Trustees dispute concerns USC coaches

Spurrier, staff say athletes should not be dragged into issue

jperson@thestate.comMarch 26, 2010 

South Carolina coaches understand why black lawmakers are concerned that the university could lose the lone black member on its board of trustees.

But Steve Spurrier wishes they would take the cause elsewhere.

A day after members of the Legislative Black Caucus threatened to contact USC recruits and urge them to spurn the Gamecocks, Spurrier said he heard recruits have been called but would not identify them.

"I think (legislators) need to take their anger somewhere besides the football program," Spurrier said Thursday. "If they want to take their cause somewhere, it doesn't need to be affecting football (or) basketball. Direct it wherever else they want to direct it. That's my opinion."

Gamecocks assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson agrees that the racial makeup of USC's board should reflect the school's student population. But he failed to see how the issue relates to football recruiting.

"It's unfortunate that teen-agers are dragged into this by adults," Johnson said.

Gamecocks safety DeVonte Holleman said current players heard recruits had been contacted but gave the issue little attention.

"As far as I know, all the recruits are still coming," Holleman said. "So we're just worrying about what's going on here."

Johnson, a Winnsboro native who has coached at Clemson and a couple of high schools in the state, said he was proud to represent USC.

"Go back and check our history against the other schools in this state and the other schools in this conference and tell (me) where you would tell (recruits) to go," Johnson said. "I think we have a good record on graduation rates. I think we have a good record in the history of making change, and I think we have a good record as far as the player relations right now."

Johnson said he was friendly with former trustee Sam Foster, who was in line to become the board's first black chairman before he resigned last fall to face federal bank fraud and tax charges.

Gov. Mark Sanford appointed Rock Hill attorney Leah Moody to complete Foster's term. But black leaders in the State House are concerned Moody will not garner enough legislative support to hold off her white opponent, Rock Hill attorney and pharmacist Alton Hyatt Jr.

The General Assembly is expected to vote on trustee positions next month. If Moody loses her seat, USC would be the only SEC school without a black board member.

"It's always ideal. It's always the best way," Johnson said of a diverse board. "But there's a process, and we're not in the process."

USC coaches have long heard about rival coaches using the Confederate flag against the Gamecocks in recruiting. Three years ago, Spurrier called for the removal of the flag from the State House grounds, saying it would make South Carolina a better place to live.

Until it comes down, secondary coach Lorenzo Ward said USC recruits would continue to hear about the flag.

"I think that's always going to be an ongoing process when you're recruiting African-American men and you send them to this city," Ward said. "(Coaches) are going to say, 'Look, you're going to go to a school that's got a Rebel flag flying.' I've never heard a coach use it, but I'm sure they do."

"Regardless of whether that flag flies or not, it doesn't decide what kind of person you are," added Ward. "You decide that."

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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