The Gamecocks just got dumped. Jilted. Abandoned. The Head Ball Coach, frustrated with the direction of the season, decided that he no longer wanted to be the Head Ball Coach of the University of South Carolina. In his announcement on Tuesday, Spurrier wanted everyone to know that this was not retirement, it was a resignation. In other words, it's not me, it's you.
Many Gamecock fans are understandably shocked and upset by this sudden break-up. Why, just this summer the HBC was talking about sticking around for another five years. That's the same as a promise ring, right? The timing couldn't be worse for the unfortunate residents of a state still drying out from a 1,000-year flood. But Steve Spurrier has never been the guy to stick around when things aren't working.
The Duke Blue Devils were not always the 25th-ranked ACC powerhouse that they are today. Once upon a time, they struggled to throw the ball. In 1987, they met a young coach Spurrier on the rebound from the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. Things did not start well at Duke. Spurrier had a losing record in his first year. He wouldn't have another losing year as a college coach until 2015. By 1989, Duke was a co-champion of the ACC, and Spurrier had won back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year awards. But it wasn't enough. Rock stars don't date sixes. He used a clause in his contract to move up and out of the ACC.
Spurrier returned home to the University of Florida in 1990 and quickly turned a seven into a 10. A school that had never won an SEC title, claimed an unofficial title in his first season, and then won five of the next six official SEC titles and a National Championship. Spurrier never won fewer than nine games in a season while at Florida and never finished lower than 13th in the AP Poll. But, he stunned Gator Nation in 2002, only days after an Orange Bowl victory over Maryland, when he suddenly announced his retirement. With typical directness, Spurrier let it be known in his statement that he wanted to coach in the NFL. Florida had grown too small. Twelve years was enough. It wasn't him, it was you.
The NFL was not kind to the HBC. The Washington Redskins treated him poorly and damaged his self esteem. The man with one losing season on his resume went 7-9 in his first season in the pros and finished third in the NFC East. His second season was even worse. His team could only manage five wins and the Redskins finished third in the division once more. The regular season ended on Dec. 28, 2003 and two days later Spurrier unexpectedly announced his resignation. He quit the NFL and walked away from the three years and $15 million remaining on his contract.
"I simply believe this is the right time for me to move on because this team needs new leadership," he said during his announcement. And then he was gone.
When South Carolina came knocking on Spurrier's door in 2004, they were already in a relationship with Lou Holtz. A former Notre Dame head coach, Holtz had given the program respect. After a winless 1999, they were a bowl team in 2000 and 2001. Still, things were not going well. The team was a combined 10-14 between 2002-2003. South Carolina loved Lou but was no longer "in love" with Lou. The breakup was amicable. Holtz announced his retirement at the end of the season, and Steve Spurrier was announced as the Gamecocks Head Ball Coach the very next day.
If Duke was a four when Spurrier arrived, than South Carolina was a five that had let itself go. The HBC immediately returned South Carolina to bowl eligibility in 2005, and the Gamecocks have played in the post-season for nine of his 10 seasons at South Carolina. Spurrier introduced the Gamecocks to a culture of winning which gave the team consistent national exposure. Williams-Brice experienced a "Sandstorm," and South Carolina was suddenly competing for SEC championships and sending players into the first round of the NFL draft. Like a plastic surgeon, Spurrier transformed the five into a nine.
That the Head Ball Coach would quit in the middle of his first losing season at South Carolina should not surprise anyone. He always dumps his team abruptly. It's been his exit move everywhere he's coached. And the truth is, as much as it hurts to get dumped, maybe this is what's best for the team. Timing is everything in relationships. Top programs like Miami and Southern Cal are in the market for a new coach, right now too. South Carolina needs to act like the nine it is and start competing with these schools for the best available coach. Could we steal Charlie Strong from Texas? This year Michigan and Florida have both shown that the right coach can turn a program around in a hurry. Of course, nobody knows that better than the HBC.