot of the defense, much like Smart and Saban)
- Kirby Smart, Alabama DC (reportedly not interested in this arrangement)
- Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia DC
- John Chavis, LSU DC
That's a great list of DCs, but the only one to have been a head coach before is Stoops, and he didn't exactly do a great job. On the other hand, this may just be where we are.
So I expected to feel better about this after this exercise, and I don't. I can't come up with a resolution that doesn't require a DC/HCIW, and I hate the list of available options. And now I'm not sure what we do to make this situation better. And that's a terrible feeling. I'm willing to wait until after signing day - and hopefully after we've turned over some members of the coaching staff - before I make a final judgment, but as we sit here today, the limited number of avenues to a good ending is what concerns me the most.
Which takes us back to the beginning - where should we go from here, and how do you feel at this second about 2015 and beyond?
Jorge: I don't feel great! Our offense stands to take a step back next season and I'm not sure any strides we make on defense will be enough to field a product that can bolster external prospects. Here's where I acknowledge that my gloomy outlook is textured by the crappy week our program's had on the whole. But still, it's frustrating to see this in the tea leaves, especially because it certainly feels like we're in the process of squandering whatever momentum we accrued over the four best seasons in program history. But, it's out of our hands, Hoops. For now, I choose to postpone the hand wringing and focus my energy on getting hyped for the Independence Bowl! (This is not possible.)
Hoops: Well, that's news. Between us starting and finishing this exchange, Steve Spurrier came out and said he now plans to stay "four or five" more years. I'm not sure this is a cat you can put back in the bag, but it's certainly better than what was currently out there. Do you think that recruits will believe this new timeline, and do you even believe it?
Jorge: I mean, it's obviously a little silly given all the circumstances. But did you or I or anyone reading this really think Spurrier would be around for 4 or 5 more years before 2-or-3-gate? And don't you think recruiters from Georgia, Auburn, Clemson, etc. were already reminding prospects that Spurrier is almost 70? The reason this all mattered in the first place is the subtext. In a profession characterized by hyperbolic statements that are obviously not true ("I won't comment on other opportunities but Vanderbilt is where I want to be!"), a statement like "Gimme two or three more years" is coachenese for "Yeah I'm just runnin' out the clock." No one's dumb enough not to recognize this as a PR move, but it's a necessary message that conveys that baseline level of commitment that any recruit should come to expect. These kids are being pulled in a hundred directions, so you just can't afford to let their decision not to play for your program to become easier. At the very list, Spurrier has indicated a commitment to the program's future. And, all things considered, that's a good place to start.