Any college football coaches weary of the constant battering of coverage coming from a particular reporter can just do what coach Steve Spurrier seemingly did: get that reporter thrown off the beat.
Jim Romenesko reports on the plight of The State's Ron Morris, who is no longer covering one of South Carolina's biggest programs, all because the coach was tired of his criticism.
The entire report is well worth your time and covers an editor who is doing everything he can to keep his writer employed, a publisher who wanted that writer fired and an irate Spurrier whose petulant grumbling led to far more desirable Gamecocks coverage.
For his part, Morris is keeping silent on these charges. Here is what we do know from Romenesko's column.
Morris declined to talk to me, but others familiar with the situation — including former University of South Carolina and State staffers — described how The State’s publisher, Henry Haitz III, made his veteran columnist agree in writing that he would never again write about Gamecocks football or talk about the USC program on TV and radio shows.
As noted in the article, getting taken off the USC beat is a tremendous blow he relates to a political reporter being disallowed to cover the government.
Beginning of the End
While the roots might be deeper, the story seems to start back in 2011 when Spurrier stated he wouldn't give any interviews with Morris in the room.
That decree came down in October of that year and was because of an article you can read here on The State that Morris wrote back in March 2011—covering Bruce Ellington's struggle as he deals with the demands of two sports.
I encourage you to read it, because it's a well-articulated column on a player who might be better served choosing one sport. It's intriguing and opinionated but nothing you would consider misleading or egregiously evil—unless you are Spurrier.
That column led to the silent treatment seven months later, but there is so much more.
Last September, Morris wrote an article on Spurrier's decision to play an already injured Connor Shaw against UAB, writing, "Shaw should not have started, or maybe even played, against UAB. It was an opponent USC could easily have beaten with Thompson at quarterback."
The last straw, however, came when Morris spoke on radio about Spurrier and his apparent power around campus and in the community.
I think it’s a real test of the (University of South Carolina) administration. This is how things like Penn State happen—when the administration won’t step up and confront the football coach, and he becomes all-powerful. When the football coach begins to dictate company policy, I think you’re asking for trouble.
While it's obvious Morris is talking about the lack of accountability and not that anything sordid was occurring, Morris would later apologize in a column he was apparently forced to write. We will get to that in a moment.
For his transgressions, Morris enjoyed a firestorm behind the scenes. The publisher, Haitz, wanted to give him the axe, but Morris was only saved by editor Mark Lett, who reminded him there were no grounds for a firing. Lett, by the way, is described as something of a protector in this situation.
Spurrier certainly did his best impression of a squeaky wheel, because his insinuation of quitting the program turned the tide and the state against Morris.
Not only is he no longer allowed to cover South Carolina, but he was asked to write an apology column of sorts.
He said of his “this is how things like Penn State happen” remark: “In hindsight, any link to what happened at Penn State was inappropriate, and I apologize.” It was, he said, “only to suggest that college administrators have to be on high alert when it comes to coaches exerting too much influence over athletics department and university policy. That clearly was the case at Penn State.”
According to this rather exhausting story, it seems the publisher is doing everything conceivable to show Spurrier has at least some pull and influence over more than mere football, including hiring a superfan to cover the team.
That's right. Morris is out and Glenn Snyder is in. The 67-year-old had this to say, via Romenesko: "I’ve now seen 343 South Carolina [football] games in a row. I love the University of South Carolina. I love Steve Spurrier…Coach Spurrier and I have become friends."
Well, that's swell.
If you are looking for an honest look and opinionated stance on something that is really trivial in the grand scheme of things, you might want to look elsewhere.
It seems the only coverage of South Carolina from here on out is how Spurrier is great and all is wonderful in paradise.
That's one way to keep the fans on your side.
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