FLORENCE, S.C. — University of South Carolina President Robert Caslen said Monday he has not asked Florida State how it came up with money to fire football coach Willie Taggart earlier this month and pay him a buyout worth a little more than $18 million.
“No, but our athletic director (Ray Tanner) has,” Caslen said during an interview session at the Morning News. “And they’ve got a whole lot more money in their athletic endowment than we do. I know that, for a fact.
“Listen, for the record, (South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp) is my coach, period. And he’ll remain my coach, just for the record. If you look at the athletic director’s statement (Saturday, supporting Muschamp before his team’s 30-6 loss to Texas A&M), that’s the same that I endorse.”
On Friday, Tanner released a statement that read: “Today, I want to make it clear that Will Muschamp is our football coach and will be our coach going forward. Caslen and I are fully supportive of his leadership and his development of student-athletes on and off the field. Coach Muschamp and our staff are dedicated to the success of Gamecock football. They have built a program where our team plays for each other and for our university, and they deserve our support. While we wish the outcome of some of our games would have been different, we are excited about the future of our program.”
Caslen, the university’s president since August, was then asked what Muschamp’s fate would be if Clemson wins by a large margin on Nov. 30 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“If we’re totally imploding and no one shows up, I’d say we’ll have a discussion,” Caslen said. “But there’s no desire intended to make a change.”
If a Clemson blowout win forces Caslen’s hand, South Carolina would owe Muschamp a buyout. It’s $19.4 million before Dec. 30, but $18.8 million on Dec. 31. Muschamp, since taking over USC in 2016, has compiled a 26-24 record, including a 15-17 record in the Southeastern Conference. He lost eight of his past 12 games against Power Five opponents. He has lost three consecutive games to coach Dabo Swinney’s Tigers. This year the Gamecocks have a 4-7 record, and that includes a home loss to Appalachian State.
Caslen then disputed a Greenville News story last week in which the newspaper reported he said he is fully committed to Muschamp — at least for the final two games of the season.
“Coach Muschamp is my coach. That’s the message. He will be my coach through the end of the season,” The Greenville News attributed to Caslen. “And then, just like any other coach that’s out there, whether it’s a soccer coach, whether it’s the equestrian coach, whatever, they’re going to do an end-of-year assessment, the athletic director does. Then, we’ll see what’s up.”
Caslen, on Monday, then gave his version of what happened.
“I did not say that,” Caslen said. “Those were three-minute-apart statements. I said, ‘Coach is my coach.’ Three minutes later, we had a discussion about what happens at the end of every athletic team’s season. A common practice that has gone on forever is that you assess. Frankly, I’m assessing my role: How can I as the president help his program? I have leadership responsibilities, too. Season assessment is important.
“You take THAT statement, and you take the statement, ‘He’s my coach until the end of the season,’ and then they twisted my words, and it ... me off to no end. How clear can I make it? He’s my coach. He’s the university’s coach. And the statement by Ray Tanner last week is the same that I support 100 percent.”
Earlier in the interview, Caslen referred to South Carolina’s 20-17 upset over Georgia, now the nation’s fourth-ranked team.
“That just shows we have the potential to be halfway decent,” Caslen said.
Later, Caslen was asked what is his favorite challenge in front of him, one that looks like he can have an impact that would be important to the state of South Carolina and one that he can impact quickly.
“To beat Clemson,” he answered.
“If the (team that beat Georgia) shows up, we can do it,” Caslen’s wife, Shelly, added.
Caslen then followed that up.
“If Clemson has one of those days, and we have one of our Georgia days, it’s game on, because the talent is there,” Caslen said. “It’s a matter of getting the kids to play together as a team, that’s all. But we’ll figure it out.”
Clemson, which has won five consecutive games over the Gamecocks after South Carolina won the previous five, is a hurdle Caslen wants his program to get over soon.
“Everybody wants to be part of a winning team,” said Caslen, a former Army football center and retired Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army and former West Point superintendent. “No one wants to be part of a team that’s not winning. That’s just the way America is. That’s just American culture, right? We all want to be around a winner.”
While Clemson has won four consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championships and two national championships since the 2016 season, that has just fueled Caslen even more.
After being asked if there’s one question Caslen has not been asked about Muschamp that he wishes would be asked, it’s, “What are you doing to prepare to beat Clemson in two weeks?”
Caslen said he does not blame Tanner for his university’s football woes.
“I love coach Tanner,” Caslen said. “I think he’s great. He’s hugely respected as an athletic director in the (Southeastern Conference).”
Then after Caslen was asked what it would take for Muschamp to be in his good graces going into the offseason, he said it’s simple.
“Have a great win over Clemson,” Caslen said. “That’d really be great. I love the coach. He’s a great coach. We should win the games we’re supposed to win. ... And then you should remain competitive in your conference.”
A five-time APSE national contest honoree, Scott recently authored his first book,”70 Years of Thrills and Chills, Drama and Dents at Darlington Raceway.” In college, Scott played on a tennis scholarship and earned degrees from Young Harris College (Ga.) and Berry College (Ga.).