Sapakoff: Grading Dabo, Muschamp and other S.C. football coaches on 2016

January 13, 2017 GMT

It was one of the best seasons in Palmetto State college football history.

A national championship for Clemson.

Very rare conference championships for The Citadel and Charleston Southern.

Two FCS playoff victories for Wofford.

Grading on a curve, not many people (except me) expected South Carolina to get to a bowl game.

Then again, two head coaches lost their jobs.

One bolted for a job at another state school.

Another played a 55-year-old running back.

Final 2016 grades for South Carolina’s NCAA Division I head coaches:

Dabo Swinney,Clemson

Not a lot of wiggle room when you win the national championship, beating Nick Saban and Urban Meyer along the way. Did you know Clemson in going 14-1 defeated the programs that won the last seven national titles (four crowns for Alabama, plus Ohio State, Florida State and Auburn)?

Grade: A+

Will Muschamp,South Carolina

Muschamp inherited a program that went 3-9 under Steve Spurrier and Shawn Elliott in 2015 and was picked to finish last in the SEC East at SEC Media Days. The Gamecocks went 6-7, including an overtime loss to an underrated 11-win South Florida team in the Birmingham Bowl.

But the SEC was unusually soft and South Carolina benefited from facing the weakest teams.

More good: Muschamp went with one of the youngest lineups in college football and mixed new guys in on the fly, including quarterback Jake Bentley and running back Rico Dowdle, potential All-SEC players.

Not so good: The Gamecocks looked sloppy and unprepared over large chunks of their last three regular-season games, most notably a 56-7 loss at Clemson. While the school was having trouble filling Williams-Brice Stadium, Muschamp made a marketing blunder when he decided early on not to let freshmen speak with the media – thus way less valuable positive publicity generated by Bentley, Dowdle and others for a program that needs all the salesmanship it can get.

Grade: C+

Brent Thompson,The Citadel

All the Bulldogs did in Thompson’s first season as head coach was go 10-2 with his brand of triple-option offense, win the Southern Conference championship outright, go undefeated in FCS regular-season games and host a playoff game for the first time since 1992.

A home playoff loss to Wofford stings, but the Citadel was magnificent in nail-biting SoCon regular-season victories over Mercer, Furman, Chattanooga, Wofford and Samford.

Grade: A

Jamey Chadwell,Charleston Southern

Chadwell’s positive impact at Charleston Southern was so consistent that a 7-4 season coming off the 10-3 of 2015 seems like a bit of a letdown. But the Buccaneers, led by a “Blue Swarm” defense, won their second straight Big South Conference title and made only their second trip to the FCS playoffs.

The schedule was brutal, including an overtime loss in the opener at five-time defending FCS national champ North Dakota State and Florida State.

Chadwell and an assistant coach were suspended for the Albany State game in response to a Secondary/Level III NCAA recruiting violation, and Chadwell left for an offensive coordinator job at Coastal Carolina last week. He left CSU with a 35-14 record, the first winning record for a program that has had three head coaches.

Grade: A-

Buddy Pough,S.C. State

Cost-cutting makes it tougher to win at S.C. State these days, where the Bulldogs have gone from 9-3 in 2013, to 8-4 in 2014, to 7-4 in 2015 to 5-6 in 2016.

On the plus side, Pough artfully handled the publicity that came with 55-year-old running back Joe Thomas, who saw action in the last two games.

It’s a downward trend but anybody would have trouble winning in Orangeburg.

Grade: C

Joe Moglia,Coastal Carolina

The Chanticleers went 10-2 against an odd schedule built to transition from FCS to the FBS Sun Belt Conference. The pair of one-point losses: 27-26 at Jacksonville State and 59-58 to Charleston Southern.

It was not the most challenging slate for a program looking to move up but opponent options were limited. Moglia, Inc., generally made progress.

Grade: B

Mike Ayers,Wofford

The Terriers (10-4) fought through injuries – including two downed quarterbacks – to win when it counted. FCS playoff victories over Charleston Southern and the Citadel got Ayers’ triple-option attack all the way to a double-overtime quarterfinals loss at Youngstown State.

Grade: A

Bruce Fowler,Furman

Fowler was fired after going 3-8, which included four SoCon losses by a touchdown or less.

An exceptionally nice guy, Fowler couldn’t win more than four games in a season after going 8-6 with a playoff win in 2013.

Grade: D

Harold Nichols,Presbyterian

Nichols resigned after a 2-9 season.

Another nice guy.

Tough gig (Nichols went 21-67 in eight seasons).

Grade: D

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff