South Carolina selects Will Muschamp as new football coach

Will Muschamp’s second chance will come at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have agreed to a deal that will make the 44-year-old Muschamp the 33rd head football coach in South Carolina football history, a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The State on Sunday morning.

Like the man he is replacing, Muschamp last was a head coach at the University of Florida. Unlike Steve Spurrier, who created the Gamecocks opening when he resigned in October after 10-and-a-half seasons, Muschamp did not leave Florida of his own accord. He was fired following the 2014 season with a 28-21 overall record .

The search for Spurrier’s replacement, which lasted 54 days, took many turns along the way. At one point, Houston head coach Tom Herman and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart were the top targets, but Herman signed a new contract with the Cougars at twice his previous salary and Smart has agreed to become Georgia’s next head coach.

The Gamecocks also interviewed interim head coach Shawn Elliott and Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, and, according to other media reports, South Florida head coach Willie Taggart, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. In fact, late Saturday night, Arizona athletics director Greg Byrne tweeted that Rodriguez turned down an “offer” to become South Carolina’s coach.

In the end, though, Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner landed on Muschamp. The school’s board of trustees announced Sunday that it will hold a meeting at 9 a.m. Monday to discuss an “athletics employment contract.” South Carolina is expected to hold a news conference later in the day Monday to introduce Muschamp. SI.com first reported an “agreement in principle” had been reached with Muschamp, tweeting the news at 2 a.m. Sunday.

Muschamp comes to South Carolina from Auburn, where he was the Tigers defensive coordinator in 2015. Muschamp is often called “Boom” due to his fiery sideline demeanor and favorite heat-of-the-moment expression, and he built an excellent coaching reputation as a defensive coordinator before becoming the Gators head coach.

Muschamp’s Gators were a combined 7-9 in the SEC in his final two seasons and his team’s offenses were consistently among the worst in the conference, but his defensive prowess and respect in the coaching community led many people to believe he would get a second chance as a head coach sooner rather than later.

Muschamp’s firing at Florida was announced after the Gators fell 23-20 to South Carolina in Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 15, 2014.

“I was given every opportunity to get it done here, and I simply didn’t win enough games — that is the bottom line,” Muschamp said in a statement released by Florida at the time of his firing. “I’m disappointed that I didn’t get it done and it is my responsibility to get it done.”

Muschamp, a Georgia native who started his college football playing career as a walk-on at the University of Georgia and eventually was placed on scholarship and named a team captain, also, has worked at LSU and Texas as well as with Florida and Auburn.

His first major college coaching job came under Nick Saban at LSU, where Muschamp was defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 2001-2004. The Tigers led the nation in scoring defense and total defense and won the BCS national title in 2003.

Muschamp then became Saban’s assistant head coach with the Miami Dolphins. When Saban left the Dolphins, Muschamp became the defensive coordinator at Auburn and then the defensive coordinator at Texas before being named the Gators head coach in 2011. Most of Florida’s players were supportive of Muschamp after his firing.

“It is a very sad day for my team and I know most of you people don’t understand why we love Champ so much and I know most of you fans out there are happy that he is fired, but most of my teammates and I are not,” Gators linebacker Matt Rolin tweeted after the decision.

After being fired at Florida, Muschamp had the opportunity to join Spurrier’s South Carolina staff as defensive coordinator but chose the take the Tigers top defensive job instead at a salary of $1.6 million annually.Auburn finished 90th in the nation in total defense in 2015, but that was a rare down year for Muschamp. Until this year, each of his SEC defenses had finished in the nation’s top 15 in fewest points allowed.