Rejuvenated Spurrier: Just getting started

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier rolled in from a morning round of golf last week lamenting how poorly he was playing.

“Too many bad shots and not enough good shots,” Spurrier exclaimed, wearing that all-too-familiar grimace.

Now, anybody who truly knows Spurrier knows that he’s pretty hard on himself when it comes to his golf.

He’s the same way with his football team. But with South Carolina diving into its second week of spring practice on Tuesday, Spurrier can’t find a whole lot he doesn’t like about this team right now.

“We’ve got some really good players, some star players, and we’ve got a lot of players with really good attitudes,” said Spurrier, who led the Gamecocks to their first appearance in the SEC championship game last season.

“When your best players are also your hardest workers, and I’m talking about guys like Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, you’ve got a chance to have a really good football team. We have good leaders here. We don’t seem to have guys with their own selfish agendas that we’ve maybe had in the past.”

Don’t think for a minute that Spurrier is getting ahead of himself. He knows precisely what an SEC championship team looks like. After all, he coached six of them at Florida.

So he’s not necessarily predicting that South Carolina is poised to take that next step in 2011 or even that the Gamecocks will make a return trip to Atlanta.

But what is clear is that the Head Ball Coach, who will turn 66 next month and is winding down a Hall of Fame career, sees a lot more football in his immediate future than he does golf.

Hey, Spurrier always will have his clubs within an arm’s reach of his desk in his Williams-Brice Stadium office, but getting back on that big stage in Atlanta last season and reeling in the caliber of players the Gamecocks have the past couple of years has rejuvenated him.

And keep in mind that this is the same guy, at least in body, who admittedly was thinking his time on the sideline might be up after South Carolina’s embarrassing 31-10 loss to Iowa three years ago in the Outback Bowl.

“A lot of things go through your mind after a game like that,” Spurrier said.

A few months after that loss, though, the Gamecocks ignited a run on the recruiting trail that has brought them five of the highest-rated players in the state.

It started with cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Jeffery in that 2009 class. The Gamecocks had to beat the likes of Alabama and Southern California to get both players. Then it was Lattimore in the 2010 class, and he had everybody in the country knocking at his door.

In this most recent class, the Gamecocks scooped up coveted offensive tackle Brandon Shell, who was a nationally rated recruit, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the country’s No. 1 overall prospect.

“When I travel around the country, people say, 'How much longer are you going to do this?'" Spurrier said. “I say, 'I really believe our program is just now getting started.' With Lattimore, we went from seven wins up to nine, and it could have easily been 10. When Jadeveon comes in here, maybe nine will go from 11 or more.

“If we can get our quarterback situation straightened out and find somebody everybody can rally around, we have a chance.”

The quarterback situation, as Spurrier refers to it, has been the fly in the ointment since he arrived in Columbia.

“We just haven’t had the quarterback here that I think we can have,” Spurrier said. “We’ve made some mistakes in recruiting, and I have to do a better job of coaching them.”

That said, Spurrier is excited about sophomore Connor Shaw’s start to spring practice and is also eager to see how senior Stephen Garcia responds to his suspension last week. Garcia had a big season numberswise a year ago, but Spurrier is hardly sold on Garcia's being the Gamecocks’ starter again in 2011.

That decision will be decided on the practice field this spring and likely will carry over into preseason practice in August.

“We just have to find a quarterback everybody can rally around,” Spurrier said.

After toying with delegating play-calling responsibilities for parts of the past three seasons, Spurrier says it’s time that he takes the whole thing back over this coming season.

Just who’s been calling the plays has been a hot-button topic among South Carolina fans the past few seasons. Spurrier said that he’s been more involved than a lot of people think, but that it’s also been more by committee.

“I called most of them last year, and [quarterbacks coach] G.A. Mangus would take over some,” Spurrier said. “But I feel like I’m going to do it this year. I feel like I can still do it and feel like I can do it better than anybody, and that’s what I should do.

“I’ve tried to let other guys call plays, but it doesn’t work. We don’t go anywhere. We struggle, and I sit over there saying, ‘What the heck I am doing over here? I’m not contributing to anything.’

"Any coach that got to be a head coach by calling plays, I don’t know how they are able to not do it. But a lot of them give up play calling when they become a head coach, and really, there’s not a lot to do over there on the sideline but say, ‘Go for it or punt.’

“Very few head coaches are calling plays anymore. [Bobby] Petrino and I are about the only two. I just sort of thought that maybe I’d delegate that out and away we’d go, but it didn’t work very well.”

South Carolina fans also can expect to see more of the vintage Spurrier passing offense that he ran at Florida mixed in with the zone-read package that was so successful with Lattimore running the ball last season.

Spurrier would like to get to where it’s about a 50-50 mix, making it difficult for defenses to know what’s coming.

“I think we’ll be about half of the zone-read stuff and about half of the I-formation stuff that I grew up learning how to coach with the quarterback making some audibles here and there,” Spurrier said. “We didn’t audible much at all last year.

“We’re going to do both next year.”

Something else the Gamecocks are going to do this coming season, at least according to some of those star players who helped rejuvenate Spurrier, is finally finish a season.

Even with the historic trip to the SEC championship game last season, the Gamecocks wound up losing their last two games and lost for the third straight year in their bowl game.

“We got a taste of it and aren’t going to settle for anything less,” said Lattimore, who earned national freshman of the year honors. “This team knows exactly what it wants, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get it.”

Jeffery added: “We’re on a mission, and it’s not just getting to Atlanta.”

Spurrier is a little less specific about what 2011 might bring for the Gamecocks, but his goal of bringing South Carolina its first SEC championship certainly hasn’t changed. If anything, that fire burns brighter than it ever has.

“I’d like to win an SEC championship here,” Spurrier said. “I feel like I’ve got three or four more years left ... easy. I’ve got a good coaching staff, good players and super leaders. It’s not like I’m burned out or stressed out.

“Plus, with the way I’m playing golf lately, it’s a good thing I don’t have to play golf every day.”