Smelley to transfer, play baseball

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's Steve Spurrier lost a quarterback and gained a quarterbacks coach.

The school said Friday that sometimes starter Chris Smelley was transferring out of the program to play baseball. Smelley, from Tuscaloosa, Ala., was a standout catcher in high school.

"It's been a difficult decision, something I've been thinking and praying about for awhile," Smelley said in a statement. "I'm leaving South Carolina with a lot of memories and great relationships that will last a lifetime."

South Carolina also announced the hiring of G.A. Mangus, a former walk-on QB at Florida when Spurrier first arrived, to take over as quarterbacks coach. Mangus, who replaces David Reaves, has spent the past three seasons as offensive coordinator and QB coach at Middle Tennessee State.

Mangus will have one fewer passer to tutor in Smelley, a third-year sophomore who played in 21 games at South Carolina with inconsistent results.

Smelley won his four starts during the early part of 2007 as South Carolina opened 6-1. However, he threw two interceptions against Vanderbilt and the sixth-ranked Gamecocks lost 17-6, a defeat that began a five-game season-ending losing streak. Smelley started the week after the Vanderbilt loss at Tennessee, but was pulled early in favor of senior Blake Mitchell and did not play again that season.

Smelley opened this fall as a backup, yet helped the Gamecocks to a 34-0 win over North Carolina State in relief of starter Tommy Beecher.

With Smelley starting the next game, though, South Carolina again fell to Vanderbilt.

Smelley showed poise and command in some games, like when he was named Southeastern Conference offensive player of the week for throwing a career-high 327 yards and three TDs in a win at Ole Miss.

Then in the season-closer against Clemson, he looked lost in Spurrier's offense, throwing four interceptions in the Tigers' 31-10 victory.

Spurrier tried everything to spark Smelley. Bringing him on in relief, sitting him down when necessary, even alternating he and freshman Stephen Garcia under center for nearly every down in a November win over Arkansas.

Smelley was 9-6 as a starter, including 5-4 this season. He completed 169 of 302 passes last fall for 1,922 yards, 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Spurrier thanked Smelley for his dedication to the team.

"He has helped us win a lot of games over the past two years," Spurrier said. "We understand his desire to give baseball a try and wish Chris much success in the future."

Smelley said he was unsure on his next school. Reports in his home state had Alabama's Crimson Tide in play for Smelley. After all, Smelley's younger brother Brad was a freshman tight end for the Tide this past season.

Smelley would have to sit out a season as a Division I transfer. He could pursue his baseball career immediately.

He helped American Christian High to state championships in 2004 and 2005.

Smelley, 22, said he spoke with Gamecocks baseball coach Ray Tanner about playing for that team. It did not work out, Smelley said. "Under different circumstances, I would have loved to have had the chance to play for him," Smelley said. "But I decided it was best for me to have a change of scenery and move on elsewhere."

Smelley's departure means two of South Carolina's top three quarterbacks at the start of the season won't be around for spring practice.

Beecher began the season as Spurrier's starter, but played only briefly against Alabama-Birmingham after his four-interception game against North Carolina State.

That leaves Garcia, a sophomore next season, as the team's only returning QB with experience. Garcia didn't fare well in his last outing, throwing three interceptions in a 31-10 loss to Iowa before getting relieved by Smelley.