Spurrier jazzed about Gamecock changes

BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier has rarely had an offseason of change at South Carolina like this one: Several new assistants, fewer off-field problems and a rising star quarterback who has spent more time studying plays than working off a suspension.

"Right now, we all like each other," Spurrier said Thursday. "That's what you got to have, everybody's got to be on the same team."

Spurrier acknowledged it wasn't always that way his first four seasons with the Gamecocks. Things started fast in 2005 with a record-setting five-consecutive Southeastern Conference wins, including landmark victories over Tennessee and Spurrier's former school Florida. South Carolina, though, has struggled to finish off promising starts, particularly the last two seasons.

In 2007 and 2008, the Gamecocks were 11-6 in August, September and October, but 2-6 once November arrived.

Spurrier finally realized a season ago after South Carolina clunked to the end with three straight defeats that things had to change. There are five new assistants, including offensive line coach Eric Wolford who came from Illinois to replace John Hunt, long a Spurrier favorite who been with him at Florida, the Washington Redskins and the Gamecocks.

Spurrier also changed his strength and condition program, bringing in Craig Fitzgerald when Mark Smith left for a short stay at Tennessee with coach Lane Kiffin.

"As a group, we've just not got it done," Spurrier said. "Since I'm responsible for the group, we're trying a new direction."

There's no doubt in Spurrier's mind the new assistants have sparked a freshened attitude among the players, who he says have shown the best offseason commitment since he took over. That's also led to a significant drop in off-the-field issues for the Gamecocks this summer, Spurrier said.

"Well, when players do what they're expected to do, you don't have many off the field situations," the coach said.

One area where Spurrier expects that to show the strongest is with starting quarterback Stephen Garcia.

The sophomore was considered one of Spurrier's best-ever QB prospects when he arrived on campus in January 2007. However, two arrests led to a suspension before Garcia's first spring practice and he spent a fairly unproductive season as a scout-team redshirt.

Garcia figured to have a shot at the starting job last spring. Again, though, a run in with campus authorities cost him practice time and got him suspended through most of the summer.

Garcia was way behind when fall drills began and never found any consistency over eight games. He was the SEC's freshman of the week when he came off the bench to lead South Carolina to a 24-17 victory at Kentucky. However, given the start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa, Garcia threw three interceptions and looked awful in a 31-10 battering.

So Spurrier brought in former Florida passer G.A. Mangus as quarterback coach, as much to mentor Garcia as to teach him the ball coach's complex offense. So far, it's working.

Mangus says Garcia has been a willing sponge, readily soaking up as much information as possible to bring to the field this fall.

The two talk each day, Mangus said, and Garcia understands the work he'd have to put in "if he wants to be great."

Spurrier hasn't let his starting quarterback talk to reporters yet, but on Garcia's Twitter page earlier this month, he said, "Offense is going to surprise."

Spurrier, 64, says the attitude around Gamecock football has him juiced about South Carolina finally breaking through to the SEC success they've seldom experienced before.

"We're looking forward to a new era of Carolina football," he said.