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After dropping Will Muschamp, who will South Carolina hire? Here are 12 candidates

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South Carolina parted ways with coach Will Muschamp on Sunday night, opening the first Power Five job of the year. Here’s a look at who could replace him in Columbia after Muschamp went 28-30 in five seasons. South Carolina will not get one of the top candidates bandied around for the blue-blood jobs, as coaches like Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Indiana’s Tom Allen aren’t going there. (Allen just signed a new deal, and his buyout would be in the neighborhood of $20 million to leave.)

Here’s a list at who USC could be targeting:

Billy Napier, Louisiana

He may not be the sexiest candidate, but he’s the most realistic. Napier has guided Louisiana to an upset of Iowa State this season and a national ranking. He played at Furman and coached at South Carolina State and Clemson (twice), so his ties to the state are strong. South Carolina officials are eating more than $13 million to fire Muschamp, not to mention the cost of his staff. (Mike Bobo, for example, has another year at $1.2 million remaining on his deal.) South Carolina officials may want a sexier name, but Napier may be the best fit. He’s been picky about jobs, turning down the shot to interview at multiple Power Five schools last year. This one may land different.

Bill O’Brien, former NFL coach

O’Brien has a ton of college experience and has been a coveted coach for college jobs during his time in the NFL. He’s highly regarded for his time at Penn State and spent the early years of his coaching career at Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech. He’d bring the program an identity and edge that it’s lacked.

Hugh Freeze, Liberty

Liberty coach Hugh Freeze looks on during the 2019 Cure Bowl against Georgia Southern on Dec. 21, 2019. (James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Liberty coach Hugh Freeze looks on during the 2019 Cure Bowl against Georgia Southern on Dec. 21, 2019. (James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Freeze has feasted on inferior competition at Liberty this season, revitalizing his career prospects after his program’s NCAA rules failings and his own personal demons ended his career at Ole Miss. South Carolina president Bob Caslen is a retired Army lieutenant general and the former superintendent at West Point. He just wrote a book entitled “The Character Edge, Leading and Winning with Integrity.” That doesn’t sound like a guy who’ll be focused on Freeze, but he’ll deal with the nerves of a fan base fearful that a school like Tennessee or Auburn will eventually hire him and torture South Carolina.

Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Satterfield may be worth a swing if they want a big name that resonates in the Carolinas. He brings a lot of things that South Carolina needs — recruiting chops, offensive creativity and success in that footprint at Appalachian State. You’d have to look past this year’s COVID-19-ravaged roster, as Louisville has gone 2-6 after 8-5 last season.

Tony Elliott, Clemson offensive coordinator

His hire would significantly weaken Clemson, as he’s been the school’s valued play-caller since Chad Morris left for SMU in 2015. Through Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, Elliott has been the quiet, steady presence behind Clemson’s offensive juggernaut. He’s long maintained he wants to go to a place where he can win enough that he can feel secure luring coaches — and their families — to come join him. Is sticking around in-state attractive?

Steve Sarkisian, Alabama offensive coordinator

Sarkisian’s stigma appears to be in the past after a long courtship by both Mississippi State and Colorado last season. He brings a lot of experience, a solid degree of success at Washington (34-29) and enough offensive expertise to get South Carolina out of the stone age.

Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator

The Clemson defensive coordinator’s candidacy may be hurt by the reality of Gamecock fans enduring the uninspired offenses Muschamp trotted out the past five years. Typically, schools reflexively hire opposites. Venables has been judicious about what jobs he’d seek. But in the last year, he’d shown more interest in going to a job that may not be a blue blood. He knows the area, and his hire would also significantly weaken Clemson. The school’s rise to the elite coincided with Venables’ arrival in 2012.

Will Healy, Charlotte

He brings charisma and the ability to infuse energy into a program that needs it. He’d also be a bell cow on the recruiting trail, as Steve Spurrier’s best years came when he was able to keep top talent like Jadeveon Clowney and Stephon Gilmore home.

Joe Brady, Panthers offensive coordinator

It’s more likely that Brady will pursue NFL jobs, but his offensive acumen and success locally as Matt Rhule’s OC would make him an intriguing name here. There’s not much expectation that Brady ends up in college in the near future.

Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady talks to Robby Anderson during an offseason training camp practice on Aug. 21. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady talks to Robby Anderson during an offseason training camp practice on Aug. 21. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina

From one year of roaring success in the Sun Belt to the SEC seems like a bit of a leap. But it’s hard to ignore what Coastal has done this season, bringing them to No. 15 in the country and emerging as the season’s feel-good story.

Jeff Monken, Army

The tie to Caslen would be the main allure here, as Caslen saw how Monken pulled Army from the football gutter and has brought it back to a place where winning seasons have become an expectation. Monken was involved in searches at both Mississippi State and Missouri last year, but the lack of ties to the area — other than Caslen — would put him on a B-list.

Bill Clark, UAB

The Blazers are on track for another trip to the Conference USA title game, and Clark has earned a strong reputation in the Southern footprint for resuscitating UAB and putting together hard-nosed defenses. Clark, like all the defensive coaches on this list, is working against the reality that South Carolina will likely favor an offensive coach.

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