A look at potential candidates to fill South Carolina’s football coaching vacancy

Tanner, Bobo and others discuss firing of Will Muschamp

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Carolina’s coaching search begins.

Perhaps, the Gamecocks stay in-state to find their next leader. Clemson’s offensive coordinator Tony Eliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables always seem to be two intriguing names linked to coaching vacancies at major FBS programs.

Let’s start with Venables' resume. Venables coached teams have enjoyed winning seasons in each of his 24 years as a full-time assistant coach. He’s coached in six national title games, including three with Clemson since joining the program in 2012. Venables was named the top assistant coach nationally in 2016. Year after year, Venables has churned out top-10 defenses with his unit setting a school record with 54 sacks in 2018.

Would Venables accept an offer if Carolina came calling? Well, on Monday, he did not say no.

“Whether or not at some point in time you want to be a head coach in the future, right now, your focus is all on Florida State and getting ready for that,” said Venables. “You feel terribly for anybody, whether it’s your rival or not. Your heart goes out to them, and your focus is really what you can control here.”

Elliott danced around the prospect of becoming a Gamecock but added he hurts for those impacted by Muschamp’s firing.

“You feel for Coach Muschamp,” Elliott said. “You feel for all those coaches. I went through it when I was at Furman. We got fired. There’s so much uncertainty and unknown. You start to question yourself. It’s not a good situation for anybody.”

“This is the time of year where I get frustrated just because my name is thrown out there, and you guys know, hopefully, my track record speaks for itself,” Elliott added. “I’m focused on these players and the staff right here. They’ve been too good for me to even consider any other jobs at this time.”

UofSC athletics director Ray Tanner said Monday finding an offensive-minded coach to light up the scoreboard would be important. Elliott’s resume illustrates he can engineer elite offenses. He was the co-offensive coordinator on Clemson’s two national title teams in 2016 and 2018. Tiger players have smashed program rushing and passing records under his watch.

Whether either Clemson coordinator receives a strong look from Carolina remains to be seen.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit mentioned Alabama’s Steve Sarkisian. Sark currently serves as the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator. Whether or not Sark would find the Gamecock job intriguing enough to leave a good fit remains to be seen.

Here’s what Herbstreit said on his podcast: “Sark is also another guy that’s had some things, had to deal with in his past, and I think he’s done an admirable job as well, handling that and addressing that,” Herbstreit said on his podcast. “So far, knock on wood, he’s been in a really good place. His football, the job that he does coaching football, has been obvious. He had a head-coaching job at Washington. He left that to take the USC job. And then, of course, he had his issues.”

“But I think the success that he has — I almost wonder, deep down, if he’s maybe thinking staying with Coach Saban and then when Coach Saban retires, he would maybe be in pole position to maybe be that next guy because who else would you say would be that guy, potentially?”

Let’s look at another name floating around in connection to the Columbia job, the Rajin' Cajuns Billy Napier. He’s an emerging contender for the position. He’s been the head coach at Louisiana since 2018. He’s put together a 25-11 record in a short period, including a 7-1 mark in 2020 and Top 25 ranking.

Down the road in Conway, SC, Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell is an intriguing head coaching candidate. The Chants were picked to finish last in the Sun Belt this season. Chadwell has guided the team to a 7-0 start and Top 15 ranking in the Associated Press. The Chants also have the 25th best scoring offense nationally.

Gamecock fans' wish list might include a former SEC East coaching rival and national champion Urban Meyer. The current college football TV analyst has won three national titles, including two at Florida. Would he come out of retirement to coach in Columbia? Unlikely. Although, folks in Texas would gladly trade its head coach, Tom Herman, for Meyer, at least if you believe what you read in message boards and rumor mill reports.

The last for “Talking Tuesday” to mention is Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze. The Flames have two wins over ACC opponents this season at Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Liberty is 8-0 and ranks in the Top 25 nationally while boasting the 16th-best scoring offense in the FBS in 2020.

The former Ole Miss coach would bring a ton of baggage with him to Carolina. He stepped down as the Ole Miss Football coach in 2017. His tenure ended abruptly after national reports revealed he had called escort services.

There were also NCAA recruiting violations dating back for years under his watch.

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