If this is the end, only Garcia is to blame

It’s never a good thing when you have to go back and count up how many times your fifth-year senior quarterback has been suspended.

Yep, the same guy who’s third all-time on South Carolina’s career passing charts.

Something tells me Stephen Garcia won’t get a chance to pass Steve Taneyhill into second place.

Garcia has run out of chances, and in the long run, it’s probably best for everybody that the Gamecocks go their way and Garcia go his way.

Garcia is a likeable guy, a tough guy and certainly a guy who keeps it interesting.

He’s not a guy who personifies leadership, and if your quarterback isn’t a leader, you’ve got some major issues -- especially if you’re serious about winning an SEC championship.

In a cruel way, it’s probably fitting that the final straw for Garcia is going to end up being a leadership seminar in which he showed his rear end one too many times.

According to several sources, Garcia showed up at Tuesday night’s SEC-mandated event acting boisterously, smelled of alcohol and later admitted to South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier that he’d had a few drinks prior to the event. His “excuse” was that he was celebrating teammate Kyle Nunn’s birthday.

Keep in mind that alcohol was also reportedly involved in December in the hotel room incident the week of the bowl game that led to Garcia’s suspension the first week of spring practice.

After serving his suspension, Garcia assured reporters earlier this spring that he wouldn’t find any more trouble off the field. He even guaranteed it.

As South Carolina prepares for Saturday’s spring game, the only real guarantee appears to be that Garcia has played his last football for the Gamecocks.

Spurrier made it clear that Garcia’s suspension was a university decision and that he, athletic director Eric Hyman and university president Harris Pastides were all involved.

Although you never say never, it sounds like the three are also in agreement that Garcia has embarrassed the university one too many times.

Spurrier wouldn’t even respond when asked Wednesday night after practice if he wanted Garcia back.

But having had multiple conversations with Spurrier concerning Garcia the past two years, I can say without any reservation that the Head Ball Coach was over Garcia a long time ago.

It was never that Spurrier disliked Garcia personally or didn’t think he was tough enough or talented enough.

Rather, it was Garcia’s lack of a sense of urgency about anything, his laissez-faire attitude about the finer points of being a quarterback and a general unwillingness to play the position the way Spurrier wants it played.

Down deep, I don’t think Spurrier ever felt like he could win an SEC championship with Garcia at the helm.

Spurrier wasn’t sure he could with then-true freshman Connor Shaw, either, last season.

But in Shaw, Spurrier saw somebody who was at least willing to do it the way the Head Ball Coach wanted it done, and just as importantly, was willing to work however many hours it took to get it right.

Is Shaw the one to finally take the Gamecocks to the promised land?

It’s hard to say at this point. He does a nice job of running the Gamecocks’ zone read offense, is plenty tough enough and is getting better at throwing the ball on time.

But, yes, he has limitations as a pocket passer and has struggled at times this spring.

After visiting with Spurrier last month, I had the feeling then that he was setting it up for Shaw to win the job. And Shaw was definitely going to have to win it. Spurrier wasn’t just going to hand it over to him.

Now, with Garcia halfway to 10 career suspensions and apparently hell-bent on being remembered more for what he did off the field than what he did on the field, it’s looking more and more like it’s going to be Shaw’s show in 2011.

Garcia violated that zero tolerance policy that had been handed down for him a long time ago.

While relieved to a certain degree, I wouldn’t say the Head Ball Coach is necessarily happy. After all, the Gamecocks aren’t exactly brimming with proven quarterbacks who’ve won in the SEC. For all of his misgivings, Garcia did quarterback South Carolina to the SEC championship game last year.

It’s only fair, too, to point out that Spurrier isn’t the easiest coach in the world to play quarterback for.

But as Spurrier vented to me more than once over the past couple of years, Garcia isn’t the easiest quarterback to coach, either.

Maybe it was a marriage that was doomed from the start. And if it’s indeed over, it will certainly go down as one of the most dysfunctional marriages in SEC history.