As we continue to take a post-Signing Day look at the coaches and programs in our Swampland Footprint, it’s an interesting time to examine the state of the South Carolina program under Steve Spurrier. An SEC legend as a player and coach at Florida, Spurrier has not yet seen the same results in Columbia that he enjoyed a decade prior in Gainesville.
There are many challenges for a school without much gridiron tradition in trying to compete in America’s toughest conference, but getting a coach with Spurrier’s pedigree in late 2004 seemed like a huge step in the right direction. After four seasons though, the story of South Carolina football has been more about player discipline issues, mediocre results on the field, and staff turnover than any huge move up the SEC food chain.
A public relations flap for Spurrier has been the latest news in a somewhat frustrating offseason. He promised top recruit Alshon Jeffery the retired #2 of Sterling Sharpe, something that angered the former Gamecock immensely. As it turns out, there is a University policy against using retired numbers without written consent, so Jeffery will wear #1 instead. The point of the situation is that Spurrier was desperate enough for a recruit the he would he turn his back on the school’s history. The whole thing seems like it could have been avoided, and time (or wins over rivals) will tell how the fan base reacts.
We don’t want to make too much of one public relations snafu, but it does bring to the surface the stress that Spurrier is facing in getting the Gamecocks into the upper echelon of the SEC. During his first season in the Palmetto State in 2005, Spurrier led South Carolina to a 2nd place finish in the SEC East by beating his alma mater Florida, and things were looking very positive for the program. However, the ‘Cocks have not seen the upper tier of the Eastern Division since that ’05 season, and the competition in the conference is not getting any easier.
Spurrier does have a winning overall record in Columbia (although he's 15-17 in the SEC), and if he can ever find a suitable signal caller, you would like to think he could challenge the league big boys. Some fans may not see Spurrier as the answer anymore, it can be argued that he is their best hope to find success in the rugged SEC. He has done it before, and schools with less tradition have to exercise patience when a ‘miracle turnaround’ does not occur.
South Carolina ended the ’08 campaign by losing to Florida by 50 points, getting beat at in-state rival Clemson by 17, and barely showing up in an embarrassing three touchdown bowl loss to unranked Iowa. But even with a lack of momentum and the staff turnover in the offseason, South Carolina was able to pull in the 12th-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals. That’s a strong accomplishment for a team that fell flat at the end of last season, especially when he made a late push to pull in the aforementioned Jeffery (decommit from Southern Cal) and S Chris Payne (a decommit from Clemson). Both of those players were in-state kids so keeping the best talent at home was critical for the Gamecocks, and Spurrier showed he could do it.
As far as the last few seasons go, the odd thing is that South Carolina's struggles have all been on offense, Spurrier's area of expertise. The defense has been one of the SEC's best.
So, can Spurrier get things moving in the right direction in 2009?
Spurrier finds himself exactly where Phil Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville were at the beginning of last season. Both made failed attempts to resuscitate their offenses, and both are now unemployed. One would think that another dismal offensive year by the Gamecocks might also be an indicator of Spurrier's last campaign.
Maybe what will motivate him the most is the success his alma mater has had under Urban Meyer. Florida newspapers are printing stories wondering whether Urban Meyer may be better than Spurrier. The Ole Ball Coach has an ego, and it has to hurt more than just a little bit knowing that Meyer has already passed him in the number of National Titles won in Gainesville.
The sad end to Fulmer and Tuberville should have him on notice. The strong recruiting class should give him some weapons. Now, it's up to Spurrier to make his offense produce like everyone expected it to when he arrived in Columbia.