HOOVER, Ala. — South Carolina handed Will Muschamp a second chance to lead a Southeastern Conference football program when it hired the former Florida head coach in December.
After rising to national prominence under another former coach of the Gators, the Gamecocks hope the choice can reverse their tumble down the SEC pecking order following three 11-win seasons.
"Coach (Steve) Spurrier and his staff have brought this program to relevance nationally," Muschamp said as SEC media days wrapped up Thursday, "and that's what we plan on building on."
Muschamp was fired in 2014 with a 28-21 overall record and 17-15 SEC mark after four seasons in Gainesville, and he has inherited what he called a "beat-down bunch" that is coming off a 3-9 season that included five losses by seven or fewer points and an embarrassing 23-22 defeat to The Citadel.
South Carolina's tumultuous season included Spurrier's abrupt retirement after six games and the movement of a home game to LSU due to widespread flooding in Columbia. The heights the program reached under Spurrier only made the bottoming out worse for the Gamecocks.
"It's tough going 3-9," offensive lineman Mason Zandi said. "Going 11-2 my first two seasons and 6-6 the next and 3-9 the following — it's obviously tough to lose that many games and to let so many people down.
"Our fans are the best fans in the country. Ultimately they come out, and rain or shine, win or lose, they're there. They pack the stadium every single year, and it hurts us to let them down."
Muschamp, who was defensive coordinator at Auburn last season, wants to stop the pain quickly.
"There is no three-year plan or five-year plan," he said. "They plan to win now. That's my mentality."
It's a welcomed one for his players.
"I wouldn't really understand a coach that'd come in and say, 'I want to win later,' to be completely honest with you," Zandi said. "We want to win every game possible. That's what we're going to try to do and take it game by game."
Muschamp maintains "fond memories" of what he termed a "great run" with the Gators, though Florida fans may not share that perspective. The coach was proud of how his defense and special teams performed and the academic progress the program made. Muschamp also bragged about the SEC-best 15 NFL draft picks Florida produced the past two seasons.
It's no secret, though, what was his downfall with the Gators.
"Really, it comes back to offense," Muschamp said. "That's where, from a practice standpoint, (we have) to make sure we're practicing the right way, whether it's staff, scheme, decision-making, whatever. That falls on my shoulders.
"I'm taking full responsibility of that and making it better in this situation."
Zandi knows what tempo he expects the offense to operate at.
"We're going to be fast," he said.
The situation Muschamp faces at South Carolina may have frightened away more intriguing candidates.
The Gamecocks ranked 99th nationally in total offense and 95th in total defense in 2015. Gone are the team's leading rusher (Brandon Wilds), receiver (Pharoh Cooper) and tackler (Skai Moore) from last season. Question marks remain at quarterback, where former walk-on Perry Orth and touted freshman Brandon McIlwain continue to battle.
And the talent level isn't what it was when players such as Jadeveon Clowney, Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Melvin Ingram, Stephon Gilmore and D.J. Swearinger were donning garnet and black.
"We have a lot of unknowns for us," Muschamp said. "It's a new staff and a new situation, but I think we've got some very talented players in those unknowns. I'm excited about the work ethic and buy-in and all it takes to be successful. I'm extremely excited about it."
Second chances can have that kind of effect.
"It's a new beginning for us, just as well as him," defensive end Marquavius Lewis said, "and we're just ready to prove ourselves to him."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.