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South Carolina Head Coaching Search: A Look at Some Possible (and Unlikely) Candidates

You will hear several names in relationship to the Gamecocks' head-coaching job. Some of them are more credible than others

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The resignation of Steve Spurrier as head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks opens up what could be the only available job in the SEC this year. But it comes at the same time that Southern California, Miami and Maryland -- among others -- are also going to be on the market. As a result the question of who comes to South Carolina is going to boil down to two questions: which candidates the Gamecocks brass will be interested in, and which candidates can South Carolina actually get?

The second question is a little bit harder to answer than the first, because it depends on which other schools go after certain candidates. The other USC is hands-down a better job than South Carolina, and Miami at least arguably still is. Also, every fan base needs to keep in mind that the job at their school is never as good as fans think it is. Never.

Who might South Carolina get? Let's take a look first at two names that you're likely to hear a lot who are probably the least likely to be the next Gamecocks head coach.

Mark Dantonio (Head coach, Michigan State)

This was once not just a dream candidate, but the dream candidate for many South Carolina fans. Dantonio is a South Carolina alumnus who has built a powerhouse in East Lansing and didn't directly answer Tuesday when asked about the job. But events have made the Michigan State coach moving to Columbia a lot less likely than it might have been even three or four years ago. Dantonio will be 60 when the next college football season rolls around, and even if the South Carolina administration could look past his age and health questions, Dantonio himself might not be eager to take on a rebuilding job at that age. As long as he has a good thing going at Michigan State, only a strong emotional attachment to South Carolina would even prompt him to consider a move.

Charlie Strong (Head coach, Texas)

The former defensive coordinator under Lou Holtz would be something of a fan favorite, though he was about as well-regarded as any non-Kirby Smart defensive coordinator in the SEC, which is to say that even when he was good at his job he had his critics. If Strong were still at Louisville, he would be a near mortal lock for the front-runner position at South Carolina; as it happens, he's now at Texas. If Strong is somehow dismissed from the Longhorns job -- which seems less likely now, particularly if the Oklahoma win starts a turnaround -- or becomes desperate to escape Austin politics, he would be a top candidate for the position in Columbia. But let's not kid ourselves: If Strong has any inclination to stay at Texas and the Longhorns are of a mind to keep him, South Carolina won't be able to pry him away.

Again, both of those candidates are extremely unlikely to end up at South Carolina to start the 2016 season. Which means your top prospects mostly consist of mid-major head coaches and Power 5 coordinators. It's a high-risk, high-reward proposition; you either hire Hugh Freeze or Derek Dooley, Mark Richt or Will Muschamp. The advantage is that if it works out well, you usually get a younger candidate who can hang around for 10 or 15 years, as long as you can keep him well-paid and otherwise happy.

Jeff Brohm (Head coach, Western Kentucky)

Brohm has already gotten some buzz on non-South Carolina blogs for the job, and the AP also thinks it's a possibility. He's 13-6 over a season and a half with the Hilltoppers, but coaches that have had success at WKU also should come with a warning label. Willie Taggart's USF teams have been disasters, and Bobby Petrino has faced some tough sledding in the second season of his return to Louisville. That doesn't disqualify Brohm, it just means buyer beware. The other note of caution on Brohm is that aside from a couple of seasons as Illinois' quarterback coach, he's never held any job at a Power 5 school. He could be a credible back-up candidate, though, particularly if the coaching carousel gets unexpectedly crowded this year.

Shawn Elliott (Interim head coach, South Carolina)

Before the last two years soured a lot of Gamecock fans on the current coaching staff, Elliott was seen as a likely successor to Spurrier. (Another potential on-staff replacement was Lorenzo Ward, which, sure -- if Ray Tanner wants to bankrupt every property insurer in South Carolina.) "I would love to be the head coach at the University of South Carolina for many years to come," Elliott said Tuesday at his introduction. He's a South Carolina native who spent time with then-FCS powerhouse Appalachian State before coming to Columbia and revitalizing the South Carolina run game. The problem is that Elliott has never been a head coach before. If he wins three or more of the remaining games on the Gamecocks schedule -- The Citadel, Vanderbilt and an upset somewhere along the way -- he might get serious consideration. Anything on top of that increases his chances.

Justin Fuente (Head coach, Memphis)

Sure, Fuente is only 22-20 in his head coach career -- but the man's at Memphis. And over the last year and a half, he's gone 15-3, with the only losses coming against Ole Miss, UCLA and Houston. He has no real natural connections to the SEC or South Carolina, but there's no chance that the Tigers could keep up in a bidding war, and Fuente is going to get his chance somewhere. The problem that Gamecocks might face is if another, higher-profile school pursues Fuente. It's hard to see Southern Cal going after him, but Miami might. And if an attractive enough Big 12 position opens up, someone from that conference could also show some interest in the former TCU assistant. If Dantonio and Strong pass (as is likely) and Elliott doesn't pan out, this might be the best feasible candidate for South Carolina.

Justin Fuente
Justin Ford -- USA Today Sports

Mark Hudspeth (Head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette)

Hudspeth's name is going to keep coming up in the coaching carousel until he actually gets a job. He's worked at Mississippi State, so he knows the landscape in the SEC, and is 104-39 overall in head coaching stops at North Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette. And yet, Hudspeth is still only 46 years old. He's an intriguing candidate, because he might be good enough for the Gamecocks to feel as good as they can about a mid-major coach and yet low enough on other teams' lists to avoid a major bidding war. At the same time, the Ragin' Cajuns just got dinged by the NCAA, something Spurrier's program was largely able to avoid outside the Whitney Hotel incident. While Hudspeth was not found to have any personal involvement in the wrongdoing, something so recent could still influence any consideration of him.

Chad Morris (Head coach, SMU)

Morris is 1-5 right now, but he's in the one college football job that might be more thankless than Fuente's. He's an exceptional offensive coordinator and knows how to recruit in South Carolina and the surrounding area. And Morris would bring with him some insight about what Dabo Swinney likes to do, which can't hurt. Sure, it would mean South Carolina hiring a former Clemson assistant, but hiring rival players and coaches sometimes helps; Pat Dye played at Georgia and coached at Alabama before finding his way to Auburn for a great 11-year run. Morris' current record, and the fact that this is his first year as a head coach, might initially scare the South Carolina search committee away. But if other options start falling through, he might make sense.

Kirby Smart (Defensive coordinator, Alabama)

Smart is actually the oddsmakers' favorite for the South Carolina job, according to Bovada, beating out Fuente, Elliott and everyone else. But oddsmakers are paid to get games right (or more accurately the public's perception of games right), not head coaching searches, and they're often laughably wrong. If South Carolina could land Smart, it would be a huge coup with as much risk and as much potential reward as anyone else on the board. But he's reportedly interviewed for other jobs in the past -- like Auburn and Tennessee -- and could end up alongside Fuente as one of the hottest commodities on this year's coaching carousel. South Carolina has the money to pay Smart, unless Alabama's going to go insane and start throwing head-coach money at a coordinator, but a formal or informal head-coach-in-waiting agreement at Tuscaloosa might help keep him around. In addition, if Smart succeeds at South Carolina, there's always the chance that Alabama would try to grab him when Saban retires. Which is a good problem to have.

The final tier here is composed almost entirely of off-the-wall or dark-horse candidates that you might or might not hear discussed anywhere else. Some of them are quasi-serious and some of them are tongue-in-cheek, the kind of thing you might throw out in a "bold predictions" column where you can't be held accountable if you get something hideously wrong.

Matt Campbell (Head coach, Toledo): You can easily see why Campbell would be an attractive candidate for South Carolina -- his team has more SEC wins right now than the Gamecocks. In all seriousness, Campbell has done a good job at Toledo and will likely get a Power 5 job soon enough. It's something worse keeping an eye on.

Manny Diaz (Defensive coordinator, Mississippi State): Diaz is another coordinator who's likely to get a chance as a head coach sooner or later. His tenure as defensive coordinator at Texas was not incredibly successful, but how much of that has to do with Diaz and how much of that has to do with the dysfunction at the end of the Mack Brown Era is anyone's guess. Now in his early 40s, this could be the right time for Diaz if he wants to be a head coach.

Tom Herman (Head coach, Houston): He's Chad Morris with a much better record and without the connections to the state of South Carolina. The six seasons he spent at Iowa State and Ohio State from 2009-14 were the only time he's had a job outside the state of Texas. He's also a potential target for Southern Cal, and might want to stick around and see if Strong flames out or he can get another Texas job even if the Trojans look elsewhere.

Tom Herman
Troy Taormina -- USA Today Sports

Kliff Kingsbury (Head coach, Texas Tech): This is probably nothing more than a pipe dream for boosters and the female portion of South Carolina's fan base. He's at his alma mater and has never held a coaching job outside of the state of Texas. And if Kingsbury is willing to move on, he would also get attention from Southern Cal and others. There might be a chance, but it's a very slim chance.

Rich Rodriguez (Head coach, Arizona): Even Arizona outlets are bringing up the possibility of Rich Rod bolting for South Carolina, but I don't see it. South Carolina might or might not be a better job than Arizona, but Rodriguez has his system in place in Tuscon -- and while Lorenzo Nunez might have some success in that system, there would still be a transition period. And if Rodriguez just wanted to get in the SEC, he had a chance to do so at the conference's most prestigious program a few years ago and turned it down.

Tommy Tuberville (Head coach, Cincinnati): Yes, this is extraordinarily unlikely. But Tuberville would probably love to get back in the SEC, and he would fit South Carolina's mold of hiring older coaches who have had success elsewhere but are now in a position where the Gamecocks can snag them. Tuberville is in his 60s, but he's a gettable and halfway respectable name if others turn the Gamecocks down.

Matt Wells (Head coach, Utah State): Aside from the fact that he was born in Columbia, according to Wikipedia, there's really nothing I can see that would make Wells and South Carolina a match. He's done a fine job with the Aggies, and I as a fan wouldn't be disappointed if Wells got the job, but I just don't see why South Carolina would call, and Wells is a Utah State alumnus.