COLUMBIA, S.C. — Steve Spurrier’s favorite coach didn’t come from the football world. Spurrier regularly quoted legendary UCLA basketball wizard John Wooden on all sorts of subjects.
As South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner conducts the search to replace Spurrier, fans need to remember one of Wooden’s lessons: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
Tanner has made it clear he’d like to have a coach in place by the weekend after conference championship games are played. Fans aren’t interested in that timetable. After a frustrating season wrapped up with a 3-9 record, they want answers about the future now. So when word came down Saturday that Virginia Tech was hiring Justin Fuente away from Memphis to replace Frank Beamer, panic time for some Gamecocks fans officially began.
“Absolute failure by @RayTannerSC” thundered one angry fan on Twitter. Clearly, Tanner had blown it by allowing the Hokies to hire a coach he wasn’t looking to land himself. That’s right: Despite being mentioned early in the search process as a possible South Carolina target, Fuente wasn’t someone the Gamecocks were pursuing.
Fuente has no SEC experience, few or no ties to a number of key South Carolina recruiting talent pools, and no track record of winning high-profile signing-day battles. He’s a good coach, but not a great fit for the mold of what Tanner hopes his next coach will be. By hiring him, Virginia Tech actually improved the picture for the Gamecocks: One of the few available jobs considered better than the one in Columbia now is off the market.
While Fuente wasn’t a target, Houston’s Tom Herman was. But as of last Wednesday, Herman no longer is pursuing the job (although South Carolina has not completely given up hope of him changing his mind on that). Criticizing Tanner for attempting to land the hottest non-Power Five conference coach out there, even if it appears he won’t succeed, seems odd.
There are no logical candidates the Gamecocks have missed out on as a result of their interest in Herman. Him preferring to stay in Houston after a raise to $3 million for a second season unless a perfect situation comes along doesn’t diminish the quality of South Carolina’s opportunity for another coach.
Herman has a game to coach this week, with Houston in the AAC title matchup. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is busy with the SEC game. UNC’s Larry Fedora has an ACC title to try and win. All three make reasonable sense for South Carolina’s needs. None will be publicly accepting any jobs before they’ve coached in those games. Clarity on Smart’s chances of landing the Georgia job likely will emerge by then as well. Tanner has no choice but to be patient.
While Tanner waits until Sunday to make a major push for any or all of the three previously mentioned names, Gamecocks fans can choose to freak out about their lack of action if (for example) Dan Mullen leaves Mississippi State for Virginia or Maryland. They shouldn’t. There are plenty of other quality candidates available, and only Georgia is considered clearly better among the open jobs right now. There are numerous other names on which South Carolina officials have done their homework.
Having a coach quickly to begin recruiting and assembling a staff would be nice, but hurrying into something just to get it done is a great way to find yourself needing to search again in five years.
(You can follow Heath Cline on Twitter @heathradio)
(Feature photo COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA)
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