Georgia’s Will Muschamp to make return visit to South Carolina

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

ATHENS — Two years after Will Muschamp “came home” to UGA, the reacquaintance of alumnus and alma mater appears to be going well.

A 1994 graduate of Georgia and four-year letterman as a defensive back for the Bulldogs, Muschamp’s coaching career took him everywhere but Athens over the next 25 years. He held 12 jobs at eight schools in that span, including two stints as a head coach.

But after he was fired as South Carolina’s head coach toward the end of the 2020 season, Muschamp was taken in a month later by his good friend and former teammate Kirby Smart.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

On Saturday, Muschamp returns to Williams-Brice Stadium for the first time since his ouster. He’ll do so as the Bulldogs’ co-defensive coordinator while wearing a 2021 national championship ring.

“He understands the seat I’m in,” Smart said of Muschamp on Tuesday night after the Bulldogs’ practice. “He understands recruiting in this conference. He’s a tremendous asset to our defensive staff; he’s a tremendous asset to our special-teams staff. It’s like having a second head coach.”

Smart did not delay in bringing Muschamp back to Georgia. Although his hire as a defensive analyst was not announced by UGA until the first week of February in 2021, the truth is Muschamp had been coming to the Bulldogs’ football facility almost every weekday the entire month of December in 2020. Muschamp did not accept his negotiated contract settlement of $12.9 million with South Carolina until Dec. 31 of that year.

The Gamecocks fired Muschamp on Nov. 15 that year after a 2-5 start. Mike Bobo, another former Bulldog, served as South Carolina’s head coach the remainder of that season.

Bobo, too, has been hired by Georgia. He joined Smart’s staff as an offensive analyst in January.

“That’s what I talk about when I talk about our staff being complete,” Smart said of having two former head coaches on his staff. “I feel like it’s one of the best we’ve assembled. (Muschamp) is a big reason why.”

Muschamp was hastily appointed Georgia’s special-teams coordinator in late July of last year after Scott Cochran had to take a health-related leave of absence. By midseason, however, Muschamp’s duties had morphed into somewhat of a co-defensive backs-coaching role along with designated secondary coach Jahmile Addae.

Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that Addae left for the same position at Miami at season’s end. After defensive coordinator Dan Lanning accepted the head coaching job at Oregon in December, Smart appointed Muschamp as co-defensive coordinator, along with linebackers coach Glenn Schumann. Just days after Georgia secured the national championship in January, Smart made the appointment permanent.

With his son Jackson playing for the Bulldogs as a walk-on quarterback and his other son Whit in high school and playing ball down the road at Athens Academy, Muschamp said he is as personally and professionally content as he has been in many years.

“It’s very simple: I love my role,” Muschamp said last month in his only interview since he’s been back in Athens. “I told my wife the other day that I think I have the best job in America. At the end of the day, to be in the room that I am honored to coach, to be at the University of Georgia, to see our future as we continue to unfold and move forward, I am really excited about it.”

On the field, there appears to be much about which to be excited. Though there’s only a two-game sample size of radically different opponents to go by, Muschamp will return to Columbia with a defense ranked No. 1 in the nation in points allowed (1.5 per game) and eighth (and first in the SEC) in yardage allowed (220.5). The Bulldogs have not allowed a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s players seem to have taken to the man once known in college football circles as “Coach Boom” for his volcanic sideline outbursts. His specific position group is safeties but, as coordinator, he interacts with all of the Bulldogs’ defenders.

“I love coach Muschamp,” sophomore linebacker Smael Mondon said this week. “He’s, like, one of my favorite coaches. He has an energy about him that we feed off of.”

Added sophomore nickel back Javon Bullard: “That’s my guy, man. Coach Muschamp shares so much information with me as my position coach. I’m with him, shoot, the majority of the day. He gives us so much information and brings so much excitement to the game. Even though it’s football most of the time, he takes time to check up on you, asks how your grades are doing, things like that. Great guy, man. I love him, and I appreciate him.”

Of course, because Muschamp has competed in the SEC for the past 11 years, most players were familiar with Muschamp before they came to be coached by him. Bullard actually was recruited hard out of Milledgeville’s Baldwin High School by Muschamp while he was still the Gamecocks’ coach.

“It’s just crazy the way things work,” said Bullard, who has started the first two games for the Bulldogs. “I was actually considering South Carolina when coach Muschamp was there. God works in mysterious ways. It’s crazy that he came back to his alma mater.”

So far at least, that has been a crazy-good thing.