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There’s been a lot of conjecture lately around South Carolina athletics about the “h word.” Yes folks, we’re talking about the “hotseat.”

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Along with an exceedingly difficult football schedule staring down the Gamecocks this fall, the term seems to be an overwhelming theme of the offseason. And no one in the supposed “Big 3” of South Carolina sports seems to be immune – not even athletic director Ray Tanner, the man who does the hiring and firing for the department.

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We’ll attempt to separate fact from fiction below:

Mark Kingston

Baseball season is still fresh in the minds of many Gamecock fans, mostly because it ended well short of where the team expects to be on an annual basis.

A year after leading South Carolina’s proudest program to an NCAA Super Regional, the second-year head coach’s 2019 squad fought through a rash of injuries and ultimately limped to a 28-28 record. The Gamecocks won just a single SEC series and eight league games to barely qualify for the conference tournament.

That’s a far cry from the glory years and national championships from the front half of the decade, but it’s still only Year 2. Two years isn’t an adequate sample size, and much of this year’s roster represented the final holdovers from the Chad Holbrook era.

Tanner is patient man, patient enough to allow Kingston a few more years to recruit top-level talent to restore South Carolina baseball to a product closer in line with its tradition.

Temperature: not-so-hot.

Frank Martin

Martin is an intriguing study here, because he still seems to have the support of most fans. Memories of the team’s magical run to the 2017 Final Four tend to help with that.

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Aside from 2017? South Carolina hasn’t made the postseason for the rest of Martin’s seven-year tenure. On the recruiting trail, the Gamecocks have not built on the momentum of that Final Four run by luring in elite instate talent.

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South Carolina will never be a basketball-first school, but the Gamecocks enjoy excellent fan support, ranking fourth in the SEC in attendance for the 2018-2019 season. Still, it’s a results-oriented business, and memories fade with time.

Temperature: hotter than you think.

Will Muschamp

Muschamp has modernized the South Carolina football program from an organizational standpoint, building the infrastructure and cultivating the resources necessary to recruit at a high level in the SEC. He’s also done it winning more games than any South Carolina coach in his first three seasons.

So then, why is their hotseat talk to begin with? Well, because not all wins are created equal. Of Muschamp’s 22 victories, only one has come against ranked competition. That’s a problem.

The Gamecocks are 1-8 against Georgia, Florida and Clemson in that period. Those are the teams USC fans love to beat, so the knock on Muschamp, and it’s one that’s both considerable and valid, is the Gamecocks’ inability to win big games.

Facing the toughest schedule in the country in 2019, Muschamp will have ample opportunity for a breakthrough. If he doesn’t, and things go sideways in 2020, hotseat talk may be warranted.

Temperature: warming up.

Ray Tanner

The man who led South Carolina to two national championships on the fields of Omaha is revered among the fan base for his coaching exploits. Lately though, as the Gamecocks major sports’ on-field fortunes have waned, a vocal minority has begun to question his leadership style.

They point to a slide in the football and baseball programs since Tanner was hired in 2012 and the inconsistency of men’s basketball. The Holbrook hire didn’t work out for the baseball program, and the jury is still very much out on Muschamp.

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Meanwhile, the school’s athletic department has enjoyed record revenue years, mostly thanks to a huge yearly infusion of cash from the SEC Network and some ambitious fundraising. The department has also enjoyed record success in the classroom during Tanner’s tenure as AD.

Success on the field, financial stability and academic success are integral to measuring an athletic director’s job performance. Tanner, who recently signed a contract extension, certainly checks two of those boxes, so there’s absolutely no sense his job would be in jeopardy.

The only thing that could change that is USC’s yet-to-be-hired new president.

Temperature: ice cold.

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Brantley Strickland, formerly sports editor for The Times and Democrat, now works as an economic developer for Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance. Reach him at strickland.brantley@gmail.com.

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