Last week, some folks got upset with me for not having any solutions for the South Carolina football program.
Well, wait no more.
After a week of scrawling plays on notebook paper in an old shed, I believe I have come up with a way to pull South Carolina out of this tailspin and set the Gamecocks on the road to recovery in six easy steps.
Step 1: Announce that this is Steve Spurrier's final season
The fine people at therubberchickensblog.com suggested that this should probably have happened before the Georgia game. Of course, there was still the faintest whiff of hope that Spurrier would have some magic up his sleeves for the Bulldogs. Greyson Lambert and Sony Michel took that hope and snapped its neck, so the time is now.
Put it out there Thursday. Call an impromptu press conference (Spurrier loves those) and let the world know that the HBC is hanging up his playbook after 2015. Attendance at home games will skyrocket as people clamor to get one last look at an SEC legend roaming the sidelines. Who knows, maybe the team will play with a renewed sense of purpose? Even if they don't, it won't really matter. The rest of this season will be a tribute to the winningest coach in Gamecock football history.
Step 2: Play for the future
If we're being realistic here, South Carolina isn't going to be competing for a division championship, much less an SEC championship. There's no guarantee that the Gamecocks will make a bowl, so treat the next ten games like bowl practice. Nunez at quarterback and David Williams at tailback for the backfield. Terry Googer, Deebo Samuel, D.J. Neal and Jalen Christian at wide receivers. Hayden Hurst, Jacob August or Kyle Markaway at tight end. Zack Bailey and Christian Pellage and Donnell Stanley and Blake Camper on the offensive line. All 13 of those names are on the two-deep depth chart and 12 of them are freshmen. Find out if they can play.
Defensively, substitute at will. Put everyone on tape and see who might be able to contribute next season. Whether you go 5-7 or 2-10, you're home for Christmas either way. Might as well get something out of the 2015 season, even if it's just figuring out who has a long-term future in Columbia.
Step 3: Hire the right successor
Hold on. Before anybody starts throwing out names like Chip Kelly and Mark Dantonio, there are some rules to step three. The new successor must be under (or at least in the neighborhood of) 40 years old, have never held a college head coaching job before (you want someone who is going to view South Carolina as the job, not a job...no more legendary coaches using Columbia as one final challenge), have an offense-based background and must be a dynamic and successful recruiter (this is probably the most important necessity). Here are six candidates that match all four requirements:
Tony Elliott: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs Coach, Clemson, age 35
Elliott knows the state of South Carolina as well as anyone, having played at Clemson and coached at S.C. State and Furman before returning to his alma mater. He is one of the most respected recruiters in the ACC and in the country. South Carolina is losing in-state recruiting battles to its rival and taking one of Clemson's top weapons could be a big coup for the Gamecock program.
Chip Long: Tight Ends/Offensive Special Teams Coach, Arizona State, age 32
Long has ties to the SEC after spending two seasons as a grad assistant working with tight ends at Arkansas. He has made his mark as Arizona State's recruiting coordinator, flipping JUCO linebacker Davon Durant from South Carolina (although it appears the Gamecocks certainly got the better end of that deal when Durant was dismissed by ASU after being arrested in the spring). The Sun Devils have won at least eight games in each of Long's three seasons on staff.
Tee Martin: Wide Receivers Coach/Pass Game Coordinator, Southern Cal, age 37
A former national championship-winning quarterback at Tennessee and assistant coach at Kentucky, Martin is a known commodity in the coaching ranks. He has coached NFL talents Randall Cobb and Marqise Lee, as well as being the back-to-back Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year. While current prospects may not remember Martin as a player, he has proved himself in the coaching ranks.
Jeff Scott: Co/Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach, Clemson, age 34
It has been said that South Carolina needs their own Dabo Swinney and Jeff Scott may be the closest match. Scott is a phenomenal recruiter with experience as a wide receivers coach. He has served as a high school head coach, winning a state championship at Blythewood in 2006, the school's first-ever season of football. Plus, Scott was 18 when his dad left South Carolina and he could be intrigued by the thought of returning to Columbia to restore the family name.
Zach Smith: Wide Receivers Coach, Ohio State, age 30
A graduate of Florida, Smith cut his teeth in the coaching ranks as a quality control coach and then as a grad assistant with the Gators. He's been in Columbus since 2012 and was the Big Ten Recruiter of the Year in 2014. Smith coached under Urban Meyer at Florida and was on the staff of Meyer assistants Doc Holliday and Steve Addazio at Marshall and Temple before being hired by Meyer again.
Marques Tuiasosopo: Tight Ends Coach/Associate Head Coach Offense, Southern Cal, age 36
A lifetime Pac-12 guy, Tuiasosopo quarterbacked the Washington Huskies from 1997-2000 and set the school's career mark for total offense before playing in the NFL for eight years. He has coached at Washington, UCLA and Southern Cal, serving as a strength coach, tight ends coach and quarterbacks coach. Tuiasosopo was named the 2015 Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by Scout.
Step 4: Open the checkbook for coordinators and assistants
Once a head coach has been found, South Carolina must surround him with quality young coaches. Again, these assistants need to be hungry for a big-time job and, more importantly, South Carolina must give them the finances to be willing to take a chance on the Gamecocks and, more importantly, keep them around if other programs come calling. A few names that might be worth a look as potential coordinator options:
Offense: Tyson Helton (Western Kentucky), Nick Rolovich (Nevada), Bryant Vincent (South Alabama), Sean Lewis (Bowling Green), Sterlin Gilbert (Tulsa)
Defense: Kevin Clune (Utah State), Todd Orlando (Houston) Tyson Summers (Colorado State), Anthony Poindexter (UConn), Marcel Yates (Boise State)
Nail these hires because these are the guys who will be doing most of the coaching, while the head man serves as the CEO, promoting the program, rallying the fan base and making the Gamecocks a national presence. The nitty-gritty, Xs-and-Os work will be done by the coordinators. The head coach provides them with talent and they figure out how to maximize that talent on the field.
Step 5: Win the in-state battles off the field
No football program can succeed without homegrown talent and South Carolina has fallen behind in this regard. The Gamecocks have 36 Palmetto State natives on this year's roster, while Clemson boasts 57. According to ESPN's rankings, Clemson grabbed five of the state's top 10 players in 2015 and already has verbal commitments from the two best players in SC's 2016 class. The state hasn't produced any five-star recruits since 2011, but difference-makers are coming out of local high schools and, increasingly, they aren't going to South Carolina.
Union wide receiver Shi Smith, the top player in the 2017 class, grew up a Gamecock fan, received his very first offer from South Carolina, and is currently being coached by former Gamecock quarterback Steve Taneyhill. South Carolina needs wide receivers in the worst way, so picking up Smith would be a big get and would send a message that the Gamecocks can still land top in-state talent. South Carolina has the facilities to match nearly any school in the country, so there is no reason that the Gamecocks should struggle to bring in local talent.
Step 6: Be patient
Following steps 1-5 are important, but this one is the biggest and it's probably not one that fans will want to hear. However, Steve Spurrier didn't get South Carolina to 11-2 in his first try and neither will the next guy. Consider...
...Dan Mullen was 5-7 in his first season at Mississippi State.
...James Franklin was 6-7 in his first season at Vanderbilt.
...Mike Gundy was 4-7 in his first season at Oklahoma State.
...Pat Fitzgerald was 10-14 in his first two seasons at Northwestern.
...Dabo Swinney was 19-15 in his first two-and-a-half seasons at Clemson.
...Steve Spurrier was 21-16 in his first three seasons at South Carolina
Nobody panic and abort the mission if the Gamecocks go .500 (or worse) in their first three years under the new regime.
Will this plan work? Maybe, maybe not.
But hey, at least it doesn't involve Derek Dooley.