City's Boomin, But Spurrier's Losin
On November 23, 2004, Gamecock Nation received the most exciting news Columbia had heard in years: The University of South Carolina introduced Steve Spurrier as the new head coach. One day after Lou Holtz's retirement, Spurrier signed a seven-year deal that would pay him $1.25 million a year.
Since that day, not only has the athletic department been affected, but the school and town has seen dramatic changes: tuition has gone up, required SAT and GPA scores for applying students have risen, the number of applicants has more than tripled, multiple buildings and apartment complexes have been built, and a state-of-the-art baseball stadium has arrived.
You can say the city of Columbia has grown tremendously. But has the football team grown at the same pace?
First, I am going to point out the accomplishments of Steve Spurrier since arriving in Columbia. In his first season, Ol' Ball Coach exceeded everyone's expectations by giving the school its first five-game SEC winning streak, including wins over Tennessee in Knoxville and No. 12 Florida, who South Carolina had not beaten since joining the SEC.
South Carolina finished the season with a 7-5 record, and Spurrier was named the SEC Coach of the Year.
In his second season, Spurrier was able to defeat the Clemson Tigers for the first time in five years, won his first bowl game, defeating Houston in the Liberty Bowl, and became the first coach in USC history to lead his team to a bowl game in each of his first two seasons. The Gamecocks finished that season at 8-5.
But 2007 seemed to be the season when Spurrier might lead South Carolina to its first SEC Championship game.
The Gamecocks started off the season with a upset victory at No. 11 Georgia and beating undefeated No. 8 Kentucky, which catapulted them to No. 6 in the nation. But preseason dreams soon shattered under the weight of deflating injuries to key members of the South Carolina defense.
This past season, South Carolina was able to defeat No. 24 Ole Miss on the road—the same Rebels team that handed the Florida Gators their only loss of the season and embarrassed rival Phillip Fulmer and Company, 27-6.
Following Spurrier's great start in his second season, he was unable to defeat any of the the ranked SEC powerhouses, including Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida.
It definitely isn't an easy task to defeat any SEC team, but when you lose four of those five games by a combined 21 points, it's only natural to begin questioning whether Spurrier is capable of winning the close games.
Sounds strange to me too, but surely Spurrier would bounce back the next year and hopefully contend for an SEC East title.
After key wins against Georgia and Kentucky, Columbia was at an all-time high, until the town's hopes were crushed by an unforgettable and almost unforgivable collapse.
With the losses of linebacker Jasper Brinkley and defensive end Nathan Pepper, the Gamecocks could no longer stop the run and lost their final five games. Spurrier ended with his second career non-winning season and wasn't invited to a bowl game with a 6-6 record.
Coming into this season, Spurrier had two quarterbacks that he believed could get the job done, although one has proven he can't stay out of trouble off the field.
The sure choice, Tommy Beecher, turned out to be the worst choice possible. He threw four interceptions but was saved by the defense and Chris Smelley.
After watching Smelley's development a year ago, which led to a 4-2 record before he was benched, I felt comfortable with him permanently filling the void at quarterback. But I also knew he would have his ups and downs, like any other quarterback.
After some inconsistent performances, Smelley was benched once again. Enter Stephen Garcia, who began splitting time with Smelley. Nobody, including the analysts, expected to see both quarterbacks switched out as if they were a pair of running backs.
I have never played quarterback in an organized league, but I do know that most quarterbacks like and need to get into some type of rhythm. But how do you get used to SEC blitz packages and various coverages without experiencing them play after play?
Now, after week-to-week speculation as to who was going to be the starter, Smelley was announced the starter of the Clemson game. Spurrier's decision came two weeks after he suffered his greatest defeat, a 56-6 romp at Florida, in which USC was outcoached and the defense was never given a chance to keep it close.
Surely, Steve would have his team fired up and ready for their in-state rivalry game at Clemson, especially after they were given the bye week to prepare.
But, no, once again the Ol' Ball Coach failed to prepare his team, and they were put in a hole they couldn't dig themselves out of. The unprepared Gamecocks fell 31-14 as Chris Smelley threw four interceptions and fumbled once.
Throughout the game, everyone expected a quarterback change. But go figure, Spurrier, of course, chose to do the opposite of what everyone thought—and let the kid complete more passes to the other team.
In a season where the "Quarterback Genius" was missing, you can only wonder, "Does the Ol' Ball Coach still got it?" What excuses can be made now, when all of his recruits are in place and he has had four years to improve?
Well, I'm sick of all the "Spurrier is this" and "Spurrier is a god" talk. "Shut up or show up" should be the new motto in Columbia.
After back-to-back mediocre seasons, Gamecock Nation can only pray that the former national and SEC Champion has something up his ol' sleeve.
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