No turning back for Spurrier, Gamecocks

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier knows there’s no going back, not after the most successful football season in South Carolina school history.

He’s even quoting noted American legal scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. as the Gamecocks wrap up spring practice this Saturday with their spring game.

Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.

“Now, our people know we can win 11 games, and when we don’t, they’re going to be, ‘How come we’re not winning 11, Coach?’” Spurrier said in his familiar twang and wearing that equally familiar smirk. “That’s just the way it is.”

Here’s the best news for South Carolina fans: The Head Ball Coach thinks he has a pretty good ball team again with the kind of talent and leadership that it takes to at least be in the SEC championship conversation.

And history has shown that if you’re in the SEC championship conversation, you’re also in the national championship conversation.

“The best part is all the firsts, doing things that had never been done here,” said Spurrier, who’s entering his eighth season at South Carolina. “That’s why I’m here. That’s what is so much fun. We’d never even won in Knoxville before or won at the Swamp before.

“My buddies all told me when I came here, ‘Steve, nobody’s won there. What makes you think you can? That’s really all I needed to hear.”

Spurrier, who’s just 10 wins away from becoming South Carolina’s all-time winningest coach, loves winning. What coach doesn’t? But what he thrives on are challenges.

The challenge of turning South Carolina into a contender was a monumental one and one that didn’t happen overnight.

In his first five seasons, he won more than seven games only once and lost at least five games all five seasons. The 2008 and 2009 seasons ended with ugly bowl losses to Iowa and Connecticut.

The 31-10 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl following the 2008 season was particularly troubling for Spurrier, who admits that he thought about walking away.

“I’m sitting there and wondering, ‘What am I doing here?'” Spurrier recalled.

But the Gamecocks were able to sign Stephon Gilmore for that next season, which opened the floodgates for some of the best prospects in the state to sign with South Carolina. Alshon Jeffery followed, and so did Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney.

The result was a first-ever trip to the SEC championship game in 2010 and the school’s first-ever 11-win season a year ago. Along the way, the Gamecocks were 8-0 against Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee over the past two seasons.

Spurrier, who turns 67 this month, couldn’t be happier. He’s even back to his old Head Ball Coach ways and saying whatever’s on his mind.

A few examples:

His thoughts on the Georgia-South Carolina game moving from the second week of the season to the sixth week in 2012.

“I don’t know. I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”

His thoughts on Nick Saban and what he’s done at Alabama.

“He’s got a nice little gig going, a little bit like (John) Calipari. He tells guys, ‘Hey, three years from now, you’re going to be a first-round pick and go.’ If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they’ve always won there at Alabama.”

His thoughts on who’s the best coach in the SEC.

“I think it’s Saban. He’s considered the best. Les Miles is considered one of the best, when you look at number of wins. I believe you’re as good as your record. You are whatever your record is. Don’t give me any excuses or that you can’t win at this place.”

His thoughts on Lorenzo Ward taking over as the Gamecocks’ defensive coordinator.

“I hope we’ll be a little sounder than we have been. Obviously, Ellis (Johnson) did a heck of a job here. But at times, we’d have some coverage breakdowns. I don’t know if we were doing too much or this guy was making mistakes. We got a lot better during the course of the year after we simplified some things.”

His thoughts on Will Muschamp’s challenge at Florida.

“I told Will that he had one of the hardest jobs in America because of what’s happened down there prior to him coming. I don’t know that they have that much greater a team than most others in the SEC now. They’re pretty good. But it’s a tough job because of what Urban (Meyer) has done and prior history. Those fans are expecting 10 to 12 wins every year. Our fans are going to expect nine to 11, which is fair, and that’s good. I hope our players expect it, too.”

His thoughts on when he might retire.

“I used to think 60. When I was 55, I’d say four or five more years. When I got to 60, I’d say four or five more. And when I got to 65, I started saying three or four more. I’ll tell you what. We had a good-looking quarterback come through on Junior Day, and I wrote him a letter and said, ‘If you come here, you might extend my coaching career two or three years.’ ”

His thoughts on going out on his terms.

“Let me ask you this: How many coaches do you know that have retired in the last 10 or 15 years, and I’m talking honestly retiring, guys who had a good job, were winning and stepped aside on their own? There aren’t many. They all got fired. Who would have ever thought that Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno would have to get forced out? When I leave, they’re not going to pay me $4 million because I had another five years on the deal and got fired. I ain’t going to be one of those guys. I just have too much pride. That’s not going to happen.”