Spurrier upbeat about 2009 season

Computer buffs have an acronym – WYSIWYG, which stands for "what you see is what you get." Those who cover Steve Spurrier all the time can tell you that he is WYSIWYG. The reporters, the fans, his players, his assistant coaches and/or the opposing coaches may or may not like what he has to say, but you know he consistently delivers everything in a no-spin zone. And he's upbeat about this season.

Steve Spurrier opened his discussion about South Carolina football by candidly discussing the lack of success from his high standards of competing for conference championships and not finishing the season well, but he moved quickly beyond discussing past years and on to what he likes about his team in 2009. He made some major coaching staff changes in the offseason and brought in another nationally ranked recruiting class, and he likes what he sees in both.

Summing up the 2008 season, "We didn't finish very well last year," he said. "We lost our last three games, actually got clobbered pretty good the last three games. We weren't as competitive as we were earlier in the year. It was time to do some things differently. A few coaches left on their own. A few were asked to leave. We have five new assistant coaches and a new strength and conditioning coach."

Spurrier then pointed to the positives that began immediately after the bowl loss to Iowa: "What was the most encouraging part of all this is that after the bowl game, we did not lose any committed players," he said. "They all came, they all stuck with us, and we actually picked up a few more. So it was a sign that the high school players, some of the top athletes, still believe that South Carolina can win and win big."

The Head Ball Coach is realistic with what has been accomplished so far, and what he has to work with from a personnel standpoint. He said, "We've averaged seven wins a year, 28 in four years. Certainly we hope to get up to the 9, 10 wins a year level. We're not there yet. We actually only have seven seniors on the team this year. We've got two fifth year players coming back. I don't know that they will be starters. But that's just sort of where we are. I've not done as good a job as I hoped to have done. I would have hoped we had a whole lot of fourth and fifth year guys ready to play. Hasn't worked out that way."

The optimistic spin put on by coaches in press conferences is so common that there is a term to describe it – "coach speak." Spurrier sounded like any other coach when he continued by saying, "Hopefully we will play with more discipline and play with more effort and more passion than we have in the past. We're looking forward to seeing what happens this coming season."

He listed some reasons why: "Again, (we) have some new coaches. We believe our leadership, amongst our seniors, Eric Norwood, Moe Brown, who are here today, has been very good through the summer."

But you knew it was Spurrier speaking when he told it like it was about the most important position on the field: "Our quarterback, Stephen Garcia, has gone through his first spring practice. Now he's going through his first summer of workouts with the team. If we're to have a big year, he's got to really, really play well. He's got to play a lot better than what happened last year. He really was not prepared to play well last year. Hopefully he's much better, ready to play."

Spurrier was asked where he thinks the program is heading as he enters the fifth year of his tenure in Columbia, and if it's where he thought it would be. His answer addressed more than just the question asked, but also answered those in the media who have publicly opined that this may be Spurrier's last year in Columbia. "Well, we thought we'd do a little bit better, but it hasn't worked out," he said. "We're starting a new four year stint with a lot of new coaches and hopefully a lot better attitude on our team. Again, you know, we only have seven seniors on the team this year, so obviously four, five years ago we thought our recruiting was pretty good; maybe it just hasn't worked out, what have you. But we've averaged seven wins. Again, 28 wins is the most (in South Carolina history) over a four year period. There was one other four year period in South Carolina history they had 28 wins. Of course, we play more games now. We've been just a little above average. Ask me how you're doing. A little above average, that's all.

"But we hope to do better. Again, our facility improvement has been tremendous in the last four years. Eric Hyman, our AD, our boosters, Dodie Anderson, contributed, Dr. Charles Cruz, the contributions from the people who can give has been tremendous. We're making progress."

One key fact that has been clear when South Carolina has faced off with the top programs in the SEC like Florida and LSU is that the Gamecocks did not have either the level of talent or the quality depth that the elite programs had. Spurrier thinks his team is making progress on that front. "We're getting national recruit type players that maybe we used to not get. Stephon Gilmore was Player of the Year in the state of South Carolina. He could have gone to Alabama; he could have gone to a lot of places. He chose to stay in-state here at South Carolina. We believe we're heading in the right direction now."

It doesn't take a talented analyst to know anyone who watched Spurrier's team last season struggled mightily rushing the ball. Spurrier was asked about the improvement that he saw over the spring in the running game, and he stated bluntly, "It was a little bit better. Certainly it had nowhere to go but up. We finished bottom of the league in rushing this past year. We were bottom of the league in sacks, bottom of the league in turnovers. Somebody said how did you win seven games? I said, our defense played very well, and some games our offense played very well. We had two or three very good offensive games at Ole Miss, at Kentucky, and maybe the Arkansas game was a good one for us. But we need to run the ball much better. We all know that. We did a little bit better this spring running. So we'll see if we can do it during the season."

On the defensive side of the ball, Spurrier was asked about the depth in the USC secondary, and whether he thought "they'll have enough bodies to get through an entire season." Spurrier acknowledged, "Yeah, we're a little light in the secondary. That's probably one reason Stephon Gilmore is over there as a starter (straight out of) high school. He was with the starting group during spring ball. So we did lose some players there. We had a few come out early, a few guys thought they were going to be drafted a lot earlier than they were. But we're trying to sign some defensive back, corner type players, especially this year."

The media had picked South Carolina to finish 4th in the SEC East for seven consecutive seasons prior to the 2009 SEC Media Days, but this year picked them to finish third behind Florida, who is the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions, and the always tough Georgia Bulldogs. When asked how tough it is to move up in the SEC East given perennial powers Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee, Spurrier was optimistic in his reply.

"Again, we haven't turned it around big time yet. We're trying to get there. So we're encouraged by a lot of things that have happened since the Bowl game. Since the Bowl game, a lot of encouraging events have happened. We're looking forward to see how it plays out this season."

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