The South Carolina Gamecocks are 2-4, on a two-game losing streak in which they were collectively defeated 100-27, and only above winless Vanderbilt in the SEC East division standings. Still to come, they have contests against offensive powerhouse Ole Miss, No. 12 Georgia, surprisingly solid Missouri, and a Kentucky team that, with the exception of last season, has absolutely had the Gamecocks’ number of late and cannot be discounted no matter how mediocre they seem.
Off the field, South Carolina is also in a pickle, as the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged athletic department revenue and coach Will Muschamp’s buyout is approximately a gajillion dollars (and this is without factoring in the expense of bringing in an all-new staff).
So, uh, what happens now?
Despite the Gamecocks’ many failures to compete this season, the above financial situation is likely enough on its own to keep Muschamp employed in Columbia through at least 2021. Of course, we’re assuming that now, on Nov. 12, when there are still games left to be played. If this season continues like the past two weeks have gone, will Ray Tanner, the boosters, and South Carolina’s administration finally reach their breaking point?
Because here’s the thing (and I know I’m preaching to the choir here) — it’s not just that the Gamecocks are losing, it’s how they’re losing. They walloped a woeful Vanderbilt team and were fortunate to catch an up-and-down Auburn squad on a down day, but were otherwise outclassed and outcoached in (technically winnable) games against Tennessee and Florida, and then were embarrassingly uncompetitive against LSU and Texas A&M. In Year 5, we’ve seen so many of the same bugaboos continue to haunt this coaching staff: offensive inconsistency, poor tackling, bad situational awareness (kicking field goals when you need touchdowns, inappropriately burning clock, etc.), mismanagement of personnel (the current quarterback “controversy” being a glaring example), a seeming lack of developing highly-recruited players...the list goes on. At this point, is there any reason to expect that things might go differently in a Year 6?
The bottom line is that it was a mistake to hire Will Muschamp. But unless anyone has a time machine, there’s nothing that can be done about it now. In fairness, there have also been some factors during his time here that are beyond his control — it’s not his fault, for example, that South Carolina’s two principal rivals are among the best teams in all of college football, and bad injury luck can’t be blamed on him, either (at least not in full — the strength and conditioning program is certainly not above reproach).
Arguably the worst part of this coaching tenure, though, has not even been the losses themselves as much as how absolutely demoralizing they are. South Carolina is in a dangerous position here, because an angry fanbase is at least a fanbase that’s engaged. It’s a fanbase that still cares and still shows up, because they’re invested. But the prevailing mood in Columbia is quickly turning into apathy, and there’s no better program-killer than that. Apathy means no fans in the stands (pretend there isn’t a pandemic, for the sake of argument), less money coming in across the board, and recruiting taking a hit as well. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s just not giving a shit at all.
The situation we’re in now is reminiscent of Darrin Horn’s final days with the men’s basketball program, when that team had been driven so utterly off a cliff that it was all but abandoned by fans — with even the diehard hoopheads struggling to keep watching. We know how that story ends: Horn was fired, Frank Martin hired, and eventually a Final Four banner went up in Columbia. There’s no guarantee that South Carolina football has its own Frank Martin waiting to rescue it, but there’s increasingly little reason to trust the current staff to achieve that feat.
What will it take? Will it require more stable financial ground in 2021 or beyond, or will it hinge on the Gamecocks’ performance for the rest of this season? Unfortunately, only time will tell.