Sending Out an S.O.S.

Spurrier enters his sixth season as Head Gamecock

When Steve Spurrier was announced as the Head Football Coach at the University of South Carolina, many commentators (and most Gamecock fans) thought ten win seasons and SEC crowns would quickly follow. He came to USC with a championship pedigree: Heisman winner, Heisman winner’s coach, National Champion, and multiple SEC crowns.

Five years later, those early expectations remain largely unfulfilled. His record at USC stands at 35 wins and 28 losses, a .556 winning percentage that sits in marked contrast to his other college coaching achievements.

A case could be made that his tenure at USC has been a disappointment. And to the uninitiated, his performance may seem lackluster.  But such a characterization fails to place him in proper context within the history of Gamecock football. Consider:

In 2004 Coach Spurrier took over the team at its seeming nadir; a bitter loss to its archrival, an embarrassing brawl on national TV, and a self-imposed bowl ban.  Off season arrests routinely depleted the roster, and recruiting was slipping into junior college reliance and Canadian experiments (Evan Spanogians, anyone?).

Spurrier’s first squad, the 2005 Gamecocks, marched through five straight SEC victories for the first time in school history on the way to a seven win season.  His subsequent teams have all avoided losing records (although the 2007 squad fumbled its way to a home loss to Vandy and a 6-6 record).  Five straight non-losing records may not seem like much, but such an accomplishment hasn’t happened in Columbia since Coach Billy Laval did it just prior to the Great Depression.

As hard as it is to believe, Coach Spurrier’s seven win average over 5 seasons is the best mark ever by a gamecock coach.  His 35 wins are the highest total for any gamecock coach in his first 5 years.  He presently stands as the 6th winningest coach in USC history, and is on pace to easily move into 3rd this year, and to 2nd sometime in the middle of the 2011 season.  First place legend Rex Enright stands 29 victories ahead of Spurrier, but coached 10 years more.

So the question naturally arises:  How much longer does Spurrier have at USC?  He says he feels great, and publically states that he intends to serve out his current four-year commitment.

But I want to suggest that the 2010 Gamecock team will serve as the determining factor in whether or not Spurrier sticks around that long.  And I also want to suggest that there is an over and an under that could send him off to the golf links permanently.

Imagine the veteran 2010 gamecocks limp through the season with six or seven wins.  Suppose they again head to a middling bowl and give a lackluster performance.  Might Spurrier think he’s done all he can?  Might he conclude that seven wins is the most he can hope to accomplish?  Might he decide it’s time to give someone else a shot?

Conversely, what might happen if USC wins it all?  What if the team wins the conference and a BCS bowl?  Couldn’t Spurrier be forgiven for thinking that he should leave on a high note?  It would be an easy transition: Head Coach Johnson and Offensive Coordinator Mangus and the idea that the long-listing USC ship is finally righted.

If both of the above scenarios seem reasonable, then there exists a sweet spot where the Gamecocks win in 2010, and yet Spurrier remains for another year.  Is it 8 wins? 9 wins with a bowl loss? Or would it take a disappointing loss in the SEC championship game?� What would be enough to satisfy his inner barometer for progress but still motivate him to compete further?

I think I can speak for all Gamecocks in saying that a BCS crystal and a fond wave goodbye to Stephen Orr Spurrier is a deal we would all gladly make. But as we enter this defining season in his tenure we must temper our hopes to a more realistic outcome.

Here’s hoping the outcome, whatever it may be, lights a new fire of competitiveness in Spurrier, the most successful coach in the modern Gamecock era.

– tbone