TAMPA — Will Muschamp, on the rebound, is in his second season as coach at South Carolina. He isn’t the biggest name in coaching in his state. That’s Dabo Swinney at defending national champion Clemson. Muschamp wasn’t even the biggest coaching name at Thursday’s Outback Bowl news conference, following Jim Harbaugh, though Muschamp’s 8-4 record this season is identical to Harbaugh’s at Michigan.
Muschamp wasn’t a name when he replaced Urban Meyer at Florida, and he wasn’t a name after Coach Boom went bust and was replaced by Jim McElwain, who had all the answers.
So, what’s the word, Will?
"I’m really happy," Muschamp said.
There is life after Florida football.
"There aren’t many days I get out of bed and I’m not excited to work, whether I was at the University of Florida or I’m at the University of South Carolina, the University of Texas, LSU, Auburn, Miami Dolphins," Muschamp said. "Not many days when you get paid very well and love what you do. That’s where I’m at."
Muschamp, still just 46 (he was 39 when he took over at Florida), is living proof that there is a world beyond the Nation. He spent four years in Gainesville before it went kaboom, but Muschamp got his bearings back, with the help of his wife, Carol.
"I was home for about 48 hours and my wife looked at me and said, ‘When are you going back to work?’?" Muschamp said. "It was the first time in my life in December when I either wasn’t getting ready for a title game or recruiting. She got sick and tired of me."
Muschamp went to work as Gus Malzahn’s defensive coordinator at Auburn. Then he received a phone call from South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner. Boom was back in business. And business hasn’t been bad in Columbia.
Muschamp makes $3 million at Carolina. After the Gamecocks went 6-7 in Muschamp’s first season, they finished second in the SEC East and are here for the Outback. They have a lot of talent back next season.
"People say the East is down," Muschamp said. "Who cares? We finished second."
And Muschamp isn’t on the coaching carousel.
"The more and more you get paid, the more and more they want you to win," he said at an Outback event. "That’s the reality of where we are."
Muschamp didn’t get a bad deal at Florida, any more than McElwain did. Neither man got it done after Meyer left. Meyer, with two national titles, was simply a bar Muschamp couldn’t reach. He recruited well and was respected inside the Florida athletic department for tidying the program, but it began to unravel. Boom was fired late in his fourth season, finishing 28-21.
"As a coach, I don’t know if I’m any different now than I was my first day at Florida," Muschamp said. "At the end of the day, your expectation is to win championships. If you don’t do that, you’re a failure. I think (new Gators coach) Dan (Mullen) understands that. This is a way of life. There are no off days."
Muschamp won’t point fingers, but he still makes a point.
"What we inherited was awful, I’ll tell you that," he said. "I’m not going to direct anything at anyone. But from a culture standpoint, where it was night and day. And Jim McElwain and (former Florida athletic director) Jeremy Foley, anyone, will tell you that. It’s like I said on my last day there, they’re inheriting a bunch of good players. Look at the last two NFL drafts. They did inherit a lot of good players. Got them to Atlanta."
Muschamp didn’t get it done in Gainesville, but he believes he stayed true to who he was:
"Things happen if you handle yourself right and treat people right."
South Carolina has a long way to go when it comes to football history. Steve Spurrier did his best. Muschamp, still a master at working a living room, helped South Carolina to a recruiting haul, though the job is a tricky one, given that neighboring Georgia is in the College Football Playoff and Clemson is there, too, as the defending national champion.
"Obviously we don’t have some of the trophies, but I don’t have a rear view," Muschamp said. "I want to be part of the first."
Boom has landed.
"Ten percent of life is what happens to you," he said. "Ninety percent is what you do about it. Just because you’re fired doesn’t mean you’re a bad coach."