The University of South Carolina athletics department is projected to bring in a whopping $125 million during the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Of that total, it is projected to spend an estimated $113 million – leaving it with around $12 million in profit (assuming preseason estimates hold).
Beyond that, the department – currently its seventh year under the “leadership” of former baseball coach Ray Tanner – is carrying approximately $173 million in debt.
Why do these numbers matter? Because the school’s football program is currently in free fall under its fourth-year head coach, Will Muschamp – who was inexplicably given a raise and a contract extension after 2018’s underwhelming 7-6 campaign.
Oh, Tanner got an extension after that uninspiring campaign, too …
Did either of them deserve it? No. That much has been made painfully clear by the performance of the football program through its first four games of 2019 – not to mention its associated trajectory issues.
Accordingly, it is time to start talking about the financial implications of parting ways with Muschamp, a 48-year-old Rome, Georgia native who previously flamed out after four years as the head coach at the University of Florida. Muschamp was 28-21 (17-15 against SEC opponents) during his four years in Gainesville and is 23-20 (12-14 against SEC opponents) so far at South Carolina.
Neither of those are getting it done …
Muschamp’s buyout were he to be fired prior to the end of the 2019 season is an astronomical $22 million. Were Tanner to wait until January 1, 2020 to fire Muschamp the buyout total would drop to $18.6 million.
Is that better? Yes. Is it still unacceptable? Completely.
But that leads us to the other (bigger?) problem … Tanner.
(Click to view)
(Via: Travis Bell Photography)
There is a compelling case to be made that the man responsible for determining Muschamp’s fate at South Carolina bears as much (if not more) blame as the thin-skinned coach for the increasingly sorry state of the football program.
After all, who chose Muschamp? And who negotiated the contract that currently has the Gamecock program bent over the proverbial barrel?
Before anything is done about its head coach, we believe South Carolina needs to fire Tanner. And do it yesterday. The 61-year-old has been out of his depth from the very beginning as athletics director, and the absolute last thing Gamecock fans should want is for Tanner to have anything to do with choosing their next football coach.
Unfortunately, there is also a compelling case to be made that those responsible for overseeing the athletics department – South Carolina’s trustees – are so mired in terminal dysfunction they are incapable of putting out the four-alarm dumpster fire that has enveloped this once-proud program.
That dysfunction is insulating Tanner the same way the massive buyout is insulating Muschamp. Failure begetting failure begetting failure, in other words.
So … how did we get here? Ironically, it all started with the head coach who elevated the Gamecock football program to historic heights from 2010-2013 – Steve Spurrier. After guiding South Carolina to back-to-back-to-back 11-win seasons, Top Ten finishes and New Year’s Day bowl victories – Spurrier failed to capitalize on his success, and by the middle of 2015 things had gotten so bad the old ball coach decided to bail on the mess.
Muschamp was hired by Tanner in December of 2015 to turn things around after several more promising head coaching leads fell through – and his first two seasons in Columbia, S.C. witnessed a steady reorientation of the Gamecock program. That led to surging expectations prior to the kickoff of last season – expectations which have not been met.
Last year was an obvious letdown. But one-third of the way through 2019 there is clear evidence of a sustained, precipitous backslide.
Again, though, Muschamp’s massive buyout provides a compelling disincentive to firing him – and earlier this month Tanner doubled down on his support of the embattled coach, saying he was “as confident in Will Muschamp as the day I hired him.”
(Click to view)
(Via: Travis Bell Photography)
Meanwhile, for those expecting new South Carolina president Robert Caslen (above) to do anything about the mushrooming mess, he is fighting for his own survival following a hugely political selection process that divided trustees and infuriated state lawmakers. That contentious drama has left the school dealing with accreditation problems as Caslen tries to fend off an open revolt from liberal faculty, students and staff – not to mention the school’s largest donor.
Institutional paralysis pervades, in other words …
What do we think the school should do with Muschamp? It might be a bitter pill to swallow but we think the sooner it cuts the cord on this failed experiment, the better … even if that means swallowing a massive buyout (and an even bigger lump sum for its next head coach).
Whether it jettisons Muschamp now or later, though, the school needs to begin the process of identifying a new leader for its football program – one with the gravitas (and commitment) necessary not just to achieve the success Spurrier achieved but also to sustain it.
That is a tall order … and like Muschamp’s buyout, it will come at a hefty price.
The problem? There is absolutely no one in a position of authority at South Carolina who can be trusted to handle this process. At all. There is only layered incompetence at every level of the institution.
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