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Spurrier's Climb Still Steep (Charlotte Observer)
The Rivalry
The Record


Steve Spurrier calls from the road. He's looking for players who can save his team from bland bowl games, losses to Clemson and South Carolina's long, sad football tradition.

“Those Carolina Panthers are really playing good football,” is the first thing he says.

After the Panthers fired George Seifert in 2002, many fans campaigned to have him replaced with Spurrier, then the coach at Florida.

But Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder got to Spurrier first, and he brought bailout money with him. After moving north Spurrier was surprised to learn Snyder also was general manager and director of player personnel. Two forgettable seasons later, the coach left.

South Carolina offered him an even greater challenge. Fix the Gamecocks.

Spurrier has performed better than his predecessors. But after four seasons he is a quiet 7-5, 8-5, 6-6 and, with a bowl game to play, 7-5.

“We did OK except the last two games,” he says of 2008. “We played about the way we were expected to. Seven-five is not all that bad. The last two losses were very disappointing.”

The last two losses were by 50 to Florida and by 17 to Clemson in the first game of the Dabo Swinney Era.

Spurrier, 63, was once the best coach in football. And it's not as if he's lost his verve or creativity. He's still Spurrier, I assure you.

Being Spurrier means diagramming a crazy play on a fast-food napkin and running it so flawlessly on Saturday that it looks as if it came out of Rick Hendrick's race shop and was run by Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.

Alas, being South Carolina means the play fails. The Gamecocks played their first game in 1892 and lost 44-0. Little has improved.

“It's frustrating,” says Spurrier. “Somebody told me it's easier to turn a program around if there's tradition.”

Can you fix a program without one?

“Give us three, four more years,” he says. “Ask us then.”

Spurrier acknowledges he has to fix the running game and offensive line. Last week he dumped line coach John Hunt, who had been with him since 1999.

Spurrier tells me his defense was good until the past two games. But hearing Spurrier talk about defense is like hearing LeBron James talk about setting a pick.

Major college football in the Carolinas is a swamp, and the candidate most likely to lead us to solid ground is not North Carolina's Butch Davis, N.C. State's Tom O'Brien or even Clemson's Dabo. And as superb as Jim Grobe has been, he can't take the Deacons any further than he has.

Despite being saddled with South Carolina, Spurrier is the hope. But he won't get there without imaginative play-calling and lots of points.

Can you be that guy again?

Says Spurrier: “Somebody told me, ‘Remember, when you always had the best quarterback on the field?'

“We need a quarterback everybody can believe in. We think that quarterback can be Stephen Garcia. So, that's a lot of pressure on a freshman.”

Spurrier laughs.

“And that's a lot of pressure on me.”

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