South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has decided to retire, ending an illustrious coaching career in the SEC. During his tenure with the Gamecocks, Spurrier went 86-49, which included three consecutive seasons of 11 wins from 2011-13. Prior to his stint at South Carolina, Spurrier was 122-27-1 at Florida and 20-13-1 at Duke. And Spurrier wasn’t just a successful coach - he won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback with the Gators.
Needless to say, Spurrier’s departure is a huge loss for the SEC and South Carolina. Spurrier owns the only seasons of more than 10 wins in school history and helped to raise the bar in Columbia.
Who will replace Spurrier at South Carolina? Here’s 10 names to watch.
10 Coaches to Watch in South Carolina's Search to Replace Steve Spurrier
Dino Babers, head coach, Bowling Green
Behind a high-powered offense, Babers has emerged as one of the top Group of 5 coaches over the last two seasons. Despite losing starting quarterback Matt Johnson to a season-ending injury in the first game of 2014, the Falcons still won the MAC East and finished 8-6 last year. Bowling Green is off to a 4-2 start in 2015 and already has wins over two Power 5 programs – Purdue and Maryland. Babers has a wealth of experience as an assistant, including stops at UCLA, Texas A&M, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Baylor under Art Briles. He also has a two-year stint at Eastern Illinois (19-7) on his resume.
Matt Campbell, head coach, Toledo
Campbell is regarded as one of college football’s top rising stars and also one of the youngest in the coaching ranks. The 35-year-old coach is 31-13 at Toledo, and the Rockets are off to a 5-0 start in 2015. Additionally, Toledo is ranked No. 22 prior to Week 7 and has wins over Power 5 programs in Iowa State and Arkansas. The Ohio native played at the ultra-successful Mount Union program from 1999-02 and later worked as an assistant at Bowling Green and Toledo prior to taking over the head coach role after Tim Beckman left for Illinois.
Mark Dantonio, head coach, Michigan State
It’s hard to see Dantonio leaving Michigan State for South Carolina. However, it’s worth mentioning Dantonio has ties to this program as a defensive back for the Gamecocks from 1976-78 under Jim Carlen. Dantonio is one of the nation’s top coaches and is 81-31 during his tenure at Michigan State. Prior to taking over in East Lansing, Dantonio went 18-17 at Cincinnati, worked as an assistant under Jim Tressel at Ohio State from 2001-03 and Michigan State under Nick Saban from 1995-00. Dantonio isn’t likely to leave East Lansing, but South Carolina has to at least inquire.
P.J. Fleck, head coach, Western Michigan
Fleck is only 11-19 in three seasons at Western Michigan, but the arrow is clearly pointing up on his tenure with the Broncos. After a 1-11 mark in his first season, Fleck is 10-8 and guided the program to an 8-5 finish in 2014. The Illinois native worked as an assistant at Rutgers, Northern Illinois and in the NFL with the Buccaneers before taking over at Western Michigan. While Fleck is young and still learning on the job, he would have no trouble energizing the fanbase and is an outstanding recruiter.
Justin Fuente, head coach, Memphis
Fuente is a rising star in the coaching ranks and should have plenty of suitors if he’s interested in leaving Memphis. In three years with the Tigers, Fuente is 22-20 and guided the program to a 10-3 record in 2014. Last season’s 10-win mark was the best record in school history and included a share of the American Athletic Conference title. Fuente’s accomplishments at Memphis are even more impressive when you consider the mess former coach Larry Porter left behind after a 3-21 record from 2010-11. Prior to taking over in Memphis, Fuente worked as an assistant at TCU under Gary Patterson from 2007-11.
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Tom Herman, head coach, Houston
Herman is going to draw plenty of interest from Power 5 programs at the end of the 2015 season. He’s only in the first year of his tenure at Houston, but the Cougars are off to an impressive 5-0 start. Additionally, Herman was a key cog in Ohio State’s national championship run last season. Despite losing the top two quarterbacks on the roster, the Buckeyes’ offense remained on track with Cardale Jones and scored at least 42 points in each of the final three games. Herman also has stops on his resume as an offensive coordinator at Iowa State, Rice and Texas State.
Chad Morris, head coach, SMU
Morris is just 1-5 in his first season at SMU, but the overall outlook for the program is trending up with this rebuilding project and there are signs of life after six weeks. Prior to SMU, Morris was one of the nation’s top assistant coaches at Clemson. From 2011-14, Morris called the plays for the Tigers and coordinated some of the nation’s top offenses. Clemson ranked in the top 10 nationally for scoring offense from 2012-13. Morris also has a one-year stint as Tulsa’s play-caller on his resume (2010) and was a head coach in the high school ranks from 1994-09.
Rich Rodriguez, head coach, Arizona
Rodriguez could be a name that generates interest in the USC and Maryland searches, so the West Virginia native could have plenty of suitors after Arizona’s final game on Nov. 21. Rodriguez is 30-16 with the Wildcats and is coming off his best year in Tucson after winning the Pac-12 South title in 2014. Rodriguez had a failed run at Michigan (15-22) but went 60-26 as West Virginia’s head coach from 2001-07. Additionally, he’s no stranger to the state of South Carolina after a two-year stint as Clemson’s offensive coordinator from 1999-00. While Rodriguez is mentioned here, it’s worth noting he has a good job at Arizona and now has a roster full of his recruits. Taking over at another school would require a rebuilding effort and a transition to his scheme. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t work well at Michigan.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
It’s only a matter of time before Smart is hired as a head coach at a Power 5 program. He’s well-versed in life in the SEC, as Smart played at Georgia as a defensive back from 1995-98 and coached as an assistant at LSU, Georgia and Alabama. Smart was promoted to defensive coordinator with the Crimson Tide in 2008 after Kevin Steele left for Clemson. Nick Saban has a huge role in Alabama’s defense, and with Smart at the controls, this unit never finished lower than third in the SEC in scoring defense from 2008-14. One potential drawback for Smart: He has never been a head coach at the FBS level.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson
Not only is Venables one of the nation’s top assistant coaches, but he also coordinates a defense for South Carolina’s biggest rival – Clemson. If the Gamecocks think Venables is the right coach to replace Spurrier, it’s also an interesting way to hurt your rival. Venables played at Kansas State under Bill Snyder from 1991-92 and joined the program as a graduate assistant in 1993. After working as an assistant with the Wildcats, Venables was hired on Bob Stoops’ first staff at Oklahoma in 1999 and stayed in Norman until 2011. Venables has been a key piece in Clemson’s recent success and coordinated a defense that was arguably the nation’s best last season.