"Why not us?" Steve Spurrier asked when introduced as head coach of the South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks in a press conference Nov. 23, 2004. "Why not us?"
He has continued to repeat the question throughout his career as the Gamecocks' coach, while critics and friends challenged and questioned his move to become USC's coach.
The legend won multiple Southeastern Conference championships as coach of the University of Florida and dubbed the Gators' Ben Hill Griffin Stadium "The Swamp." Many did not believe he could win championships at his new gig.
According to Spurrier, “My buddies all told me when I came here, ‘Steve, nobody’s won there. What makes you think you can?' That’s really all I needed to hear.”
The Gamecocks struggled, averaging about seven wins between the 2005 and '09 seasons. Spurrier will admit he even thought about retiring after the University of Iowa thrashed USC in the 2009 Outback Bowl.
But after Carolina won the SEC Eastern title in 2010, it seemed pretty obvious Spurrier would be around for awhile as the Gamecocks' head coach.
Surprisingly, sports journalists rekindled the flames of Spurrier's retirement fire in 2011. Could it have been because of the Gamecocks' flawed offense at the beginning of the season? Or maybe it was the loss to Auburn?
"Known for his love of golf and disdain for long days at the office, his apparent deplorable work ethic has been laid bare for all to see. . . . Now please retire and do what you really want to do with your time," reported CapstoneReport.com in 2011, after the Gamecocks' embarrassing 16-13 loss to the Auburn University.
But the ol' ball coach—a nickname he essentially developed for himself while in Florida—an admittedly avid golfer, would prove that journalist and many others wrong in coming weeks. Despite the critics, Spurrier led the Gamecocks to an 11-2 record, riding the read option and an amazing defensive effort.
So, while shrugging off the rainstorm of critics, he coached Carolina to its first top 10 spot in history and set the school record for wins in a season.
A little more than two weeks ago, the USC coach fired back at the writers.
"Good to be with you media guys again. Told my wife as I was leaving, I said, 'You know what, I’ve been to this thing for 20 years now.' But you guys have been here 30, 40 years, some of you. They don’t fire y’all, we found that out."
Spurrier made the best of his time at the SEC Media Days July 17-20, taking a shot at the lowly University of Mississippi Rebels: "If I made the schedule, Georgia would be playing LSU and we'd be playing Ole Miss."
This is a good sign for the Gamecocks, who return 14 starters from last year's club, which was ranked No. 9.
He should be awarded "The Most Interesting Man in the College Football" and be featured in an ad for Dos Equis.
But that's not what he wants.
What Spurrier wants is to win a Southeastern Conference Championship with South Carolina.
He wants to award the Gamecocks, who had suffered as SEC's doormat for many years, as their loyal fan base waited for results from their beloved team.
Spurrier wants to build a program that he has practically built from the ground up, and molded for eight years. He already owns the silver medal for the winningest coach in Gamecocks' football history.
Don't forget that Spurrier is one of the main reasons Carolina now has records adorning the once bare stadium walls, and he's a force in getting the old Farmers Market site turned into a state-of-the-art tailgating area and having the scoreboard reconstructed. He has landed plenty of top-20 recruiting classes.
"We’ve still not won the SEC," Spurrier said. "That’s our ultimate goal. We know it’s not going to be easy. It will be extremely difficult.
But that’s our goal. That’s what we’ve shooting for. Who knows if it can work out for us this coming here years as coach."
But will Spurrier repeat that in December? With an amazing read option attack directed by junior Connor Shaw (525 rushing yards in 2011) and—fingers crossed—perfected by junior Marcus Lattimore (818 yards before a knee injury), it is possible.
“That’s what we want, everybody to think that we’re going to be a big running team,” the Carolina coach beamed.
An SEC Championship is also possible because the Gamecocks return a disciplined quarterback in Shaw, who should have some underrated targets to throw to this fall. That's right, the critics underestimate Carolina's receiving corps because six wideouts are under 6'.
But wideouts coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. is confident in his 'smurfs' who are small yet speedy. Last season, 5'8" junior Ace Sanders showed flashes of brilliance, especially when he caught a 47-yard pass from Shaw against Florida, which helped nail down the USC's sixth SEC win in 2011.
As well, don't forget sophomore Bruce Ellington—who also plays for USC's basketball team. He ran the Wild Gamecock formation and garnered 211 receiving yards in 2011. There are also ramblings that sophomore speedster Damiere Byrd has worked hard during the offseason and could be used at other positions.
Plus, three top-50 ranked high school wideouts come to campus this fall camp. The wide-receiver battle should be interesting. Shaq Roland of Lexington, S.C., the No. 10 WR in his class, headlines the group.
In the trenches, the Gamecocks return two starters, highlighted by 319-pound senior T.J Johnson. If these guys can block for Lattimore effectively, the sky is the limit in the Palmetto State.
While the Gamecocks' offense may have some questions to answer regarding the offensive line and wide receivers, the Garnet and Black should move the ball at a better pace than last season.
For example, the boys of Columbia have not been trouble this summer. Former quarterback Stephen Garcia is off to the Canada to play semi-pro football, and so there shouldn't be any drama at the position this season.
As well, the Gamecocks' mix of tall and short receivers should mix well for results and performance. Despite the mathematical output of the receivers—excluding Alshon Jeffery, who is now with the NFL's Chicago Bears—they have room to grow and improve.
Even if the small guys struggle, it might not matter. It may be the year of the freshman at receiver for Carolina, as Roland was South Carolina's "Mr. Football" last year.
Consider each of the last three Mr. Football's who started for the Gamecocks as freshmen: CB Stephon Gilmore (drafted by Buffalo Bills), HB Marcus Lattimore (2012 Heisman candidate) and DL Jadeveon Clowney (Freshman All-American).
Throw in the eighth-ranked player in North Carolina, Jody Fuller, along with the nation's No. 40 wideout, Kwinton Smith. Check out the Gamecocks' tight ends, including 6'5" sophomore Rory Anderson, who should be a threat downfield.
And don't forget Jerrell Adams, a 6'6", 224-pound versatile player out of Pinewood, S.C., who has impressed many at fall camp. Spurrier even mentioned Adams was playing like a Pro Bowler.
“They are saying, ‘Spurrier thinks we believe they are going to be a running team, and they are going to come out and try to throw the first game,’ " Spurrier said while impersonating an opposing coach at practice to the media on Monday.
Spurrier continued to explain while confusing everyone. “So we’re probably using reverse psychology that they think we’re thinking that they think that we think they’re not going to do that. And then you try to do the opposite, whatever that is.”
Handling the defensive side of the ball should be fun for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and his assistants.
On the defensive line, the Gamecocks should be a terror. Devin Taylor, a 6’8” senior who logged 42 tackles and 6.0 sacks in Carolina’s 11-2 run last year, leads the line.
His 'little' side kick, Clowney, ranked ninth in the SEC with six sacks and became the only freshman in that division to rank in the top 20. He also had 32 tackles and forced five fumbles.
Kelcy Quarles should also be exciting to watch.
The sophomore from Hodges, S.C. recorded 28 tackles as a starter for South Carolina last season. Projected starter Byron Jerideau will be entering his senior season after recording seven tackles and 1.5 sacks last year.
The linebacker position will be loaded with seniors, and it is the perfect storm for coordinator Ward, who wants to employ more blitzes in a simpler scheme this fall.
DeVonte Holloman will be moved from safety to the Gamecocks' "spur" position and will outweigh his predecessor by 40 pounds at the position. Antonio Allen was drafted by the New York Jets.
Luckily, Carolina also returns veterans Damario Jeffery and Shaq Wilson at the linebacker corps.
Spurrier is pulling deep down in his bag of tricks at the linebacker position. Coaches are keeping quiet on Clowney, who had eight sacks last season. It is rumored that Clowney will play a hybrid defensive lineman position in the 'spinner' package, where he will stand like a linebacker.
Unfortunately, the defensive backs was sliced and diced with injuries during fall practice. On August 6, Spurrier announced that highly-recruited Rico McWilliams of Hampton, Georgia, will be out for the season because of a knee injury suffered in practice.
An even more devastating blow came when Akeem Auguste was injured in practice last Saturday. Auguste, who had surgery on his right thigh muscle last Sunday, missed last season because of a foot injury.
Auguste will be re-evaluated in four to five weeks. The thin secondary needs his help. But thankfully, the SEC power returns some talented players.
Victor Hampton, who was a key contributor to the Gamecocks' defense in 2011, will again start at corner. Jimmy Legree, who has some experience, has the best shot of winning the other cornerback slot.
But remember, Spurrier is a great football coach. He coached the Duke Blue Devils—better known for its feats on the basketball court—to an ACC Championship in 1989.
And of course, he coached the Florida Gators to multiple SEC Championships. He built Florida's reputation and the fearful "Swamp" at Florida Field.
But now his passion is for South Carolina. And he hangs on to the mantra that the university and its fans and alumni have adopted since the 2010 baseball squad's unlikely run at the national championship.
Did the University of Georgia get an easier schedule? Yes. Did the Gamecocks have a rash of injuries and suspensions to key players this summer? Yes.
But Steve Spurrier and his focused football team plan to put on for the University of South Carolina and the City of Columbia.
On any given Saturday, the USC's warriors are ready to fight. Any time, any place.
Spurrier coaches to near perfection. It was tough in the early years, but Spurrier has the ball rolling now.
He looked like a mastermind late in 2011, utilizing the read option and many unorthodox plays to win games without star running back Lattimore. And the fans here also remember him as the "Clemson killer," which also makes him popular around town.
An honest man, the coach is adored by some, and despised by some.
And in 2012, he is a man on a mission. A man who is on a mission to be at the peak of college football's greatest conference. And this man might be the guy who will be adorned for ages by the Gamecock Nation: And it could happen this year.
So don't blame Georgia's schedule. Don't blame the razor thin defensive back depth. Just keep pushing.
It may all come down to the Georgia game. Mark your calendars for October 6, 2012.
Look out America, the Gamecocks are dangerous. And you can thank Spurrier, who had a vision to restore a football team that had been hurting for more than 100 years.
The vision is now reality.
USC might just sneak up and steal the SEC Crown. And wouldn't Spurrier be the happiest man on the face of the earth?
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