Spurrier swagger at South Carolina
Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 6:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 12:51 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — It was only three years ago that he stood there red-faced and apologetic and very ordinary. Steve Spurrier stood at the podium and confessed that it was his vote that kept Tim Tebow from being a unanimous pick for the coaches All-SEC team, and he answered questions about it for most of his time at SEC Media Days for two reasons:
1. In the media world we live in, the story had become a bigger deal than it should have been.
2. Nobody really wanted to talk about South Carolina football.
Spurrier said Tuesday “a lot has changed at South Carolina in seven years,” but the reality is that nothing really changed until after that 2009 team stumbled to another pedestrian season. For five years, Spurrier’s team had stumbled around to a 35-28 record. It was going to take longer than he thought to become the winningest coach in South Carolina history even if the record is a less-than-impressive 64 wins.
But over the past two seasons, Spurrier has finally made South Carolina relevant. In 2010, the Gamecocks beat Florida in Gainesville and played for an SEC Championship. Last year, they won 11 games for the first time in school history.
And this year, Spurrier thinks he has his best team (in part because he’s finally jettisoned the bag of hammers named Stephen Garcia).
Spurrier has finally built what he wanted to build in Columbia — a team that has a chance to win the division each year.
“We wanted to see what we could do at South Carolina,” he said. “It took a little while. The years go by quickly.”
Here’s how quickly — Spurrier has said he plans to coach another five years. If he does, he’ll have coached at South Carolina as long as he did at Florida.
And that’s the thing. Spurrier may be 67 years old, but he’s as comfortable being a head ball coach as he ever has. With a new right knee and a relentless workout schedule, Spurrier says he feels more like 45 than 67.
“My job is not that stressful,” he said. “And I’m making pretty good money.”
I may be crazy for thinking this, and even crazier for writing it. But I believe there is a chance Spurrier could stick around long enough to catch Bear Bryant’s record of 159 SEC wins. He blew off my suggestion.
“I’m not going to coach that long,” he said. “No, no.”
Maybe not. But Spurrier likes his life the way it is. There’s plenty of downtime for golf and Crescent Beach. He certainly doesn’t look like a coach who is ready to retire in the next five years. He made it clear Tuesday he has taken on the role of closer in recruiting and relies on his assistants for the heavy lifting.
He needs 43 SEC wins to catch the uncatchable record. That’s six a year for seven years to pull within one. Certainly doable. And there’s always a chance the league could go to nine SEC games.
I’m just saying there’s a chance. And then there are these two factors:
1. The closer he gets to the record, the more difficult it will be for him to walk away.
2. The better his team is, the more difficulty it will be for him to walk away.
If this is his best team, it’s something he has built and it’s not like there will be a big drop-off.
And it’s not just the talent that Spurrier has built up. He has changed the attitudes of the South Carolina fans and their expectations.
“I had a woman call my radio show before last season and she said, ‘Coach, I’m scared to death.’ And I told her, ‘I’m scared to death, too.’ ” Spurrier said. “The expectations had changed that much.”
You don’t fear losing games you are supposed to lose. You don’t fear mediocrity when it’s what you’re used to experiencing. You get scared when it’s supposed to be good.
Spurrier talked about friends of his who have been South Carolina fans for decades, how they used to go to games hoping for a good game and how they go now thinking they’re going to win.
I can tell you that was the No.1 issue I felt Spurrier faced when he walked in the door in Columbia — that feeling that permeated the program that it didn’t deserve to be special.
“You know coach wants to win,” said receiver Ace Sanders. “It just took him awhile to get the right guys in here.”
It took awhile, but he has the right players, he has the right attitudes and he has his swagger back. The one-liners were priceless Tuesday. He’s been firing them off like the old Steve Spurrier all summer.
You can see in his eyes that he knows he’s already changed the culture at South Carolina, but something special could be on the horizon.
“Our players just have to be smart enough to know they can get their butts beat,” he said.
If not, he’ll be ready to remind them.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.