HOOVER, Ala. — It’s not surprising to see a coach at SEC Media Days who looks more relaxed than jello on a hot sidewalk.
There is a purpose to this exercise that renders some coaches comfortably numb. You get your brand out there everywhere from Radio Row to the SEC Network to every dot.com that pays attention to college football.
You don’t have to embrace it, just tolerate it.
Or, if you are Will Muschamp, enjoy it.
There are several reasons why the former Florida coach had a grin on his face and some good-natured jabs in his repertoire on Thursday.
One of them was that he is way more comfortable in Columbia, S.C., than he ever was in Gainesville. The Florida job comes with more pressure, more scrutiny, more second-guessing.
Just ask the current UF coach.
But South Carolina is different. At Florida, Muschamp was a lukewarm choice for the job and his first season of 7-6 left a lot of people wondering (when they weren’t bashing Urban Meyer) what Jeremy Foley was thinking.
At SC, a 6-7 season is being treated like a step in the right direction.
Muschamp also told me how much he enjoys where he lives. His place on Lake Murray is so user friendly he didn’t even leave town for vacation.
So there is a sense of contentment in a coach who always seemed to be struggling to find his happy place in Hogtown.
There is also this — Muschamp spent a year as an assistant coach at Auburn in between head coaching jobs and he was miserable. Not because of Auburn, but because he really wanted to be a head coach again. He actually missed SEC Media Days.
On Thursday, he was happily standing before us in his sixth year as a head coach with a wealth of knowledge and experience in his coat pocket.
“You know, time as a head coach helps,” he said. “I don’t look at it any different than playing as a freshman or a rookie. As you continue to get more snaps, the game slows down for you.
“I’m not talking in terms of the game. It’s not the X-and-O part. It’s all the other stuff. It’s public relations. It’s recruiting. It’s managing your football team. It’s managing your campus. There’s a lot of things — hats that you wear, in the role. And certainly, the more at-bats you get, the better you’re going to become at it.”
Think about this — Muschamp is third among current SEC coaches in appearances at SEC Media Days.
So there is a comfort level for him in Hoover in a lot of ways. But the thing that has him wearing a mask of confidence is that he has finally done it.
He’s finally found a quarterback who can lead his program to great things.
There is no guarantee, but the sample size was pretty impressive in 2016. Jake Bentley should have been a senior in high school and instead took over the South Carolina team at midseason.
“He turned our season around last year,” said tight end Hayden Hurst.
Six games into the season, South Carolina was 2-4 and averaging 14 points a game.
Back in Gainesville, Gator fans were thinking, “Typical Muschamp.”
Frustrated by the lack of offense and perhaps emboldened with chops that come with experience, Muschamp made an aggressive move by ripping the redshirt off Bentley and handing him the starting quarterback’s jersey.
All Bentley did was lead the Gamecocks to four wins, three in a row, and 24 or more points in five of the last seven games.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Hurst said. “He was a little quiet, which makes sense. When he started the UMass game he kind of flipped the switch. He was like, ‘All right, this is my team. Here we go.’ ”
Bentley continued to dazzle in the spring and this summer at the Manning Camp. Amazingly, South Carolina may be a team this year that has to try to outscore people because of an inexperienced defense and plenty of skill players on the other side.
“To see (Bentley) go through the offseason program to spring ball now into the summer, he really understands how to be a quarterback,” Muschamp said. “And that’s what excites me. I believe we’re on the verge of some really good things.
“We’re going to win some football games at South Carolina.”
For Bentley, it has been a bit of a whirlwind, but the sophomore is ready to enter his second season as a starter at the age of 19. Shaving could be around the corner.
“It was crazy at first,” he said. “I’ve gotten more comfortable with everything, from the way classes work to the workouts in the morning. Everything has become more of a routine now.
“It’s all more comfortable, more comfortable in our offense, just trying to get better every day because, at the end of the day, that’s all we can do.”
If you sense a theme here, it is all about comfort in an uncomfortable game.
And for a coach who knows better than to get too comfortable, it’s still a nice change.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.