Whenever people see a couple that doesn’t seem to go together, they never think the relationship is going to last. When a beautiful and successful girl is dating an out of shape, ugly guy, no one thinks they will be together for the long term. In fact, usually guys will continue to court the girl on the assumption that the demise of the relationship is imminent. In the case of South Carolina, the Gamecocks are the out of shape guy, and Steve Spurrier is the girl who is way out of their league.
This has been the feeling of many people from the start. First there was the lack of belief that Spurrier was going to go to South Carolina. Then there was the assumption that he would only be there for awhile before he would dump USC to move on to Alabama or Miami or where ever.
But 12 years later, he hasn’t left yet. That hasn’t changed the minds of those who still don’t see Spurrier as a Gamecock. Instead of assuming that Spurrier is going to leave for a prettier, better school to coach, now the assumption is that Spurrier will retire. He is still out of South Carolina’s league, and he will be leaving any year now. Any year now.
For more than a decade those calling for the imminent break up have been proven wrong offseason after offseason, and they had little to base their argument on other than “come on, look at him; look at her.” There was no real substance until December of last year. After finishing the regular season 6-6 and blowing double digit fourth quarter leads in three of the losses, Spurrier made his famous two or three years comment.
“Give me two or three more,” he said. “I used to say, ‘four or five’, now I’m down to two or three.” If the significance of the comment didn’t immediately resonate with the head ball coach, it did with any coach who was recruiting against South Carolina. The old four or five more years mantra, which he has been saying for about eight or nine seasons, has the benefit of being long enough for a college football player’s career. Two or three seasons means telling recruits to come play for you for a short period and then someone else.
After the comment recruiting took a nosedive. Players began to de-commit and uncommitted recruits cooled on the program. There was no putting the genie back in the bottle. It had been said, and it was probably true. As the offseason progressed there wasn’t much said in the way of explaining it away, and it was unclear how interested the Head Ball Coach was in explaining it.
Steve Spurrier has always been known for being honest and up front with his thoughts. Shortly after he came to USC he was asked about the confederate flag and unambiguously stated he thought it should come down. That was a very unpopular opinion with a fair amount of South Carolinians, but it was what Spurrier thought, so it’s what he said. One year when the offense wasn’t playing well in the second quarter against Georgia, Spurrier described it as “poop[ing] around out there”. His post loss press conferences can be entertainment gold because of his brutal honesty, and his digs at rival coaches and schools make headlines with every quip.
When the infamous two to three year comment was made it would have been better for recruiting for Spurrier to lie, but he doesn’t lie. It would have been better for him to avoid the question, but he rarely does that either. After it was said it was hard to work around it, and there didn’t seem to be much of an effort to, until Media Days.
Obviously the Gamecock coaching staff has had to tell something to recruits, and if it’s not outright lying, what spin could they be putting on it? It appeared the answer came in Birmingham. At the beginning of his opening remarks Spurrier poked fun at the idea of being asked about retirement all the time. Talking to the assembled reporters he said, “I figured a bunch of you guys would have retired by now.”
In his official comments and in interviews with individual media outlets, Spurrier took another tact. He didn’t commit to being at South Carolina for a set period, but he pointed out that no other coach could commit to being at their school, regardless of what they might say. He pointed out that all of the coaches who were at media days last year aren’t back this year, and floated the idea of Danny Sheridan giving odds for which coaches would last four years.
In talking about himself Spurrier said “well, I forgot to get fired, and I’m not going to cheat. That’s about the [only] way you lose your job. You get fired for losing or you cheat.” It’s spin, but it’s not bad spin, and it gives a window into what is probably being told to recruits. Responding to a later question he continued with the same line of reasoning. “None of us know how long we’re going to be here. None of us know.”
And it seemed it would end there. Spurrier would take a “you never know what tomorrow brings” approach. Then last week Spurrier called an impromptu press conference to craft another narrative. He took aim at his “enemies” and the “enemies” of South Carolina.
To hear the Head Ball Coach explain it, all of the retirement talk is being trumpeted by those who want to see him fail. And, as he tells it, it’s because he is winning. He singled out a writer (presumably Mark Bradley) of the AJC who was quoted in The State saying the program was on the descent.
Perhaps Spurrier really is bothered by the incessant questioning of his career length, and perhaps he believes there are enemies of his and of South Carolina’s trying to hurt the program. Perhaps he’s right, but whether he is or not, that’s not why he made those comments, or not the only reason.
He has never been able to stop the bleeding from the two to three year comment. He tried at media days but needed more. He nearly conceded as much in the most recent press conference when he said he wasn’t satisfied with he way he handled the retirement talk.
This is the more aggressive strategy for dealing with retirement talk he needed. He just isn’t going to talk about it anymore. Whenever he gets asked about it, he will point back to the press conference and use that as the rationale not to answer. He won’t have to lie about staying forever, which he won’t do, and he won’t have to give more fodder for rivals to fill recruits ears with.
The new approaches may resonate with some recruits, and they may cause fewer questions to be asked. Those who still believe that Spurrier will always be too good for South Carolina, will continue to believe it, and they’ll continue to write about it, and they’ll continue to say that any day is about to be his last day. They may be enemies; they may not be, but they won’t be getting any more comments from Spurrier on the subject, which is just how he wants it.