Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- He might not be winning like he once was, and the spread offense has replaced his Fun 'N Gun offense as the rage in college football.
But Steve Spurrier is still the Head Ball Coach.
He's still one of the best offensive minds in the game. He's still committed to bringing an SEC championship to South Carolina, and he's still as entertaining as ever.
Here's my Q&A with Spurrier from last week. And by the way, he was sporting a new pair of tan slacks with Gamecocks embroidered all over them.
With your opener against North Carolina State now a week away, do you have a better feel for where you are right now?
Steve Spurrier: We're still a little bit of an unknown team. Our quarterbacks haven't played much at all. Stephen Garcia played in four or five games last year. We thought he was ready to play in the Outback Bowl, but he certainly wasn't. He's hopefully learned a lot in the preseason and will be ready to play at a high level. Other than that, I think our defense is going to be solid again. I think we'll be able to run the ball better than we have recently. We were at the bottom of the league last year. It really comes down, I think, if we can get good, solid quarterback play and run the ball much better. If we do, we'll have a chance to have a solid season.
Has Garcia given you reason to believe this preseason that he's ready to take off and be an upper-tier quarterback in this league?
SS: He does a lot of good things here and there and then sometimes you've got to remind him, 'You've got to think your way all the way through the play.' But he's trying to do better.
What has the addition of first-year offensive line coach Eric Wolford meant to the program, particularly with regard to his role as running game coordinator?
SS: Well, time will tell, but certainly we've run the ball much better in our scrimmages than we have in the past. We're running some of the spread stuff and our quarterbacks are able to run a little bit. So we're a little bit different than we have been in the past and running the ball some out of the shotgun.
That's all new ground for you, isn't it?
SS: Yeah, we've never really had great running quarterbacks. We've had decent guys who could run a little bit. But if you're going to run that spread offense, your quarterback's got to carry it six to eight times a game.
South Carolina has only won more than eight games twice in school history. You won six SEC championships at Florida. Have you had to change your perspective as to what qualifies as a successful season?
SS: We knew the history here. It's in the record books. South Carolina has had one 10-win season and one nine-win season. We're playing an extra game now, so we have the opportunity to win more. We're playing Florida and Clemson and hopefully a bowl game at the end, so we generally play some good teams at the end. We haven't finished seasons strongly. We just haven't, and our attitude around here is still not where it needs to be. Our guys were very good in the summer commitment-wise, but we haven't gone through a season yet of guys doing the right thing over and over again.
Has this job been harder than you thought it was going to be when you took it?
SS: No, not really. We've made some mistakes in recruiting. We've only got seven (scholarship) seniors on the team. We were able to put nine walk-ons on scholarship this year. We look back and see where we maybe should have gone after this guy instead of that guy. You'd think we'd have a quarterback ready to go every year, but for some reason it hasn't worked out.
How do you explain your struggles at quarterback here?
SS: It's a combination of things ... maybe the line not being all that good and just not having the right guy in there. I'm not going to blame the players. I blame me and us coaches and the people around him a little bit. But we've not had a guy take charge in there yet. Stephen Garcia is going to have a chance to do that this year.
But how is it that somebody with your expertise at the quarterback position simply can't get the right guy in there?
SS: Maybe we've gone after the wrong guys a little bit. Sometimes the high-profile quarterbacks want to go to the big schools. And then if it doesn't work out there, they transfer around. We haven't really gone after the transfer guys. Now, Stephen Garcia was a highly recruited guy who could have gone about anywhere, and then he got here and was very immature and did some dumb things. He's really just now is learning how to play the game. He'll have the opportunity to show how much he's improved this year. We need him to improve a bunch.
You could have had a lot of jobs when you decided to return to college football. One of the main reasons you picked South Carolina was because the Gamecocks hadn't won much. Do you think back now and wish you would have been more patient?
SS: They hadn't done it here, and that was the attraction. I was fortunate enough to be at a wonderful place like Florida that had all the advantages. We did everything there as far as a national championship and conference championships in 12 years. I always in the back of my mind wanted to coach in the NFL for five or seven years. But after two years, I knew that wasn't going to work. So a school like South Carolina was what I thought was the best challenge for me at that time, to see if we could do something big here. We still have hopes that it's going to happen. We've got a lot of good players here. We really do. We've got to get them to play better, harder and smarter. That is the most disappointing thing that has happened here, that as coaches we haven't been able to get them to play at a very high level with very few mistakes, great effort, make the play when it's there and try to win some games in the fourth quarter or overtime. But we have different players now, so we've got to believe that it still can happen.
Are you encouraged that you will be better in the offensive line this season after finishing last in the SEC in rushing a year ago and giving up 39 sacks?
SS: Well, we've got a lot of bodies out there. I wish some of them played a little bit better. They're trying as hard as they can. That's all you can ask. You see our guys jog out on the field, and it's a pretty good looking team. We've got big, strong guys. They can lift weights with the best of them. We've just got to get a little bit better effort, more discipline and fewer mental mistakes, and the quarterback's got to make plays.
Have you recruited harder here than you did at Florida?
SS: Oh yeah. FSU out-recruited us most of the time. I always said they'd get at least three out of five if we were all after the same guys. They were tough to beat when I was down there. But what Florida is doing now is much better than what we did. They pretty much nationally recruit. Urban (Meyer) and his guys have recruited a lot better than we did. Maybe we thought we had enough players in Florida, but he goes and gets Percy Harvin and guys from all over the country. They've done a super job.
You changed the league in the 1990s with your passing game. How much as the league changed now with the spread?
SS: In 1990 when I got to Florida, it was still run, play defense and win the championship because that's what Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee were doing. You still have to run the ball and play defense, but you can also throw it if you can throw it successfully, so that's what we did. We came in at Florida and started firing it all over the place. But we had super defenses. That's what people forget. The only year we won the SEC without a great defense was 2000. We were eighth in the conference in defense and won the championship, but we won so many close games with turnovers on defense.
How does it strike you that six coaches in the league make $2.5 million or more and that you're near the bottom now?
SS: The reason those guys are making so much money now is the TV money. I've never pressed our guys to pay me more. What I make is pretty darn good ($1.75 million), and that means more money for other sports here and our assistant coaches. I'm not concerned. I'm making plenty.
Do you think there's less cheating in the SEC than there was in the 1990s when you were at Florida?
SS: I think there's less cheating, but I think there's more 'I don't give a damn' about the little rules. You know, the secondary stuff. I heard a coach say, 'If I need to call a kid, I'll get my wife to call him on her phone. I didn't call him, so that's not a violation.' That's the kind of stuff we're dealing with now. I don't think anybody's buying cars or giving cash away the way they were years ago, but the secondary things are going on more than ever.