Editorial Note: This piece is in no way, shape, or form a criticism of the new coaching staff. In fact, their recruiting efforts should be praised. Instead, this article is meant to shine light on the remaining vestiges of the Spurrier era that are still, and will continue, to hold the Gamecocks back in recruiting.
It is plainly obvious that the South Carolina Gamecocks head football coach Will Muschamp has brought a new energy to the Gamecock football program. A significant portion of this rebirth is rooted in excitement over our new found recruiting process. Will Muschamp said it best in his introductory press conference on December 7th, 2015 when discussing future coaching staff hires: "If they can't recruit they won't coach here." And, true to that sentiment, there is only one holdover from Steve Spurrier's last staff. That man is a proven coach, recruiter, and motivator, and his name is Shawn Elliott.
After his introductory press conference, Will Muschamp and the aforementioned Shawn Elliott immediately hit the recruiting trail, and made their way to the Columbia area high school, Richland Northeast, to speak to linebacker TJ Brunson. These efforts ultimately paid off, as Brunson signed his LOI to play for the Gamecocks on National Signing Day. Clearly, this new coaching staff has made recruiting a top priority. However, it seems recruiting will remain an uphill battle as the fervor and effort level of our new coaching staff is not matched by the leftover recruiting support staff from the Spurrier era.
Despite this renewed energy on the recruiting trail, there are still big name prospects, especially ones that the Gamecocks have an inside connection to, that are slipping through the cracks. Just one example of this is class of 2017 tight end Jack Camper. Jack is the brother of current Gamecock offensive lineman Blake Camper and is a 6'6 tight end at IMG Academy in Florida. While he is not considered a "blue-chip" prospect, he is a solid three-star recruit and looks to have promising upside. He is the exact kind of player that the Muschamp-led Gamecock coaching staff has targeted so far: tremendous upside, good intangibles, good size for his position, athletic, etc. (and if you don't believe me, watch his highlight film here). However, his 247Sports recruiting profile doesn't even list the Gamecocks as having offered him, if they recruited him at all. Jack boasts an offer sheet that includes the Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals, Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the 2016 College Football Playoff participant Michigan State Spartans.
It is clear that Jack is a sought after prospect, and he recently committed to the Spartans of Michigan State. Who knows...maybe we didn't want him, or think we needed him. Perhaps, since we have a couple of tight ends coming in, the coaching staff did not need to target a tight end in the 2017 cycle. However, I find that unlikely. Relentless recruiters like Muschamp and his staff are always looking to add quality players to the roster. I find it more likely that Jack was simply looked over and we missed out since we didn't even offer him a scholarship. I find it hard to pin this recruiting blunder on the coaching staff. The question is, who is to blame?
This leads us back to the South Carolina Gamecock recruiting offices. I remind you that Coach Muschamp relieved the team chaplain of his duties when hired as head coach. So, it is clear that he is not afraid to make the necessary changes to fit his vision of the Gamecock football program. If you look at the staffing pages on GamecocksOnline, then you can tell that much of the same support staff from the Spurrier administration is still employed for Coach Muschamp. It is no secret that the Spurrier led Gamecocks struggled to recruit at an elite level. With the exception of a few players, due to the efforts of coaches such as Brad Lawing, Ellis Johnson, and Shane Beamer, we have struggled to pull in elite talent. Then, as we had more and more success on the field in 2011-2013, apathy began to creep into the Gamecock football program. This careless attitude on the recruiting trail led to the lack of elite playmakers that ultimately doomed us back to mediocrity in the 2014 season, and worse, irrelevancy in the 2015 campaign.
I am confident that the coaches, players, and Coach Muschamp are working hard to turn the Gamecock football program around as soon as possible. However, the elite programs around the country, i.e. the Clemson Tigers, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Michigan State, etc., are all built on more than just the players and coaching staff. All of these teams have elite recruiting offices and support staff. They are in constant contact with high school coaches around the country and building pipelines. For some of these schools, like Alabama, this process is easier than others. Schools like Clemson, under Dabo Swinney's leadership, have developed into an elite program and recruiting for them is certainly easier than it was in 2009. This is a product of Dabo Swinney's efforts, to not only improve the on field performance, but to build a strong and consistent program in all areas. Essentially, this means Dabo requires the same effort and passion from his support staff as he does from his coaches and players. And, as we can see, it has paid off.
While I am pleased with the coaching staff's efforts, I am worried that, due to perhaps a lingering feeling of apathy from the Spurrier era, we are missing out on can't miss prospects. It is clear Coach Muschamp is not afraid to make change. I only hope that he will continue to make necessary changes so that the Gamecocks no longer miss out on prospects such as Mr. Camper. In summation, I must paraphrase Coach Muschamp's words and say, "if you can't recruit, you can't work here."