Spurrier Speaks at Annual USC Media Day
Coach Steve Spurrier began the day by making a statement regarding Michael Bowman and Arkee Smith, two players from Carolina's heralded freshman class. Both Bowman and Smith were declared eligible by the NCAA, but denied admission to South Carolina based on University standards. In a nearly five minute opening statement, Spurrier expressed frustration with the situation, saying the biggest blow was not in losing two talented players, but the hit his credibility took with future recruits.
"I've got to apologize to two young men that we recruited," he said. "They qualified, they signed with us in February, and they were denied admission to our school. Personally, I don't think that's the way you do business. I am embarrassed that I and our coaches basically misled these young men into thinking they were coming here. I think we need to get it out to the high school coaches and the players out there that this is not going to happen again. As a head coach, one of the big things I've always tried to follow [is] in a player-coach relationship, honesty has to be the centerpiece of everything you do with your players.
"It starts when you recruit them," Spurrier continued. "I don't always tell recruits what they want to hear. I try to be honest with them, and all I can guarantee is an opportunity. When you tell a young man if he qualifies he can come to your school and it doesn't happen, somebody is misleading, and it's me. It's my fault. It's nobody else's fault but mine."
Spurrier denounced the perception that Bowman and Smith were denied admission because the Gamecocks were caught in a numbers crunch.
"We had a plan in place to grayshirt, if they all qualified," he explained. "We suffered a severe blow credibility-wise around North Carolina, Anson County, where Michael Bowman's from, and Jacksonville, Florida, where Arkee Smith's from. I have tried to do what I can to help that right now, and to restore whatever credibility that we can get in those schools."
Spurrier denied that he was sending an ultimatum to the University. He insisted that he has the support of the University, and that President Andrew Sorenson has agreed that admission standards will be changed so that a similar occurrence will not happen again.
"The president's already told me we are going to change how we do admissions here," he said. "I'm not making a big deal out of this. I just want people to know that we don't like it as coaches. I have to take responsibility because it did happen, and just try to assure them that it's not going to happen again. That is all I can do right now. The president agrees that it is not good, what we did. We're going to make some changes, and that is all I was trying to say. We are going to change, but for my credibility, mine and the coaching staff, I just want the high school coaches, the parents of players, and all them to know that that's not going to happen here if I continue to be the coach, and I plan on being the coach here a long time."
Turning his attention to the field, Spurrier talked about the increased expectations for this year's team, and how hard players had worked during the summer to prepare. During his first two seasons, Spurrier complained frequently that players were not taking it upon themselves to do the work necessary during the offseason to be a championship caliber team. This year was quite different.
"I was looking at our guys lift weights and run the other day," Spurrier mused, "and I really believe it's the best conditioned South Carolina team ever. I know it's the best we've had in the three years here. In years past, [participation] wasn't near what it is now. Our players had an excellent summer working out. We only had a few that didn't show the commitment level that we needed. I think the offensive line, about 15 of them, made every one of them. Those guys had a super summer, as did most of our players. We are excited that our guys are fit. We practiced last night about two and a half hours, and nobody fell out. I think only one guy cramped up a little bit."
Two of the biggest beneficiaries, at least in the eyes of a quarterback guru like Spurrier, were backup signal callers Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley. Both impressed Spurrier with the strides they made over the summer, and he said he feels comfortable putting either one in a game.
"They have invested some time this summer, while I'm out there playing golf," Spurrier joked. "It was sort of amazing watching them from one year to the next. Both those guys could go play, and play very well. [They] are much better prepared to play than they ever were. They have a pretty good idea where everybody is going now. He's going into his third year here, now, so Tommy Beecher should really be ready to play. If I can coach worth a lick, he should be ready."
Steve Spurrier praised sophomore quarterback Tommy Beecher for his progress during the offseason.
Of course, neither Beecher nor Smelley is the quarterback anybody wants to talk about. During the interview session later on, both players did a handful of interviews while freshman Stephen Garcia was shuffled from one camera crew to the next, with audio recorders taping his every utterance. Meanwhile, the suspended Blake Mitchell was, perhaps mercifully, withheld from the proceedings. Mitchell was suspended for the first two days of practice for poor attendance during summer school. Spurrier did not mine words about his disappointment in Mitchell.
"It was certainly disappointing," Spurrier said, "and we felt like we needed to do something about it. We held him out the first two nights, and hopefully that is embarrassing to him. It should be."
When asked how he thought Mitchell was doing in taking over a leadership position on the team, Spurrier's silence said more than any words could.
"I don't choose to answer that question," he said. "You can't win answering that one."
Spurrier remained non-committal on the question of whether Garcia and freshman running back Brian Maddox will redshirt this season. Spurrier believes that championships are won with fourth and fifth year players, so redshirting as many players as possible is in everyone's interest.
"I look at Garrett Anderson and Hutch Eckerson," he explained, "and in one year how they have improved so much physically. You start thinking, gee, I wonder what they will look like when they are 22 years old. You hope to play with 21-22 year old guys, especially on the offensive line. If you can do that almost every year, or two out of three years, you've got a chance to keep it rolling. If a couple of injuries occur, shoot, [Maddox] may be the guy."
Spurrier has been impressed with the strides sophomore offensive lineman Garrett Anderson has made in the weight room since last season.
Spurrier made waves following last season when he said his goal for the 2007 campaign was to win the SEC Championship. He refused to back down over the spring and summer, and with the new season nearing, he continues to claim that as his number one goal.
"We've still got several goals," he acknowledged. "We're not going to hang our heads if we don't win the SEC, but if we are in position and things go well early, it is not going to shock us that we have a chance to do that. We certainly think we are capable, but so does Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia. They are very capable of winning it too. We believe we are good enough to compete with them."
Spurrier bristled at the assertion that he was promising more than he or his players could deliver, or that the team could become over confident.
"I didn't say we are going to beat anybody. I didn't say we are going to beat Louisiana Lafayette. I didn't make any predictions except to say our goal has raised up to where we are going to try to win the SEC. Nobody has overrated us; we are still picked fourth like we always are. We played people close, but we didn't prove we could beat them. We're going to try to see if we can beat them this year."
- Dustin and Jordin Lindsey remain suspended, but Spurrier elaborated on their circumstances. Both are in danger of being academically ineligible, so they are being held out of practice to focus on their last week of summer classes.
- Spurrier said he intends to rotate running backs Cory Boyd and Mike Davis similar to last year. He noted that there is not a specific package for either back, and running back coach Robert Gillespie is actually responsible for substitutions. "I don't worry about who is in the game; I just call the plays," Spurrier said.
- When he was asked when he would be able to tell how all the potential in young players would play out, Spurrier paused, channeling the spirit of Yogi Berra, and said, "We'll know when the season is over, what kind of year we had."
- Spurrier mentioned that because all the players are still in summer school, they aren't available for practice or meetings until mid-afternoon. He wondered aloud if other schools, specifically Clemson, were still in summer school. A reporter shot back, "You know Clemson doesn't go to school." (For the record, Clemson players are also in summer school.)
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