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Spurrier Looking for Turnaround at USC
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Spurrier looking for turnaround at USC

Published: Friday, July 24, 2009 at 6:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 at 6:05 p.m.

HOOVER, Ala. — His championship years at Florida seem so far behind him now. Especially now that he's mired in his mediocre years as he heads into his fifth season at a South Carolina program still struggling to win more games than it loses.

But Steve Spurrier hasn't lost hope. He hasn't given up. Not even close.

At age 64, Spurrier seems revitalized and says he looking forward to a fresh start this season in Columbia.

"Well, we thought we'd do a little bit better (in the first four years), but it hasn't worked out," he said. "We're starting a new four-year stint with a lot of new coaches and hopefully a lot better attitude on our team.

"We've been just a little above average. Ask me how we're doing. A little above average, that's all. But we believe we're heading in the right direction now."

Spurrier and the Gamecocks seemed headed in the wrong direction at the end of last season. As Spurrier said Friday, the Gamecocks were "clobbered" in their last three games, losing to Florida, Clemson and Iowa by a combined score of 118 to 30.

The low point seemed to be the lifeless effort in the Outback Bowl loss to Iowa. But Spurrier said that's when things started turning around.

In the aftermath, he revamped his coaching staff, hiring five new assistants and a new strength coach, put together a stellar recruiting class, then had his once-troubled quarterback, Stephen Garcia, not only make it through the spring but actually show promise. Now, with the opening of preseason camp only a few weeks away, Spurrier is exuding a more positive vibe than he has in recent seasons.

"We got clobbered pretty good in those last three games," he said. "We weren't as competitive as we were early in the year. It was time to do some things differently. A few coaches left on their own, a few were asked to leave.

"The most encouraging part of all this is that after the bowl game, we did not lose any committed (recruits). They all stuck with us. We actually picked up a few more. So it was a sign that the high school players, some of the top athletes, still believe that South Carolina can win, and win big.

"We've averaged seven wins a year, 28 in four years. Certainly, we hope to get up to the nine, 10-wins-a-year level. We have some new coaches, and we believe our leadership among our seniors has been very good through the summer. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens this coming season."

In his first four seasons in Columbia, inconsistent quarterback play has been a source of seemingly endless frustration for Spurrier, who has always demanded perfection from his quarterback. With imperfect play at the position, Spurrier's offense has yet to come close to resembling the old Fun 'n' Gun attack that flew up and down the field at Florida.

Spurrier is hopeful Garcia can be the guy to get his offense moving again.

"Stephen Garcia has gone through his first spring practice. Now, he's going through his first summer of workouts with the team," Spurrier said. "If we're to have a big year, he's got to really, really play well.

"He's got to play a lot better than what happened last year. He really was not prepared to play well last year. Hopefully he's much better, much more ready to play. Stephen is going to get all the snaps. Hopefully he can stay healthy."

Spurrier is expecting to get more out of his quarterback this season. He also apparently is expecting to get more out of himself in terms of orchestrating the offense.

After turning the play-calling over to his son, wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., a year ago, Spurrier plans to be more involved this season.

"We haven't finalized anything yet," he said. "We've got some coaches that have called some plays there, and I've called a few, I guess, in my career. But I still have the title of head coach and offensive coordinator. I'll be in charge of it."

Heading into his 17th season in the SEC, Spurrier appears refreshed and ready to go. He certainly hasn't given up on turning South Carolina into a contender in the Eastern Division.

In fact, he received a good sign Friday, when the media picked the Gamecocks to finish third in the division. In the previous four seasons, USC was picked fourth.

So, maybe it's a start. A fresh start.

"We haven't turned it around big time yet," he said. "We're trying to get there. We are encouraged by a lot of things since the bowl game. A lot of encouraging events have happened. We're looking forward to see how it plays out this season."

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or at andreur@gvillesun.com.

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GO GAMECOCKS!