With the strains of “Rocky Top” and “The Fighting Gamecocks Lead the Way,” South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier posed for pictures, shook hands and entertained members of the Bradley County Sunrise Rotary fund raiser Saturday at the Museum Center at 5ive Points.
“It’s nice to be here in Cleveland, Tennessee, home of the Bradley County Bears and home of Steve Sloan, a good friend of mine,” Spurrier members of the media gathered for a pre-dinner press conference. “I’ve known him for quite a while. In fact, he coached at Duke University and I actually followed him there in 1987. It’s sort of neat to be in his hometown.”
Spurrier said he is pleased with the way things are going at South Carolina although the Gamecocks are still chasing the elusive Southeastern Conference championship never won by the team from Columbia.
“The last four years it’s been pretty good,” said the Ol’ Ball Coach. “We’ve still never won the SEC but we sure have won a lot of games, 11-2 the last three years, winning the bowl game and beating our in-state rival. We finished in the Top 10 and we think we’ve got another good team ready to go this year. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Last year’s 23-21 loss to Tennessee may have been one of the big reasons Spurrier and company didn’t make it to the SEC title game, but the loss is not one he will relive — at least not until the Volunteers travel to Columbia Nov. 1.
“Not really,” The Ol’ Ball Coach said when asked if the game is creeping back on his radar. “Some people say, ‘Coach, if you hadn’t lost to Tennessee you guys would have been in the SEC championship. Who knows what we might could have achieved?’ I say, ‘Well, let me tell you something, we had about seven gams that could have gone the other way. Vanderbilt almost beat us at home. Kentucky almost beat us. We were very fortunate to beat Missouri in overtime — the only overtime victory in school history. But, after losing in Knoxville we regrouped and won our last six games. It was a wonderful finish. Our team won the Capital One Bowl and finished fourth in the country. We know we had a lot of good fortune last year. We’re not complaining about anything. We didn’t play our best against Georgia or against Tennessee, but both teams just beat us. Give them credit, they out played and out coached us that day.”
The win by the Volunteers over the Gamecocks ignited the Tennessee fan base and re-instilled hope that the UT program — which has seen some very uncharacteristic lean times in the last five years — is once again is on the upswing. That may be true, but it is not a concern that Spurrier said he concentrates on. The ups and downs of college football programs are a common thing that he said he has seen many times during his long, illustrious career as a football coach.
“Nothing surprises me too much. Schools go up and down, they go through some turmoil then they come back, that’s sort of the nature of it. I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to their situation, no more than Florida’s or Georgia’s or whoever we play. I’m a coach that believes you just worry about your team, your players and trying to get them to play the best we can each week and go from there.”
“I don’t have to worry about Tennessee, they (Butch Jones and company) worry about Tennessee. I just have to worry about South Carolina. But obviously Tennessee is a tradition rich university and football program, no question about that and Butch Jones is a heck of a coach. He and his staff are hard working guys and you’ve got to believe they’ll bring it back, hopefully not to soon. But you’ve got to believe they will do an excellent job there.”
Spurrier said he has gotten to know Jones and said he thinks the program is headed in the right direction, but added if it takes a while for things to get better he wouldn’t mind too much.
“I see him at the meetings and we talk a bit and so forth. I think they are headed in the right direction. Hopefully they won’t get there too soon though,” he said through a chuckle. “Hopefully it will take two or three more years, but who knows? Maybe they will be there this year.”
The one thing The Ol’ Ball Coach has been disappointed in so far this summer not been his football team, but rather his golf game.
“My golf game has not been as good this year. I shot 86 the other day, but the good point is I was low man in the group I was playing with. Sometimes you have to pick you opponents, in any sport,” said a grinning Spurrier. “So 86 has been good enough to make me a winner a couple of times. But I’m certainly not bragging about 86. Hopefully I can break 80 real soon, but I haven’t broken 80 but once this year, I think. It’s been difficult.”
As for how long he plans to coach football, Spurrier said he has no particular time in mind to hang up his whistle and will stay around as long as he feels he can put a quality product on the field. With most of his family with him in Columbia and two sons on the coaching staff, the Gamecocks’ skipper said he is very satisfied and content with his situation.
“No time line,” he said. “I think all coaches coach as long as we can, as long as we are in good health and enjoying it. I never thought I would coach this long, into my upper 60s. My two sons are coaching with us. Steve Jr. is recruiting coordinator, pass game coordinator and coaches wide receivers. My other son, Scott, is an assistant to the assistant, some people call them interns, quality control, what have you. A lot of schools have these now. So most of my family is right there in Columbia. I’ve got an excellent group of assistant coaches that can recruit, sign guys and really coach. It’s very comfortable for me coaching at South Carolina.”