USC football coach Will Muschamp talks about players who signed Wednesday

USC football coach Will Muschamp answers a question from John Banks at Wild Wing Cafe, Wednesday night.

USC football coach Will Muschamp Press Conference comments – Wednesday – National Signing Day

On the team’s graduates…

First of all, I want to congratulate our graduates on our football team. We have eight young men that have received their diploma before they’ve played their last football game at the University of South Carolina. Some of them did this summer, but I want to recognize them as well: Cory Helms, Alan Knott, Demetrius Smalls, Dante Sawyer, Chris Lammons, Skai Moore, Ulric Jones and D.J. Park. What a phenomenal job these guys have done, graduating before they finish their eligibility. That says a lot about our program. It says a lot about Maria Hickman and the staff at the Dodie Anderson, and what a fantastic job they do. Our commitment here is to the true student-athlete, and that’s a lot of fun.”

On the class as a whole…

The program got better today. We ended up signing 20 guys in this class, in the early signing period. I’m looking forward to finishing out this class, but we obviously improved our program. We’ll know about this class, as I say every year and I’ll say again in February, we’ll know about this class in two or three years. But I really think, as far as critical factors are concerned, at every position we hit more and more of what we want our football team to be and look like. We’re moving forward, and that’s exciting.

The last two signing classes, we’ve produced 18 starters and nine major contributors. You’re talking about 27 guys on your football team that are playing in their first or second year and are major contributors to your organization. It’s also produced two permanent team captains in Jake Bentley and Dennis Wonnum, voted by their teammates, for only the third time in school history. You talk in terms of leadership and character and the type of people you want in your organization, because their were certainly some other guys that were up for that award as well, but they were voted by their teammates.

On the signing day date change and the impacts it had on recruiting…

You had to adjust a lot from the standpoint of as you dealt with young people sometimes, they think they’re going to sign in the early signing day, then they’re not really sure if they’re going to sign on the early signing date. It puts a lot on the assistant coaches to get the information right and I’m very involved in all of the recruits so I’m involved in that process as well to make sure. I only get one visit off campus with a prospective student-athlete so I hit more guys in December than I ever had because we didn’t want to waste, not that I’m going to get in there and get the kid to sign, but it’s certainly the attention that the young man deserves, it’s important and I think our staff did an excellent job identifying those things early in the process and knowing where we needed to spend our time. We spent a lot of time talking about the early signing period as a staff and I think we managed it pretty well. We had more visits in the season than we normally do. We had a big weekend in December during the banquet, which is what we normally do. I don’t know if it was much more different than in just having more visits during the season so it is what it is. I’m kind of down the middle on it. At the end of the day, whatever they want to do is fine with me. I don’t waste time in giving them my opinion.”

On the balance between bowl prep and recruiting in December…

I think the most important thing was giving our guys some time off. It’s a long season and we’re banged up like everyone else in the country late in the year. I think it’s good for your guys to get away and decompress. We did get some lifts and some runs in with Jeff Dillman and the strength staff. We were on the road every day. We took a couple mornings and afternoons to come in and game plan. I pulled everybody off the road Friday before last Saturday to spend a day to game plan for Michigan and I think that’s going well. I think we’re where we need to be as far as that’s concerned to get everything done in Columbia. There’s a lot of distractions when you get to Tampa so I want to have the whole game plan done and kind of add and subtract a little bit here and there as far as what you want to do within that. As far as the practice, I carried a cell phone on the practice field for the first time in my career today. I was disappointed that I actually did that, but I was afraid I would miss a phone call. That was really the only change for me.”

On if bowl practice is a time to figure out who the leaders will be in 2018…

I think so. Our team voted on permanent captains for this year and voted Hayden Hurst and Skai Moore, two guys that are moving forward, and Jake Bentley and Dennis Wonnum, but I certainly think that we have a lot of leadership in our underclassmen and some guys that are certainly very capable. You identify that more in the offseason in my opinion than you do right now.”

On what he’s looking for from a new offensive coordinator…

Well, I just think we need to be more productive at the end of the day. That’s what I wanted to do, and schematically, I like what we do. I’d like to play with a little quicker tempo at times, and we need to be more productive.”

On the offensive coaching assignments for the Outback Bowl…

Right now, Seth Strickland is coaching our tight ends. Pat Washington is working with our running backs. Bobby Bentley is working with our quarterbacks. Bryan McClendon is working with receivers, and (Eric Wolford) is working with the offensive line.”

On when did Coach Muschamp come to the conclusion to make a change at offensive coordinator…

It was after the season was completed and I evaluated it as I always do on phases of our program, whether it’s recruiting, coaching, players, whatever it is. It was not a fun conversation. He’s a guy I have tremendous respect for and is an outstanding football coach and an outstanding person.”

On how many recruits will sign in February…

We’ll sign 25, so five more.”

On how big bowl practices are to find guys that will step up for the departing seniors…

Leadership is an everyday thing, so it’s not that we don’t identify it. I think it’s pretty evident who some guys that can step forward are. I think from a young player’s perspective, it’s a huge opportunity for a lot of guys but we’re still a young team. Seventy percent of our offense is freshmen and sophomores. In turns and reps, just giving guys different opportunities. To see Damani Staley, Davonne Bowen, Jordon Carty and Jordan Rhodes practicing well; that’s what we need to be able to see these guys continue to develop and get more and more reps with those guys. I certainly think that part of our evaluation in the recruiting process is the intangible qualities in talking in terms of the high school coach, the counselor, the principal and people in the community of what type of young man is this? Does he have the ability to be a captain of a football team? I think that’s really important in the evaluation process. That’s essential in our evaluation process and something you have to continue to bring that along when a young man gets on campus.”

On the evaluation of Jake Bentley’s season…

I think that Jake has done a phenomenal job as a high school senior playing last year and then going into his second season and playing very productive football for us. I’ve got all the confidence in the world and he has all the confidence of his teammates in the job that he’s done. There would be some balls he’d like to have back. He’ll be the first one to tell you that because of his competitive edge and the way he is. Bobby {Bentley} is the most qualified guy on our staff to coach quarterbacks and did a pretty good job, winning nine state championship coaching his son’s multiple times. I think he’s more than qualified for the job. We understand the relationship and it’s different when you’re on the field. It’s the coach-player relationship when you’re on the field and we understand that.”

On if Zack Bailey has talked about declaring for the NFL draft…

Right now, I totally expect him back.”

On the timetable for an offensive coordinator hire…

It will be after the bowl game.”

On the timetable for the 10th assistant coach hire…

January 9th.”

On the role for that 10th assistant…

I don’t anticipate any other changes on our staff but you have to be prepared for anything from that standpoint. I need some more help for Coleman Hutzler on special teams. The guy does a phenomenal job and I want somebody to be able to help him. It also needs to fit for us in the recruiting aspect in our area of recruiting from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to continue to help there.”

On minor recruiting violations…

The NCAA found us a very compliant program, number one. The violations were overly minor, and they’ve been handled. We’re closing the book and moving forward. There’s nothing to it.”

On the timing of the NCAA release…

I have no control over that.”

On Jonathan Gipson signing today…

I believe Shannon Jarvis, his head coach, may have had a talk with him. Again, when you deal with young people, sometimes they hear something, and they think that’s a really good idea. At the end of the day, Jonathan has been committed here. He’s a really good football player. He’s a wonderful young man. Who wouldn’t want to take 14 other trips and go to some different places and see some different things when it’s paid for? It’s a neat experience. But you also run the risk of losing a scholarship somewhere if you continue to wait on those situations. Obviously, Coach Jarvis has been a part of this for a long time and understands the recruiting process. I think they had a little meeting today and then they called us. We got off the practice field and said ‘is there any way you could email all of this over to us, we’d like to sign today.’”

On the opportunity for Seth Strickland to coach tight ends at the bowl…

Seth does an outstanding job. He played here at South Carolina. He’s from the state. He’s a very intelligent guy. It’s all about opportunity. You have to get your foot in the door somewhere. He’s a guy that’s been working with Coach Washington all year. He understands what we do offensively. He’s doing an outstanding job.”

On the changes in National Signing Day brought by social media…

Obviously, it’s an easier way to communicate as far as direct messages and those things are concerned. I think that makes life a little easier for you as a coach. That was a year or two ago I guess. I guess you can text now. So that helped back then, you were able to do that. Certainly, I think marketing your brand. Justin King and our folks here, Coach Tanner has provided that for us to be able to market the athletic department and our university much better, as far as social media is concerned. At the end of the day, that’s what young people are on now. That’s what they see. You’ve got to understand that part of it.”

On signees that may contribute right away in the secondary…

We don’t sign them unless we think they can play. How much they’ll contribute, I don’t know. We don’t know until they get on campus. We’ll evaluate those guys. Are they going to have the opportunity? Absolutely. Sheer numbers will tell you that. Obviously with us losing Chris Lammons and JaMarcus King and D.J. Smith, that opens up a lot of opportunity for a young man to come in and play. Especially with as much nickel as we play. We had a lot of situations last year where we couldn’t go to dime because we didn’t have six guys that we felt confident enough to get the job done. Absolutely, they’ll have every opportunity in the world, and I don’t know if there’s anyone in the country, when (Travaris Robinson) and I have been together, that has played more defensive backs as freshmen and have started as many defensive backs as freshman. We do have an ability to get them ready to play, but I’m not able to sit here on December 20 and tell you who’s going to play against Coastal Carolina in game one.”

On the status of players injured during the regular season…

Rico Dowdle’s been a little slow because of the ankle. Shi Smith is doing very well.”

On the open offensive coordinator spot, if there are any if they have decided for sure that the hire will come from outside and who the internal candidates are…

No… Bryan McClendon.”

On the Outback Bowl and if it’s an audition for Bryan McClendon…

It’s a long job interview.”

On players skipping bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft…

I think it’s someone’s individual choice as to what they want to do. I see both sides of it. I think that’s an individual choice for the player. Dante Fowler called me when they were playing in the Birmingham Bowl before he went to Birmingham and said, ‘I don’t know if I need to play.’ I said, ‘Son, that’s your family’s decision. That’s your decision. That’s not my decision.’ I wasn’t the head coach at the time. He called me two nights before the game and said, ‘I’m playing.’ He’s got a great competitive edge about himself. There’s no way he wouldn’t play. Again, it’s all individual situations. I don’t look any differently on anybody for making that decision. That’s their decision. It is what it is.”

On if Bobby Bentley is a candidate for the offensive coordinator…

I think he’s certainly capable at this time, but Bryan currently on staff would be the only one.”

On his staff’s ability to close strong in the recruiting process…

Again, I don’t know that it’s closing – it’s persistence. It’s the same message over and over and over again in promoting the University of South Carolina, our staff, our program and where it’s headed. The message has never changed. The message for us never changes. It’s not about that. It’s just the persistence of a consistent message of what we do and how we do things. You just stay after it in the recruiting process. There’s no magic wand. At the end of the day, you’ve got to stay persistent in what you do in recruiting to recruit the type of players you want in your program.”

On the impact of Hayden Hurst deciding to play the bowl game…

He’s the best, and we’re going to miss him. I think as much as anything, his athleticism and all is great, but his intangible qualities and how he affects the people around him positively – we’re going to miss that in a tremendous way.”

On Michigan’s defense and if he’s more involved than usual in the offensive game plan…

No, I just normally put the tape on more than likely with our opponents in the conference. Because I’ve been in this league for a long time, whether I’ve worked with a coach or not, sometimes I can give some insight how they think and what they may do. There’s no guarantees on anything. Obviously breaking tendencies is a huge part of what good coordinators do. I don’t know Coach (Don) Brown as well. I know that he does a fantastic job with exotic pressures and things with looks that he gives you in odd fronts and even fronts. I’ve watched a lot of tape and realized they’re pretty good. Bryan and our offensive staff – they’ll do a good job putting a great plan together. I’ve been very pleased with how we’ve practiced and how our preparation has gone to this point.”

On how the mid-year enrollees will impact the programs…

I’ve never been a part of a mid-year signing class this big, number one and number two – I’ve never seen a mid-year come in and have it not be a benefit to a student-athlete. From the standpoint of you’re coming in January, it’s a much more controlled environment as far as your academics are concerned. Obviously coming in with 12 other guys is going to help them even more so. But they’re all going through the same thing together as far as the orientation and all of the different stuff they’re going to go through together. You’re introduced to the weight room with learning all the techniques. When the coaches get off the road, we’re going to start the offseason program, which is beneficial for every young man in our program to go through. That’s all it’s going to do is help them become a better football player. Then you’re able to go to spring ball. You practice a day and then we have a day off. Well, we don’t have a day off but we meet and we watch film and we make the corrections. From a football standpoint, it helps them tremendously because we’re not getting ready for a game. We’re installing our defense. We’re installing our offense. We’re looking at some special teams, and we’re going through that process. Then where it’s a major benefactor is in the fall is when a young man is now getting ready for a game and he’s already been through this process. He understands the balance of social, academic, athletic – there’s a balance there and they’ve got to understand that. The time management, to me, is critical for a student-athlete to understand there’s not enough time in the day for everything. You’ve got to be able to manage your time. When these young people come here in January, they’re going to be able to learn without having to get ready for a game and the pressures of that and the anxiety of that. I just think it’s a very beneficial process. Is it an answer to all? No. At the end of the day, I’ve had guys show up in June and August and start and play extremely well. That’s not everything, but I certainly know from an academic benefit it’s huge.”

On the impact Dakereon Joyner can provide at quarterback and the current depth at that spot…

We’re very pleased with Jay Urich and Michael Scarnecchia as well, two guys on campus, and I think they have improved tremendously throughout the year, and obviously the confidence we have in Jake (Bentley). But Dakereon will get no different that any other position. He will be given every opportunity in the world to contribute to our football team and help us win football games.”

On if there are guys in the signing class that he thinks are rated too low…

There are a bunch, but I don’t worry about it.”

On the things he’s looking for during Coach McClendon’s time leading the offense at the Outback Bowl…

I think organizing practice, organizing meetings, command with the team, command with the staff and obviously the preparation for the game and the production of the game. I think it’s all encompassing. Up to this point, he’s done an outstanding job.”

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