The ticking clock
South Carolina is - officially - 13 days into the coaching search to replace Will Muschamp.
The administration, as GamecockCentral.com reported the night of Muschamp's dismissal, has always eyed an expeditious process for this search that could have a coach beginning his processes prior to the early recruiting signing period on December 16. Indeed, things seem to be progressing nicely along that front, with interviews ongoing and an end in sight.
Although it's true that the priority has to be finding a candidate that can turn the program around, it's also true that each day that passes is another chance to fall behind.
The early signing period
When COVID-19 caused college football and recruiting shutdowns back in the spring, there were no clear indications of when in-person visits would be allowed again. If, as some hoped, the ability to hit campuses and meet with coaches face-to-face returned during the season, the thought was that prospects that had given early verbal commitments would begin to look around again.
Now we know that face-to-face contact is not returning until at least April, and instead of a flood of decommitments, more prospects than originally envisioned have stuck with their pledges. This has become a two-way street of college coaches - without the benefit of a spring or fall evaluation period and summer camps - filling out numbers in their class as soon as possible, plus prospects in effect "reserving" a slot at a program so as to not be left behind once signing day arrives.
While it is true that the Gamecocks' 2021 recruiting class ranked in the 40s according to Rivals.com at the time of Will Muschamp's dismissal, the reality is that several of the more highly-regarded prospects from the class have now decommitted, with two of them already finding new homes.
Wide receiver Rodarius Thomas and linebacker Bryce Steele are off the commitment list, with Steele noting that he plans to announce a new pledge on December 1. Virginia edge rusher George Wilson also backed off his verbal, as did Florida athlete Simeon Price. Trenilyas Tatum (linebacker) flipped his pledge to Georgia Tech and Jayden Johnson (defensive back) has already cast his lot with Arkansas after decommitting from Carolina.
It's not fair to expect South Carolina's recruiting class to be a top 25 affair this cycle, but there are holes to fill, and a poor recruiting class very much hinders a team's long-term outlook. Perhaps a new coach can get a guy or two back in the boat, assess the current class for fits, convince a few prospects - whether committed elsewhere or not - to hold off until February, or can leverage some connections to bring some talent into the fold between now and the late signing day. Every day here is an opportunity to recruit, whether before the early period or before the late period.
Other jobs opening?
Tom Herman seems to be stuck between making the Big 12 title game and being dismissed at Texas. Jeremy Pruitt appears to be in some jeopardy in Knoxville. Some Virginia Tech folks are mulling moving on from Justin Fuente. There's a thought that Jim Harbaugh may consider his time in Ann Arbor to be up after this season.
Perhaps those jobs - at least, not all of them - don't open. It's also true that there may not be significant carryover in the candidate pool between South Carolina and those others.
But, could it have some type of effect, if one or more of them opened soon? Maybe the price gets driven up on the Gamecocks if a guy gets his name in the mix at another spot. Perhaps some assistants that the new coach wants to bring get poached elsewhere.
It is at least one consideration here.
Recruiting and stabilizing the current roster
The NCAA's transfer portal is now a constant worry among coaches, and it could get even more nerve-racking in January. There's a distinct possibility that legislation is passed allowing for a one-time transfer that would have immediate eligibility attached.
In a coaching transition, there will be transfers for a variety of reasons.
What South Carolina needs to avoid is losing a cluster of players that are seen as key to the future of the program. No doubt, other programs have already been going up and down the Gamecocks' roster, highlighting some players that they would love to pick off.
The faster that current players see a new staff, a vision, and have a comfort level, the better.
The hope for Gamecock fans has to be that South Carolina finds the best man for the job and that there are no roadblocks that could hinder the process of bringing him in, because the clock is ticking.