SCOTT: Rumors Always Surround Spurrier

Every year there's a rumor that Spurrier is ready to leave South Carolina. And every year people close to him insist he's not interested in starting over and that he wants to see this challenge though.

Spurrier and South Carolina made a statement of their own recently when the university's Board of Trustees approved a tax-deferred retirement package for Spurrier's contract. The package would pay Spurrier $1 million if he remains the Gamecocks' coach on Dec. 31, 2011. Spurrier would lose the package if he leaves South Carolina before then.

Spurrier already makes about $1.75 million a year, so money isn't the sole issue here. It's about everyone being on board and committed to the success of the football program.

"He's one of the most valuable players in the athletic department. I think he's earned it," South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman said. "We really appreciate the job that he's done. He's a champion. We recognize that."

In another show of unity, the board also approved multi-year contracts for Spurrier's new coordinators, Johnson and special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski.

Johnson received a three-year deal worth $350,000 a year, making him the highest-paid assistant coach in any sport in school history. His guaranteed compensation matches his deal at Arkansas and exceeds Nix's contract by $180,000.

Rychleski, a former Maryland assistant, received a two-year deal worth $160,000 the first year and $170,000 in 2009.

Sure, it's big-time money, but this is how the big-time programs operate. If you want to play at the big table, you've got to bring enough chips.

"It's what the marketplace is bearing right now," Hyman said. "The coaches' contracts have really improved dramatically in the last several years."

***

Sometimes it's not enough to just suspend a player who doesn't follow the law or the team rules. Sometimes a coach has to get creative.

That's what Fulmer is trying to do in response to some recent arrests. When freshman tailback Daryl Vereen was arrested for public intoxication and underage consumption, Fulmer told him he must perform community service at a drug rehabilitation facility, participate in police ride-alongs, and be subject to a semester-long curfew.

Here's the best part. With four different players arrested in the month of January, Fulmer pulled out a new weapon in his fight against crime: peer pressure. Fulmer didn't just make one or two players run. He made the entire team run at 6 a.m. last week.

Imagine how you'd feel if someone made you run at 6 a.m. for something your teammate did. Don't be surprised if the veteran leaders on the team start policing things themselves.

Then again, one of those supposed leaders, junior All-SEC offensive lineman Anthony Parker, was arrested on Jan. 26 on a disorderly conduct charge. In a statement released three days later, Fulmer said that punishment for Parker will include – at the very least – morning runs, curfew, community service and participation in police ride-alongs.

***

Over on the basketball court, SEC teams are following a national trend by failing to sink free throws at an adequate rate.

Kentucky is holding up its end, entering this past week ranked sixth nationally by sinking 77 percent of its free throws. Other top 100 teams include Vanderbilt (40th at 73.6); LSU (57th at 72.7) and South Carolina (96th at 71.1)

Meanwhile, Mississippi State is 316th nationally and 11th in the SEC at 60.7 percent, and Alabama is 321st nationally and 12th in the SEC at 59.2 percent.

"It's already caught up to us," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "In four of our five losses, we had a lead with a minute to go. Free throws cost us games. In two of our three SEC games, we make free throws; I don't think either (margin) is below double digits.

"I thought this would be one of the better shooting teams, and we haven't shot it well."

Other poor SEC free-throw shooting teams include Auburn (302nd at 63.2 percent), Tennessee (278th at 64.6), and Ole Miss (252nd at 66.0).

"There's nothing fashionable about making open free throws," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "Kids watch ESPN and "SportsCenter;" they put on all the dipsy-doodle, fancy stuff. Kids are enthralled with the spectacular rather than the simple."

Maybe teams should address it and practice more. Or maybe they should back off. Who knows?

"I probably need to stop talking about it," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "I'm afraid I've made a mental crutch for our team."

***

What do these SEC basketball players have in common?

Alabama guard Ronald Steele;

Auburn forward Korvotney Barber;

Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks;

Kentucky guard Derrick Jasper;

LSU wing Tasmin Mitchell:

LSU center Chris Johnson;

Georgia forward Takais Brown;

Tennessee forward Duke Crews.

They've all missed significant game time this season because of injuries. It's hard to be at your best without some of your best.

"That'd be a pretty good team," Lebo said. "A bunch of guys who could easily be All-Conference."

***

You know things are getting tense at Alabama when the wife of embattled coach Mark Gottfried angrily confronts a local radio talk-show host and newspaper columnist courtside at halftime of a home game.

During halftime of the recent Alabama-Auburn game, Elizabeth Gottfried went one-on-one with Paul Finebaum in a one-sided bout that ended without a decisive ruling from nearby judges. She got in some pretty good verbal shots, but to Finebaum's credit he kept his composure.

"(She) was suddenly hovering over me, asking, `Why do you hate Mark Gottfried? I guess you weren't satisfied getting Mike Shula fired. Now you want to get Mark Gottfried fired,'" Finebaum said.

As for Gottfried himself, when asked about the incident he simply said, "I'm not going to talk about that."

It's a little too late anyway. His wife's tirade has been a popular topic of discussion on radio shows.

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sportswriter, author and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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