Steve Spurrier’s midseason resignation as head football coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks isn’t surprising.
It’s not shocking.
Despite his comments to the contrary this offseason, conventional wisdom said 2015 would be Spurrier’s last. His comments during SEC Media Days, chuckling about how Tennessee was ecstatic about finishing 7-6 last year while his team posted the same record and found it to be a disappointment, were accurate and a coach doesn’t make such comments without thinking he can compete with said opponent.
So preseason rankings aside, maybe Spurrier had something up his sleeve. Did he have a diamond in the rough at quarterback? Were the newcomers on defense as good as advertised? Was Pharoh Cooper going to build on an exceptional 2014?
The answers turned out to be no, no and no, and The Head Ball Coach knew it. If he got out now, he could give an assistant the chance to establish himself as a head coach with a victory against Vanderbilt and potentially light a spark to salvage the season.
If Spurrier went down with the ship, he’d likely leave with a 4-8 record and his assistants would have difficulty finding high-profile work and the program’s recruiting class would suffer.
Personally, he’d have to endure embarrassing losses to Florida, Tennessee and Clemson. So the time was right to depart.
But even if you are one of the many who believe Spurrier is the greatest football coach South Carolina ever had, the departure is bittersweet. Yes, the Gamecocks won 33 games in three years under his guidance from 2011-13, but they never won the Southeastern Conference.
Now, with the program seemingly in its worst state since the 0-11 rebuilding season of Lou Holtz in 1999, there is a feeling the Gamecocks never will.
It shouldn’t be that way. There is a school of thought the South Carolina football program is a diamond in the rough itself that should enjoy greater prosperity than the team has historically, and Spurrier allowed Gamecocks fans to attend this school.
This school points to archrival Clemson, and asks if it can win a national championship, why can’t the University of South Carolina?
This school looks to the facilities, conference and support the program enjoys. This school points to the fact South Carolina is one of the most prolific states in the country for producing NFL players. South Carolina's 47 players on NFL rosters as of Kickoff Weekend ranked 12 overall and ahead of fellow SEC footprints Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky, according to information released by USA Football and the NFL.
In fact, South Carolina ranked ahead of non-SEC states known for producing football talent like Michigan, Oklahoma and even New York despite the fact the Empire State has nearly four times the population of the Palmetto State (19.7 million to 4.8).
Just two years ago the Gamecocks were a miracle catch by the Volunteers' Marquez North away from playing for the SEC title and a chance for a national championship. A season ago many pundits believed even after losing Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw they could contend for such riches again.
But somehow the talent wasn’t there, especially on defense. Maybe rivals were able to sway recruits away from South Carolina because of Spurrier’s age. Maybe Clowney and Shaw just were that good and paired together could lead any program to once-in-a-lifetime riches. Maybe the fact The Head Ball Coach never produced an outstanding NFL quarterback meant after Dylan Thompson, quality signal-callers stayed away. Maybe the fact running back Brandon Wild didn’t play last week against LSU despite medical clearance showed a lack of contemporary motivation. Maybe the heavy-handed way Spurrier could treat reporters finally caught up with him. Maybe the program suffered from the nepotism of Spurrier hiring his sons to hold the titles of recruiting coordinator, co-offensive coordinator, and quality control.
Even the interim coaching search is unsatisfying. At first The State reported quarterbacks coach G.A. Magnus, who had been with Spurrier since playing quarterback for him at Florida, would likely succeed Spurrier. Instead it was offensive line coach Shawn Elliott who was named the interim head coach.
Wouldn’t the one weapon South Carolina has, receiver Pharoh Cooper, best be served by having a quarterbacks coach call plays than a line boss? What about Magnus’ experience as a head coach, something Elliott does not have? Granted such experience came at tiny Delaware Valley, but doesn’t the fact Magnus went 33-4 at the Division III school after inheriting a 2-8 program under his guidance sound intriguing, especially when the alternative is a former assistant from the College of Sparky Woods?
Hopefully athletic director Ray Tanner and president Harris Pastides will be more creative when choosing a permanent successor. If the interim coach doesn’t produce a Steve Taneyhill-esque turnaround and earn the job, it is important to remember South Carolina’s last two hires were already coaching legends with national championships under their belt. They were clearly the best available candidates that could come to Columbia.
Why can’t that happen again? The one great thing about the Spurrier resignation is that in South Carolina’s never-ending hope to take the abbreviation “USC” from the University of Southern California, it did push Steve Sarkisian’s firing to the second page. There’s no reason the Gamecocks can’t hire the most glamorous coaching candidate available again.
It might even be expected.
Such a coach must have a personality. Spurrier, like Holtz before him, won in large part because of his charm, something predecessors Woods and Brad Scott most certainly did not have. Coach Dull isn’t going to win a recruiting battle with Dabo Swinney, but Coach Personality will make Nick Saban and Butch Jones look like the bullies they are in comparison.
Yes, even today, there is a school of thought South Carolina can win the SEC. But that school’s campus is not located in a backroom in Aiken.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.