Tanner on Muschamp firing: ‘It wasn’t an easy conversation’

Updated: Nov. 16, 2020 at 5:51 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - University of South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner said it was difficult to fire Head Football Coach Will Muschamp over the weekend.

“At the end of the day, the expectation is to win games,” Tanner said. “And that’s what we’re judged on. That’s what our aspirations are, but life does become personal, and it doesn’t doesn’t make it easy.”

Tanner and Interim Head Coach Mike Bobo spoke to reporters about the news and the future of the program during a media availability Monday morning.

“It wasn’t an easy conversation,” Tanner said, adding that it was “very honest and candid.” Muschamp met with the players after their conversation, Tanner said.

The 49-year-old Muschamp had four years remaining on his contract. His buyout from the school is $13.2 million. The Gamecocks are 2-5 and lost their third straight game, 59-42, at Ole Miss on Saturday night.

“When you get down to it, the decision was made because of wins," Tanner said. "It wasn’t because of [Muschamp’s] character or the culture or anything. It was about the bottom line and that makes it hard. Makes it very, very difficult.”

Tanner did not discuss specific plans about any possible negotiation on the cost of the buyout, saying it’s an annualized contract that could be adjusted by “mutual agreement.”

At one point, a reporter asked Tanner what letter grade he’d give himself in hiring Muschamp.

“I got a lot of Cs in college, but Cs get degrees,” Tanner said. “It’s one of those things that, you know, when I talked earlier about character and integrity doing the right thing, work ethic, passion, dedication, student athletes, first and foremost, he did all those things. There, there isn’t something I could stand up here and tell you today that would be derogatory toward his tenure. It’s a matter of we need to win more games, and that that is very important in this program. We understand that you can’t win them all. Our goal is to be successful at a level that we haven’t enjoyed in recent years. So, I don’t know that it’s important that I give myself a grade because you guys did a pretty good job of that.”

Tanner said the decision to remove Muschamp was made Sunday, not earlier. When asked about why they didn’t wait until the end of the season, he responded with a question of his own: “Is there ever a great time?”

“I don’t know that anytime is more perfect than others,” he said. “I know that as we move forward, there’s a Dec. 16 signing day. We also know that in January the NCAA is likely. And I say likely because I don’t know, they’re likely to pass legislation where all students have a one-time transfer opportunity that’s in May. And I think the sooner we move forward in the program, the better that we will be and if we do have a new coach, the desire would be to have one before the signing date occurs that our commitments have an opportunity to exactly know their path going forward.”

He said the search is underway for the next coach.

“Ending up with Coach Muschamp taking over the program with his experience in the southeast and the southeastern conference, being a player with the programs he’s been a part of, we felt that we really did a great job,” Tanner said. "And we’ll do the same thing going forward. It may be a little different process, However, it’s important that you vet and take the time. Sooner than later is better. However it’s important that the proper vetting is done and we get the right person to move this program forward.”

Bobo, the team’s offensive coordinator, learned Sunday he would be the team’s interim coach as the search for a successor began.

Bobo said Sunday was “a tough time.”

“It was like I told the team last night after Coach talked to them: We lost our coach, we lost our leader, and a lot of us coaches lost a friend and a father figure to a lot of those players," he said during Monday morning’s news conference. "So, it was a tough day yesterday. It’ll be a tough time going forward.”

“When the news came down, my initial transparent honesty is that I felt like I let Coach Muschamp down,” Bobo said. “I didn’t get the job that needed to get done on offense to help us win enough games. So, that’s what upset me. At the same time, I was asked to do a job. I told the team last night the result was not what we wanted last week at all, but those kids fought their tails off and, if I saw any quit or any culture problems on this football team, I would not want to be part of this.”

Bobo said he will still call plays on the offense, but said he will take a look at all phases to determine what changes need to be made.

Gamecock Quarterback Collin Hill said he’s very grateful for Muschamp.

“You know, he gave me an opportunity when I was coming off of a third ACL. You know, he took a chance on me,” he said. “Not a lot of people would have done that. And so I’m forever grateful to him for, for being willing to take a chance on me.”

“I mean you know it hurt. It hurt, but it’s life, you know, it is what it is,” Defensive Lineman Jubari Ellis said. “And we’re focused on next two games, you know, to turn it around and get a win.”

When asked about the team’s morale, Ellis said football teaches you a lot about life.

“When adversity hits, you know, you got to go through it,” he said.

UofSC Fullback Adam Prentice said off the field, he considers Muschamp a friend.

“[He’s] somebody you can go to. He’s very personable, go to him anytime, anything you need,” Prentice said.

Of the team’s morale, he said he thinks it has been consistent throughout the season.

“We’re coming ready to work, and every week and I think that’s been apparent in how we played last Saturday night, and previous weeks,” he said. “You know, we’re gonna come out and give our best foot forward every week.”

He said the team is just focusing on playing Missouri this week and getting then win, “and then worrying about the next two after that.”

After a thorough assessment of our football program, we have decided to make a change with the head football coach," Athletics Director Ray Tanner said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “I appreciate all that Will Muschamp has done for our program and wish him and his family the best moving forward.”

UofSC President Bob Caslen called Muschamp “a true professional and strong advocate for our student-athletes” who brought “much-needed stability” to the college’s football program.

“However, I believe it is time to move in a different direction,” Caslen said in a statement.

Muschamp was in the middle of his 5th season with the Gamecocks and had gone 28-30 overall including 2-5 this season.

Muschamp became the only coach to lead the team to a bowl appearance in his first 3 seasons which included a win in the Outback Bowl after 2017.

He led the Gamecocks to a big win over then 15th ranked Auburn on Oct. 17 but followed that with blowout losses to LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss last night by a combined score of 159-69.

The school said the search for a new coach will begin immediately.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.