Will Spurrier Still Have The Touch?

Hoover, Ala.--It's open to debate if Steve Spurrier can work his coaching magic one more time as he faces the challenging assignment of making the University of South Carolina Gamecocks a championship football team ...

Despite inheriting NCAA probation and discipline issues left behind by former coach Lou Holtz and his staff, Spurrier says he has the tools to be a success in Columbia on what could be his final run as a college football coach.

Speaking at the annual SEC Media Days, a scene he knows well from his years as head coach of the Florida Gators, he said he likes the challenge. "South Carolina is a school with all the resources to be successful. We have not done all that much in the past, but everything is there as far as facility, stadium, fans. The alumni give generously to the school. Everything is there for us to do it so we have absolutely no excuses not to get it done."

Although the Gamecocks haven't had to play a game yet since he arrived at USC, Spurrier has had his hands full with a rash of player discipline problems. He has suspended players and sent a message by not renewing scholarships for some of the returning players brought into the program by Holtz. Spurrier said he is giving the scholarships to walk-ons who are more deserving.

"What happened when I got to the University of South Carolina, they had a few guys on scholarship that according to some coaches they had no other Division I offers and basically we had two or three walk-on players that were really more deserving and contributed more to our team so as a head coach what I have always done is reward the guys that are contributors that go to all the workouts, that do everything coaches ask them to do."

Spurrier said that in general, the players have responded well to the tighter ship he and his staff are running in Columbia. "We are going to do the program the right way there and some things happened, the biggest thing happened when I guess the athletic director announced that there was not going to be a bowl game because the fight with Clemson, which was a real nasty event for both schools--really was. Terrible. Both schools deserved whatever punishment of no bowl game that happened, I think."

The former All-American quarterback said when he took over in Florida that his alma mater didn't have a history of being a championship team in football, but that didn't prevent the Gators from becoming the dominant team in the SEC in the 1990s.

As he had done in building an ACC championship team at Duke, Florida attacked the SEC with a more sophisticated passing attack than teams were accustomed to dealing with and the result were championships and lots of one-sided UF victories.

Spurrier said after studying teams in the offseason, the league's defenses are very different than they were when he took over as head coach of the Gators. Defenses then were geared to stop the run.

"When I got there in 1990 the idea, or what everybody thought, was to win the conference championship you had to play defense and run the ball.," Spurrier said. "That was the two things you had to do. You couldn't be a passing team at all and win the conference championship. That was sort of the thinking so we proved that you can throw the ball and also you need to run it, play defense, and special teams and so forth."

Spurrier said the defenses he saw in that era where "not all that sophisticated against the pass." The coach noted that is no longer the case. "Now everybody has got fast players, and they disguise, they are all over the place. You don't know what they are playing, and it was a lot easier in the early '90s. Then it got to be a little bit (harder) later, although (quarterback) Rex Grossman didn't have much trouble with them in 2001, but that was a special bunch."

Spurrier, who is known for producing star quarterbacks, didn't inherit a proven signal caller. He said that returnees Blake Mitchell and Antonio Hefner will be thrown into the pool with the incoming QBs.

"All these quarterbacks will get a lot of reps early and then, after about a couple of weeks, then we'll start getting maybe two guys ready and go from there," Spurrier noted. "But, they will all be pretty equal that first week or so."

After posting losing records in his two years as head coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins, he left the league and spent a year retired and playing golf. Spurrier said that he got the itch to get back into coaching because he found out he wasn't good enough at golf to play the sport year-around (on the PGA Senior Tour).

The Ol' Ball Coach noted that he is excited to be back in the college football and the SEC where the head coach has total control of the football team without interference from general managers, owners or others. "The biggest difference is at college, the head coach is the head coach of the team. He runs the team. He's in control. He has authority over his team. You have an athletic director and a president and in the NFL some of them have general managers and some of them don't and the owners. Every organization does it a little differently, but every college team that I know of the head coach is not influenced in the AD and the president. They don't come tell him what to do unless he's cheating or losing too much. Then that is when you have issues. I know we're not going to cheat and I hope we're not going to lose too much. Hopefully, I am not going to see the president and the AD talking football with me."

Spurrier, who was used to winning big every year at Florida, said the NFL experience changed his perspective on coaching. "I think you learn a greater appreciation for all coaches, Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs they both went 6 and 10 last year. That is what we averaged. We were 12 and 20. I think John Gruden of Tampa Bay has been 12 and 20 over the last two years.

"It can go that way unfortunately, and sometimes the head coach may be about as good as his team is as we have learned in life, and obviously I was lucky to have a lot of great teams in Florida, no question about it. But I think you learn a much greater appreciation that all coaches work their tails off to try to give their players the best chance to win the game and sometimes it doesn't work out."

Spurrier said while the goal is to try to win big this season, he is building a program and will have his eye on the long range for building a championship team.

An outspoken critic in favor of a college football playoff when he was at Florida, he said he hasn't changed his point of view, but after watching spring practice in Columbia Spurrier said that isn't a big issue for. "My idea about that playoff changed a bit," he joked. "I don't think we need to worry about it now."

Spurrier will bring his team to Auburn on Oct. 1st for a game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It is one of just four road trips for the Gamecocks this season.

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