Almost eleven months ago, Will Muschamp and his entire staff received raises and contract extensions. Those were well-deserved and made Defensive Coordinator Travaris Robinson the first assistant coach in South Carolina history to make at least one million dollars per year. If the Gamecock Athletic Department is smart, this is the year we add a second.
The season only ended a couple weeks ago, but since then there have been credible reports that Bobby Bentley has been offered the offensive coordinator position at Auburn, Bryan McClendon has been offered an unnamed head coaching position, Eric Wolford was a candidate to be the head coach at Kansas State, and it’s possible Dan Werner could receive at least two offensive coordinator offers.
Unless you’re Nick Saban and have a football operations budget that exceeds the GDP of some small countries, it’s hard to replace that many of your assistants every year. Will Muschamp and Ray Tanner need to extend and increase the salary of the three following assistants to ensure they are Gamecocks for the foreseeable future:
To go with the obvious one first, the first-year offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach should be the next member of the One Million Dollar Club. Currently sitting at a yearly salary of $650,000, McClendon makes only a little over half of what Jeremy Pruitt and Tennessee paid Tyson Helton last season. Will Muschamp’s struggles with offense have been well-documented and Bryan McClendon has finally built an offense that he can win with. To let him get away due to money would be the second biggest mistake of Muschamp’s career (the biggest mistake being the hire of Kurt Roper, but that’s a different argument for a different day).
Besides his playcalling ability, there’s another reason to keep McClendon around and it’s a crucial one: he’s one of the best recruiters in the conference. Since McClendon got to South Carolina, let’s take a look at the wide receivers he has brought into the program: Shi Smith, OrTre Smith, Chad Terrell, Josh Vann, and Memphis Whitehaven four star commit Keveon Mullins. In three full classes (without including his first class in which he was in Columbia for less than one month before Signing Day), he has successfully added at least five legitimate blue chip guys at his position. He has also established himself as Muschamp’s top recruiter in Georgia; a state that has proven itself to be quite fruitful for the Gamecocks program.
As obvious of a candidate as McClendon is, Eric Wolford is equally a no-brainer. In his first full year back in Columbia, Wolford has completely remade the mentality of the offensive line room. This group is tough, physical, and can stand up against any opponent on the schedule. Take the Clemson game, for example. If there’s ever a test for an offensive line, it’s Clemson’s defensive line that is full of NFL pass rushers. Out of fifty dropbacks, Jake Bentley was sacked three times and hurried eight times. When up against the toughest matchup on the schedule, Wolford’s group gave Bentley a clean pocket on 78% of his dropbacks.
Wolf is in high demand, and will continue to be going forward. After Georgia’s Sam Pittman, he needs to be the second highest paid at his position in the conference. His performance has earned it.
This is going to be a controversial one because there are people who question the productivity of his running backs this season, but upon further review he did a masterful job of getting the most out of what he had. Going into the season, Bentley and McClendon were planning to have a one-two punch of Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams. Due to injuries, he had to use a player who was supposed to be merely an occasional short yardage guy (Mon Denson) and a smaller back whose ideal role is a special teams ace (AJ Turner) as his primary ball-carriers. Despite all of that, the run game wasn’t terrible this season and that is 100% due to coaching.
Make no mistake, Bobby Bentley is a heck of a football coach and will be an offensive coordinator someday soon. By all accounts, he turned down a substantial raise to hold that title under one of his closest friends in coaching at Auburn. If he would’ve taken that job, Will Muschamp would have lost one of the top recruiters on his staff and the guy who very well could be responsible for the signing of three consensus blue chippers out of Tennessee.
Eventually, as stated before, Bryan McClendon is going to be a head coach in the near future. Bobby Bentley should be his replacement and his salary needs to be competitive enough to keep him in Columbia.