Eric Wolford left South Carolina after the 2009 season, but he never fully took his eyes off the University.
Over the past eight years Wolford coached in Ohio and then out in San Francisco, but when he saw the situation unfolding in Columbia last year, his attention perked up.
Rumors began swirling about current Gamecock offensive line coach Shawn Elliott being a candidate for the head coach job at Georgia State. Sure enough, shortly thereafter Elliott was officially named a head coach and left South Carolina, leaving an opening.
Wolford was then an assistant coach with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, but he missed coaching college football. He reached out to South Carolina and after the final San Francisco regular season game on New Year's Day, the hiring process quickly sped up.
"My wife and I had made the decision that if this opportunity presented itself, we weren't going to pass it up," said Wolford, who was officially hired on Jan. 9.
Wolford was already familiar with the Gamecocks as he was the team's run game coordinator and offensive line coach during the 2009 season. After that year Wolford left to become the head coach at Youngstown State, located in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. He was there for five years before coaching with the 49ers for two more seasons.
"He's a really good football coach and a really good fit on our staff," head coach Will Muschamp said of Wolford. "I love his mentality. He has a blue collar mentality like myself in how he coaches the guys on the field."
Wolford and his wife, Melinda, immensely enjoyed their one year in Columbia, which was part of the reason they were so anxious to get back.
"The atmosphere here, the fans, just some of the things they've done around here," Wolford said. "It's just an exciting place to be."
Wolford replaces Elliott, another coach with a high motor and high expectations for his players. Because the players already expect to work extremely hard, the transition has been easier for the new coach.
"These guys work really hard," Wolford said. "Their attention to detail, some of the things that we've been talking about in the meeting room. We just want to focus right now on getting better. Getting better with our weightlifting in the weight room (and) getting better at the things we need to do to become a productive offensive line unit."
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Offensive line play is extremely important to any team's success. One of Wolford's mottos is "it all starts up front." The ball is snapped by the center and the offensive line has to block well for any play to be successful. Luckily for Wolford, he loses just one starter from last year's team.
"I'll take experience over non-experience anytime," Wolford said. "The guys have been great. They come to meetings, they take notes, they're like sponges right now."
Any time there's a coaching change there is also a transition period. Wolford has spent the last couple of months getting to know his players and seeing what they do well. There is expected to be a significant shakeup on the offensive line. One of the biggest moves is guard Zack Bailey likely moving to right tackle.
Wolford is a coach that's not afraid of mixing it up if the starters aren't able to get the job done, and so far the current Gamecocks have been receptive to the message.
"Any time you have something new, there's always change," Wolford said. "It's part of a growth process that has to take place between player and coach. The fortunate thing for the players is that we're running the same offense. The only thing that's changed is some of the terminology that we're using as far as our blocking schemes."
Wolford was obviously busy coaching in the NFL, and therefore didn't receive many opportunities to watch the Gamecocks last season. He was able to watch some of the Tennessee game, however.
"I've always kept an eye on them from afar," Wolford said of the Gamecocks.
**Story and photo by Kyle Heck**