Rooster Report: Q & A

Russ fields questions about the Gamecocks, sent in by members of the Gamecock Nation ...

Q: What are the differences between this coaching staff under Steve Spurrier and Lou Holtz's staff?
John H., Dallas, TX

I'll never forget the first year Lou Holtz rolled into town. He had his new hand-picked staff and what a difference they made compared to Brad Scott's staff. Remember all the problems Brad had with internal strife on his staff in the end? Lou's staff was just the opposite - hard chargers and totally motivated. IMHO, that first year, (the 0-11 year), was Lou's best coaching job. He did more with less than anything I had witnessed in quite some time.

But things changed after his third year, or perhaps as early has the middle of his third year. He seemed to lose control just a bit. Or perhaps it was a case of him not giving enough control to his assistant coaches when it came to coaching?

In retrospect, I think Lou should have been more of a manager of the team and less of a micro-manager on the field during games. He should have let the coaching fall on the shoulders of his coaches and in turn he should have managed the overall endeavors of the team. In the long run, we all know this led to problems with his son. It also impacted trust issues with the staff and players. Trust is a big thing in life no matter the endeavor.

Lou's forte was motivation. Somehow, he never adjusted, never changed his shtick. In other words, he was not very flexible as time wore on IMHO. I believe that factor was critical in causing the "charm" to wear off.

When it comes to Steve Spurrier and his staff let me begin by saying this...

I have a good friend who is a very good friend of Lou Holtz's< (he'll be a pallbearer at Notre Dame when Lou "checks out" one day). He and I were speaking over the summer and I asked if he had talked to Lou recently. He told me that he had indeed. When I inquired as to the nature of the conversation, particularly if he had shared any observations with Lou about what he was seeing from the Spurrier camp, he again replied in the affirmative and went on to tell me something very interesting.

Basically what this person had told Lou, when Lou asked 'how things looked down there', this friend of mine and Lou's had responded with enthusiasm that what we were witnessing was something out of the ordinary. We were seeing something quite remarkable in terms of control and organization. It went on and on but what I wanted to know most was Lou's response.

"I told you, Steve Spurrier is the best coach in college football" he told my friend. "He'll get it done down there."

Lou Holtz cares about what happens here at the University of South Carolina and he helped us lure Spurrier here.

We owe Lou a debt of gratitude for what he did here. Not only in those first few seasons but also on his way out of the door. He is a good man and he has strong feelings for the fans here at The University of South Carolina.

So hopefully that illustrates the main difference between this staff and the last.

In more detail I would say that for one, this staff is able to connect with the players on a different level than Lou's staff was able to do. This staff, as a whole, appears to have more independent thinkers than Lou's staff. Especially in terms of relating to the youngsters - in reaching down and grabbing them and pulling them up to a higher degree of competition mentally. I see confidence on the faces of many of the guys that I have not seen in the past couple of seasons.

Another glaring difference in this staff and the last staff, and perhaps this spills over into the Sports Information Department, but there appears to be a new level of security surrounding this team. I suspect this is going to be a good thing in the long run as media members have been warned against stirring the pot without going through the proper channels first. One warning issued already was that no member of the media shall contact via email, phone or otherwise, any player without first going through the Sports Information Department.

We have also been blocked-off from direct access to the players outside of the locker room. These days, you only get to a player with a member of the SID's office practically standing over you ... and I think that is something that has been long overdue. It's the way the big time programs handle their release of information.

I should add that the players have been warned against speaking with any members of the media without supervision at hand. And that includes saying things that might be misconstruded to people who would go straight to a message board somewhere and post what a player has to say ... as in a friend of a player, etc., might do.

Another notable difference between this staff and the last staff is how they approach coaching on the practice field.

I think I saw too much "boot camp" coaching at times from the last staff. A little too much yelling at times when maybe some other form of getting their attention might have worked better.

I describe Steve Spurrier and his staff's method of getting a player's attention as, "walking softly but carrying a big stick".

There is something about Steve Spurrier you can count on. When he says he is going to do something, or when he says things need to go one way or the other, he means it. There are no wasted threats, no joking around when it comes to what he wants. He doesn't yell or scream or become all emotional. He simply states his intent, clearly describes what he wants done ... then he expects every effort to be put forth to achieve his goals.

There are no misunderstandings in that regard.

Another difference I have noticed is the level of conditioning. Spurrier and his strength and conditioning coaches are obviously on the same page. This team is as physically fit as any I have seen in quite some time.

On that note I noticed another glaring difference that I think most everyone has noticed.

From that very first day of practice until the very moment of this writing, this team has seemed very focused, very well instructed and in control. I mean that on that first day I saw true freshmen going where they were supposed to go and doing the drills the way they were supposed to do them and looking like they had been doing them for a couple of years. I've also noticed that these players, this team, is expected to 'catch on to', if you will, the basics, in a hurry. It appears this staff is determined not to waste the team's time or the coaches' time re-teaching players what they should already know.

I equate this new level of expectation the same way I would describe the current school system. Once you go to college you are expected to know basic math or higher, your ABCs and how to string a sentence together correctly, (something I still have a problem with obviously).

Well on this football team, you are expected to know how to tackle, how to run, how to keep your balance, how to look a ball in and catch it, etc. If you fail at the basics, (with the exception of the QBs and the offensive linemen perhaps), then you are challenged to catch-up to everyone else in a hurry because they are not going to wait on you or coddle you or anything else along those lines.

You are, in other words, forced to come up to their level rather than having everyone else come down to yours.

Last, but not least, there is a seriousness on the faces of this football team. A seriousness reminiscent of the time I spent with some pretty elite military units during my military days. Tim Frisby and I were talking about this just the other day. He and I served with the same units over the years and we were observing the similarities and comparing them to this football team under Spurrier.

We noted that, even though we served with units that were basically the most hard-charging, professional units of their kind; we had fun doing it. We were challenged to be the best. For young men in our prime, it appealed to us in an animalistic sort of way.

What I am seeing with this football team is similar to that. They are being forced to raise their level of competitiveness and to meet or exceed the expectations of those training them. They are being challenged to absorb everything. They are being taught, and expected, to execute their battle plans flawlessly. They are being pushed to their limits both mentally and physically and then being pushed some more. They are being put under a great deal of stress to excel both on the field and in the classroom. And they are being held to a "no excuse for failure" standard. Less than their best is simply no longer acceptable.

They are being led by men whom they trust. Men these players know have "been there/done that". Men that have earned their respect. Because of the character and accomplishments of the leaders, I believe these players will rise to their challenges and strive to earn their respect as well.

It makes a difference.

And they are doing it with smiles on their faces!

John, I hope that answers your question. Thank you for PMing me with your question.

For all members of the Gamecock Nation, feel free to private message me via the boards with any questions you may have. I only managed to cover one today because of my long-winded reply. I had better stop here. I'll cover more in future Q & A sessions. The Tuesday night chats will also be returning soon.

- Rooster

PS: You know what? I had better cover one other question that I have been asked many times in recent conversations, emails and private messages by a number of fans.

Q: Russ, why is it that you seem so down on Blake Michell's abilities to win as a QB at South Carolina?

When we were first recruiting Blake, there was no one who was a bigger fan of Blake's than I was. I touted his leadership abilities and evidenced that by the number of fellow LeGrange students that were enrolling at USC just to follow Blake. I spoke about his success as a HS QB, his easy-going style and his apparent work ethic in high school.

But, for whatever reason, it didn't take Blake long to became a slacker IMHO. He did not take his responsibilites seriously.

Now, I know that it is not uncommon for college freshmen to go overboard with their new found freedoms and, (in the case of football players), their newfound celebrity status. However, IMHO Blake went really overboard when he should have been putting that nose to the grindstone and preparing for opportunities that were sure to come.

With the hiring of Steve Spurrier it appears that Blake heard his wake-up call.

Mitchell is still soft-spoken, still rather quiet. He needs to become a little bit more vocal on the field. He will be asked to be Spurrier's right hand on that football field. Blake also needs to continue to work hard on his skills. He does seem to be adjusting to Spurrier's more detailed approach to quarterbacking.

Unlike the last staff, Spurrier does not believe in really letting a QB operate by the seat of his pants.

Mitchell has not worked hard enough in the weight room - plain and simple. He has got to muscle up some and he really needs to put on some more weight if he is going to be expected to take the beating back there that Spurrier demands of his signal callers.

But I have never said Blake Mitchell is not capable ... I've only questioned his desire and his recent work ethic at times and perhaps that is because I knew a little more about things than most at times.

And perhaps Blake felt neglected and underused under Holtz. I know for a fact that at least one or two coaches felt last season that Mitchell should have been playing before others.

Anyway, that is all in the past now and hopefully Blake Mitchell will have a very productive season and grow and prosper under Spurrier's wing. As it was in the beginning - I am still a huge Blake Mitchell fan. I just hated seeing someone with so much potential as a leader, squander it and fail to make the most out of it for whatever reasons.

Mitchell will be tested early - we'll soon see just how far he has come in such a brief amount of time under Spurrier. My fingers are crossed.

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