By Gerald Hopkins
On Sunday, November 15, reports that Will Muschamp was relieved of his coaching duties at South Carolina started the 2020 version of the coaching carousel.
This report came after a loss to Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss in Oxford by a score of 42 to 59. With Muschamp being more of a defensive-minded coach, this loss hurt just that much more. Compound this with the fact they are 2-5, with Muschamp’s last winning season being in 2017, and the pressure was on Muschamp to prove his merit this season.
But then everything changed and, while the whole world was turned on its head by this global health crisis, universities and their athletic programs took massive hits from the loss of games, ticket revenue, and donations. Even now, as the SEC is almost past the middle of its season, games have been postponed, moved, or maybe even canceled. All of this led to the mess that is college football this year, and this mess was thought to give coaches and athletic departments somewhat of a bye year and keep the focus on finishing the season and less about the results.
Yet this move signaled that isn’t the full story. Will Muschamp’s firing will cost the University of South Carolina up to $13.2 million, and this does not include anyone else that may be bought out from his staff.
Usually this would be a feasible number for SEC schools, as crazy as that statement is, and, even during the pandemic, this number will still be taken care of by the boosters and major contributors to the University.
But, this is not a usual situation. This $13.2 million is already compounded on an athletic department which was projected to lose up to $58 million this year due to the pandemic, and in its most recent estimate stated it was going to lose $44 million this season. Then sometime between now and the start of next season, they will hire a new coach and they may have to pay another buyout if they go for a coach at another program.
So, why did South Carolina feel this was necessary? Between the one winning season, the fact that in-state rival Clemson is one of the best and deepest college football programs in the country, Muschamp’s defense being subpar at best, and the fact he had failed at Florida and the success that Dan Mullen (an offensive-minded coach) has brought back to the Gators added up. I am not going out on a limb to say that Muschamp is getting canned for a good reason, and, if anything, firing him early gives South Carolina a chance to get ahead in the coaching market and appease those boosters that always have the power to stop donating to these institutions.
But if there’s one thing that this reminds us, it’s that these schools suck at looking at how this reflects on them. As a state school, South Carolina not only has to answer to its fans, but it also does to its state government and students. When a school is already in debt because of everything this year, adding millions of dollars to this because of a bad football season shows the lack of awareness that these schools have. Optics are still a thing, even in the south.
To be clear, I know that the money to fire Muschamp and hire a new coach is not coming out of the pockets of tuition payers and the state government, but that same money that these boosters give to fire a coach is money that can go so many other places that aren’t football. Especially at a time where those students need it the most. These schools were not made to host football games, but when moments like these happen, it feels more and more like it is.
And, while football is arguably the last sport in the world that does not have a very strong presence globally, U.S. colleges and universities are the places where all of the best football players line up to make it into the pros. The money and profits they make are not guaranteed to be put back into the classroom, but instead put into new weight rooms and facilities, and that illusion makes moments like these all the more frustrating.
But, this is SEC football, where desperation to win football games and the pride that comes with it are priceless. If you still don’t believe me, one of the top candidates for the job is Hugh Freeze, who left Ole Miss in shambles after getting caught for paying players and other personal issues. Yet, Freeze went to Liberty, just beat Virginia Tech, and has not lost a game this season while having a great offense and recruiting very well.
All of this to say, South Carolina firing Will Muschamp proved something we all knew. We know that these Universities have no shame, and when the boosters feel your time is up, it’s up.
Edited by Emma Moloney