Spurrier better with Gamecocks than with Gators

Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to a SEC East title and 38 victories in their last 49 games. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 9:13 p.m.

There are times when you have this idea for a column and you run your theory by a bunch of people you respect and none of them bites, so you stash it away and bring it up a year later. So here I am with a premise that nobody will agree with because the numbers don't add up.

Here we go — Steve Spurrier is a better head coach at South Carolina than he was at Florida.

Hey, no throwing things.

Let me at least explain my theory.

I know, first you want to explain why my premise is laughable.

Go ahead.

Spurrier won six SEC Championships at Florida and another that should have counted. He's won zero-point-zero at South Carolina. Spurrier won seven SEC East titles at Florida. He has won one at South Carolina.

He won a national championship at Florida and played for another. At South Carolina, he has yet to see a BCS bowl game except on TV.

I understand all of that.

And yours is an argument that is difficult to refute.

Florida was the perfect storm for the Head Ball Coach. He was a Gator who wanted his school to achieve what it seemingly could not. The expectations were always high in Gainesville, and the fans were always let down. The SOS signal was sent out like he was Batman, and Spurrier came in to rescue a program with a history of underachieving.

And he inherited two things — a team filled with talented players and a conference filled with stubborn coaches.

“When I got to Florida, that team was loaded, and I mean loaded,” Spurrier said. “I still try to give that 1990 team credit when I can because they made it easier for the '91 team to win the SEC when everyone was waiting for the Gators to choke. But there were plenty of players when I got there.”

They just needed to quit complaining about the schedule and the bad breaks and the NCAA and start believing they could win. Spurrier the offensive coordinator was going to change the league while Spurrier the head coach changed the culture. “No excuses” was his mantra.

“I remember in that first year I had Gene Ellenson as my inspirational guy and I wanted him to talk before the Georgia game,” Spurrier said. “He got up, said a few words and sat back down. He told me this team didn't need any inspiration. They were ready to play and they knew they were the better team.”

In one way, Spurrier was unfortunate in that he faced FSU every year in the heyday of the Seminoles under Bobby Bowden.

“The funny thing is we had a better conference winning percentage than overall because we had to play FSU every year,” he said. “I'd like to have seen Tennessee or Alabama play them in their 11th game every year.”

But he benefited from a conference that was slow to change with the times. Spurrier started pitching the ball all over the place, and the SEC coaches stuck with their old Victrola while one guy was listening to his iPod.

They were slow to change, covering receivers like Ike Hilliard with linebackers and strong safeties. Phil Fulmer was the only SEC coach who could challenge Florida every year in talent and Spurrier had his number.

At South Carolina, it has been a much different story. Spurrier was the first coach to get $2 million a year and now there is only one of the 14 SEC coaches who makes less than that (James Franklin).

The league has become so dominant that there isn't even an argument about which conference is the best. While Spurrier went against forgettable coaches such as Gerry DiNardo, Ray Goff, Brad Scott, Bill Curry and Curley Hallman while at Florida, he has had to lock horns with Nick Saban, Les Miles, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt and Bobby Petrino at South Carolina.

And he stepped into a mess in more ways than one in Columbia. Not only was the team coming off an embarrassing brawl against Clemson that cost the Gamecocks a bowl bid in 2004, Spurrier wasn't exactly inheriting the 1990 Gators.

“We didn't quite have the players,” he said. “We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but that was the fun part about it. There was nowhere to go but up.”

Spurrier had to change the culture in Columbia the way he did in Gainesville, but this was much more difficult. Florida fans expected to be great and were angry when they fell short. South Carolina fans expected the worst and weren't surprised when it happened.

Unless you've been to Williams-Brice Stadium and seen the stream of red taillights on George Rogers Boulevard heading away from a game that is still in doubt, you haven't experienced South Carolina football.

And a big difference for Spurrier is it happened right away at Florida, but took time at South Carolina. His first five teams were 35-28 and lost three bowl games. That wasn't much different than the 33-26 from the previous five years.

That had to be discouraging.

“A little, but but not too bad,” Spurrier said. “I didn't have anything else to do.”

Spurrier started getting the big-name players out of South Carolina such as Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney and things began to change. The Gamecocks have won an SEC East title and 38 of their last 49 games. They have a chance, especially with a win Saturday over Florida, to get back to Atlanta.

Spurrier molded Florida into a dynamic program. He built South Carolina into one.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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