Believe it: Will Muschamp still on track to be a superstar coach

Will Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Florida fans may never believe it. South Carolina fans want to believe it. But in time, the college football world is going to figure it out.

Will Muschamp, who appeared destined for greatness when named the coach-in-waiting at Texas under Mack Brown, might just become that superstar coach after all.

There is work left to be done, for sure. “Coach Boom,” the sequel, is in its early chapters. He is just beginning his second season at South Carolina, a somewhat quick and improbable landing place for Muschamp just one season after being fired at Florida. Most believed it would be a while, if ever, before the Nick Saban coaching disciple walked the sidelines again. At least as a head man.

But after only one year out of the big chair – spent as the defensive coordinator at Auburn – Muschamp was back in the saddle in Columbia after Steve Spurrier resigned in 2015.

The Gamecocks went 6-7 last season. Yet there were signs that special things could be on the horizon. After a slow start, the Gamecocks won four out of five games before running into eventual national champion Clemson in the regular-season finale. South Carolina was 4-2 in its final six regular-season games, losing only to SEC East Division champ Florida and the Tigers.

Along the way, Muschamp — who turns 46 on August 3 — found his quarterback of the present and future in Jake Bentley. In retrospect, the decision to pull the redshirt off Bentley at midseason may become the most important decision of Muschamp’s coaching career.

RELATED: Will Muschamp on Jake Bentley: ‘Thank goodness he’s a Gamecock’

He was hesitant because Bentley, the son of Gamecocks assistant Bobby Bentley, actually arrived in college a year early. It’s one thing playing a true freshman; it’s another thing entirely when the freshman actually should be a high school senior. But Bentley assured Muschamp he wanted a chance, the coach relented and a starter was born.

The numbers weren’t mind-boggling – Bentley went 4-3 as a starter, going 125-of-190 for 1,420 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. But they weren’t bad either.

Still, his appointment was about far more than numbers. Despite his age, he became a team leader almost immediately. The great leaders have a way about them. Sometimes it’s what they say, sometimes what they do. Sometimes it’s a look, maybe just a general presence. It’s always in how they work. Whatever it is, the Gamecocks’ quarterback has it.

During SEC Media Days, I asked tight end Hayden Hurst, the former minor-league baseball player turned star pass-catcher, the key to the Gamecocks’ season. He never hesitated.

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