South Carolina Football: Ranking the top Gamecock head coaches of all-time

A list of the greatest head coaches in the history of the South Carolina football program

Legendary coach Lou Holtz coached several stout defenses during his time in Columbia.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Paul Chapman-USA TODAY Sports(©) Copyright 2004 by Paul Chapman
Legendary coach Lou Holtz coached several stout defenses during his time in Columbia.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Paul Chapman-USA TODAY Sports(©) Copyright 2004 by Paul Chapman /
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South Carolina Football
South Carolina football mascot Cocky. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /

South Carolina Football’s No. 3 Greatest Head Coach of All-Time:
Jim Carlen

Replacing the outgoing Paul Dietzel in 1975, Jim Carlen (1975-1981) endeared himself to Gamecock fans by leading the Gamecocks to a bowl game in his first season. Carlen’s ’75 (7-5), ’79 (8-4), and ’80 (8-4) teams are remembered fondly by most South Carolina football fans as some of the most fun groups in school history.

Carlen, who had coached West Virginia and Texas Tech to some of the best years in the history of their programs, made history at South Carolina, as well.

He was the head coach for the first back-to-back 8-win seasons in school history (1979 and 1980) and coached the team’s only Heisman Trophy winner in George Rogers. Carolina was an Independent for the entirety of his Gamecock career, so he was not able to lead USC to conference championships like he did at West Virginia.

Carlen has an impressive coaching tree of former assistants who went on to great careers, headlined by legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden who worked for Carlen at West Virginia. He is on the ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2024. Also, Cocky became the Gamecocks’ official mascot during Carlen’s time with the program.