Yesterday I was excited to listen to Steve Spurrier appearances on Rick Neuheisel’s XM Radio show and on The Dan Patrick Show. After both I came away with the same impression – man, the dude sounds almost giddy. Maybe it’s my low testosterone levels as a result of my old age, but his willingness to be this happy the day after resigning as my favorite coach of all time kind of hurt my feelings a little. I pretty much dismissed it as “that’s just his style, Spurrier being Spurrier and so forth”, but this morning I woke up to the words below from FOB (friend of the blog) @BeatClem in our inbox. I’m not sure what Spurrier has said or not said so far really matters, we’ll all move along soon enough. But it would be nice to get a little tip of the cap, if not more, from him as he goes along his resignation tour.
The following does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any members of The Rubber Chickens Blog, LLC. But then again it might.
On November 23, 2004, I snuck into The Zone to witness one of the most memorable press conferences in the history of the University of South Carolina athletics – the announcement of the hiring of new head coach, Steve Spurrier. As with most fans, I was excited beyond belief. I actually walked up to him after the press conference and shook his hand as Rick Henry was waiting to conduct his first interview of the new South Carolina coach. I was so excited that I could barely recall the 54-17 whooping the despised ‘Ole Ball Coach put on the Gamecocks just three Novembers prior, in his last season of college football.
(That was another historic day for the Gamecocks, being the first time ESPN College Gameday came to South Carolina, when we thought it would be a good idea to “Black Out” the Gators. The 2001 entrance was the best ever, and Kirk Herbstreit later said he had never heard a louder stadium than when Derek Watson scored to go up 7-0 in the first quarter. But those were the only two highlights. Notably, however, Jon Hoke was the Gators’ defensive coordinator at the time.)
A few games into the 2015 season, I came to the realization, like many other Gamecock fans and apparently Spurrier himself, that it was time for the HBC to retire. In his time here, Spurrier had taken the Gamecock program to unprecedented and historic levels, breaking many records and conquering many “firsts.” Additionally, as Harris Pastides said, “he gave us our swagger.” But the 2014 season, offseason of decommitments, and first few games of 2015 made clear that the program was on the decline. It was evident that recruiting had fallen behind. Coaching decisions were questionable. It was time for a change, and it would take time to rebuild.
As advocated by certain bloggers, I was in favor of a “thoughtful, tender uncoupling” between the Gamecocks and the HBC. As the losses piled up, I envisioned a retirement announcement followed by a farewell tour, where the HBC would lead the Gamecocks for the remaining games “CEO style.” The announcement this week of an immediate separation between the school and Spurrier surprised me at first, but upon reflection seems to make sense. It is not surprising that Spurrier is leaving on his own terms. Everything about his time at South Carolina has been on his terms. However, I don’t see any significant, adverse effect to the school or program created by the immediate separation. Recruiting is the obvious concern, but the uncertainty of next year’s coaching staff is the same regardless if the remaining games are coached by Spurrier or an interim head coach that may or may not remain on staff next year. However, Spurrier may indeed have already been a liability in recruiting since no one knew how long he may actually stick around, despite what he was telling recruits. Frankly, I don’t have any concern with the stated reasons for Spurrier’s insistence that the “uncoupling” be immediate, and in fact agree with many.
However, the more I reflect on Tuesday’s press conference and the events that followed, the more uneasy I feel. It originally struck me as odd that Spurrier immediately wanted to clarify that he was “resigning” and not “retiring.” At first, it sounded like nothing more than Spurrier being Spurrier, but it also gave the impression that he simply wants to do something else, presumably in coaching or television. That he is quitting on the team for his own convenience because the outlook is grim. Now I’m not one of those people calling him a “quitter” because I understand his desire to reduce stress and spend time doing something enjoyable, when it was painfully obvious that coaching the Gamecocks was no longer enjoyable for him. I appreciate that he was “over it” and therefore wanted a clean break. No problem with him quitting now to keep a few losses off his overall coaching record or to preserve his overall win percentage. During the noon press conference, I joked to a friend that he probably had a 2 pm tee time, and it seemed he may have when he abruptly said he was done taking questions. (Indeed, according to some reports, he did hit some golf balls later that afternoon.)
All of that was okay to me. But something continued to bother me. Maybe it was Spurrier’s immediate and unequivocal denial that he would serve as an advisor to USC or be involved in the next coaching search, and that “it would be decided later” what future role he may have with the university. But even more so, I think it was something I didn’t hear Spurrier say in the press conference. I didn’t hear our beloved Head Ball Coach say that he enjoyed his time at South Carolina, cherished the memories made here, appreciated the accomplishments, and would be proud to always consider himself a Gamecock (among the other teams he’s coached).
When asked a pointed question about what message he would like to give to the loyal Gamecock students and fan base, I was expecting him to excitedly say, “continue to be the best fans in the country and support the team just like I will” or something to that effect. Nothing rah-rah Dabo, but something sincere that showed he enjoyed his time here and was now one of us – a proud member of the University of South Carolina fraternity. Instead, with absolutely no emotion and classic shrug of the shoulders, he said, “I’m no longer the head coach, so I’d just thank them for all they’ve done. I don’t really have a message.” He thanked the fans for “receiving” him and his family. And with that, he abruptly concluded the press conference, “Okay let’s get moving, I’ve had enough here.”
That bugged me. I wanted him to talk about South Carolina like he does Duke and Florida, and convince me that he has the same type of feelings toward the Gamecocks. That he would always hold a special place in his heart for his time spent here. That he was a fan. Forever to thee.
The empty feeling I had turned slightly to disgust when I later learned that Spurrier would not be attending this weekend’s Vanderbilt game, but instead would be a guest on ESPN College Gameday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Talk about a clean break. He was done with us. No looking back. We got dumped like a high school girlfriend, and he’s already dating someone else. Although I envisioned seeing Spurrier on College Gameday eventually, I didn’t think it would be this week since the Saturday morning SportsCenter is broadcasting live from Columbia, which I assumed would include a Spurrier segment or live interview. (Why else come to Columbia?) But like Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, poof, he was gone.
Immediately ditching us for College Gameday is a slap in the face. I still don’t consider Spurrier a quitter, but now feel like he is turning his back on us. Initially, I jokingly wondered if he would go on to pick Vandy to beat the Gamecocks this weekend, but then realized that is PRECISELY the sort of thing the Head Ball Coach would do just to get a laugh from the nation. At our expense, no less.
Like many others, I love the Gamecocks and have spent more time and money supporting them than I should have over the years. So it was disappointing to realize that Steve Spurrier doesn’t adore South Carolina like he adores Florida and Duke. But more disappointing was the realization that the Head Ball Coach doesn’t care for the Gamecocks as much as Gamecock nation cares for him. I wonder if he cared at all.
History will show that Steve Spurrier was a Gamecock. I just hope he is proud of it.