South Carolina coaching candidates: Hugh Freeze leads list of replacements for Will Muschamp
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is another prominent option
So much for questioning the financial — and moral — sanity of a firing coaches during a pandemic. Some things are more important, apparently, like competing in the SEC.
South Carolina fired coach Will Muschamp on Sunday seven games into his fifth season. The program had to weigh the risks of whether it could afford a monster buyout of around $15 million or the cost of keeping Muschamp. There was little buzz about the Gamecocks as they fell to 2-5 this weekend after a loss to Ole Miss.
When things normalize, there has to be some optimism and energy around the program. Right now, there really is only one name that makes sense to take over for Muschamp.
Nevertheless, here’s a full list of coaching candidates for South Carolina.
Hugh Freeze, Liberty coach: Freeze is the leader in the clubhouse, and the clubhouse isn’t very big. Think of it this way: Perhaps South Carolina opened because Freeze is successful and available. Freeze is an accomplished SEC head coach who needs a lifeline out of Liberty after the way he exited Ole Miss. The Flames are undefeated and ranked for the first time in school history. There isn’t a buyout that can keep Freeze at Liberty, especially when an SEC school is involved. Freeze signed an extension through 2026 last week. It doesn’t matter. Common sense would dictate that Freeze’s moral failings at Ole Miss have been mitigated by a car wash through Liberty. There might not even be a phone call to Flames athletic director Ian McCaw.
Both Muschamp and Freeze are represented by super agent Jimmy Sexton. The only hang up now is that the hire would have to go through SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. Ole Miss went on probation under Freeze’s watch. When Nick Saban tried to hire Freeze as an assistant in 2018, it was reportedly shot down by Sankey. But again, the stop at Liberty may have mitigated the mess.
Tony Elliott, Clemson offensive coordinator: Jeff Scott left last year for South Florida. Clemson’s once two-headed offensive coordinator duo might be gone by the end of the month. Elliott, 40, has been at the top of his game for years. His run isn’t going to end anytime soon with quarterback Trevor Lawrence in his final season and D.J. Uiagalelei just getting started. Elliott’s offensive concepts are cutting edge. South Carolina could use cutting edge right now after getting the crap kicked out of it by the Tigers the last six years.
Billy Napier, Louisiana coach: Napier has shown amazing loyalty in his third year in Lafayette. At the tender age of 41, he’s already been a coordinator at big Power Fives (Clemson and Arizona State) and a wide receivers coach at Alabama. He’s won two division titles already in the Sun Belt, going 25-11. This is his time, but will South Carolina be his place? Check how Napier handled the team after the death of assistant D.J. Looney. He was a steadying influence. Napier has also coached in-state at Furman and South Carolina State.
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati coach: Michigan could use him, but that ain’t happening for the former Ohio State player and assistant. South Carolina is a fit but not the fit. When Fickell departs Cincinnati, it’s going to be for a place where he can win a conference championship. That’s how good a job he’s done for the Bearcats. Winning the SEC East is a heavy lift for anyone not coaching at Florida or Georgia. Look for Fickell’s name to surface if Texas parts with Tom Herman.
Steve Sarkisian, Alabama offensive coordinator: Sark is a veteran coach with national championship credentials as a coordinator. He’s sort of like a better version of Fickell. If Sark leaves Alabama for a head coaching job, it will be at a place he can win a conference championship. He has seemingly overcome prior substance abuse issues. There were heart issues over the summer, but Sarks seems to have overcome them as well. He’s currently coaching a Heisman Trophy contender (Mac Jones) the year after coaching Tua Tagovailoa.
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina coach: Interesting in-state candidate who is probably not ready for an SEC job just yet. Chadwell moved over seamlessly to head coach after Joe Moglia became AD. In his second year, he is only 15-16 total but off to an impressive 7-0 start in 2020.
Will Healy, Charlotte coach: If everything else falls through, Healy would be a candidate. But everything else is not going to fall through. Healy is one of the most innovative minds in the game at age 35. He is 2-3 in his second season with the 49ers.