Morris: Spurrier needs to change approach with Garcia

The plan: less criticism, more confidence building

April 15, 2010 

University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier works with his quarterbacks, including No. 5 Stephen Garcia, during practice Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008 at Thomas Jefferson High School in Tampa, Fla., as the Gamecocks prepare to meet Iowa in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

FILE PHOTO

IF THE POINT of Steve Spurrier browbeating Stephen Garcia throughout the spring was to ensure an offseason of diligent workouts by the junior quarterback, well, let's call it Mission Accomplished. Garcia is likely to be the hardest worker on the USC team this summer.

Now, if Spurrier's goal is to inspire Garcia to lead South Carolina to an SEC East championship in 2010, maybe it is time for Mission Confidence Builder. More than anything, for USC to be a championship football team, Garcia needs to play with confidence.

Frankly, Spurrier's continued public derision of Garcia has grown tiresome. For the good of their relationship, the team's fortunes and the unity of the USC fan base, it is time for a new motivational tactic from Spurrier.

Understand, there usually is a lot more method than madness to Spurrier's modus operandi. No one ever has doubted Spurrier's ability to teach the fundamentals of playing quarterback. Few have questioned the way he plays quarterbacks against each other in an effort to get the most out of the No. 1 guy.

So to second-guess the methods of one of college football's all-time greatest coaches is treading dangerous waters. Spurrier's coaching stripes include an ACC championship at Duke, seven SEC titles at Florida and a national crown with the Gators.

His methods have been wildly successful. Yet he feuded - sometimes publicly - with just about every quarterback he has coached in his two decades at the college level. More often than not, the quarterback emerged as a star under Spurrier's tutelage.

Unfortunately, the motivational ploys used by Spurrier for four years have fallen on Garcia's deaf ears. It was clear at Saturday's spring game that Garcia's progress in becoming the quarterback Spurrier desires has been stunted.

Spurrier said Garcia still has mechanical issues with his throwing motion. At times, the quarterback throws a better sinker than any of Ray Tanner's pitchers. That can be corrected, as can his decision-making with dedicated film study.

What was more disturbing while watching Garcia was his lack of confidence. Backup freshman quarterback Connor Shaw looked more comfortable under center on Saturday than Garcia.

Why would Garcia be so lacking in self-assurance despite heading into his fourth season of college football? My guess is that it has something to do with constantly being told publicly by his coach that he has few redeeming values as a quarterback.

Yet Spurrier is not backing down. When asked how much of a role confidence plays in being a successful quarterback, Spurrier responded:

"Confidence comes from executing your assignment, comes from knowing your assignments. Confidence comes from doing it over and over again in practice. Confidence comes from being fundamentally sound and having success. Success breeds confidence.

"That's not his problem, confidence. He just needs to improve in every area of playing quarterback. I don't think confidence is his problem right now."

That kind of talk hardly signals a healthy relationship between the quarterback and the coach. Nor was it a good sign when Garcia said following Saturday's game that he was "hurt" by Spurrier's recent comments about him.

One has to believe mutual respect is needed between the quarterback and the coach for a team to perform at a championship level. Not for a minute is anyone suggesting the kind of lovefest that existed between Florida's Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer, but Garcia and Spurrier should at least be able to communicate on the sideline.

Give Spurrier credit for bringing in quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus a year ago to work with Garcia. During games - and maybe in practices as well - Mangus played the role of "good cop" to Spurrier's "bad cop" when dealing with Garcia. It seemed to work.

Then an embarrassing performance by Garcia and USC in the Papajohns.com Bowl loss to Connecticut shook Spurrier. He has said often he might never rid himself of the bad taste left from being humiliated in that game.

Spurrier appears to be taking out some of his frustration on Garcia. Yet, Spurrier recognizes he enters next season with Garcia as his best - and maybe only - option at quarterback. Shaw might someday develop into an outstanding quarterback, but he is not likely to lead USC into SEC play as a freshman.

The reality also is that Garcia showed flashes a season ago of being a top-level SEC quarterback when he passed for 2,862 yards and 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. With new blocking schemes installed by first-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, a better commitment to the running game and perhaps a few more read-option plays geared toward utilizing Garcia's scrambling ability, a lot of pressure on the quarterback could be relieved.

There is a chance Garcia could emerge as one of the SEC's best quarterbacks.

"Chance? Yeah, possibly. Possibly, he has a chance," Spurrier said. "But I can assure you, we're not going to sit around here all summer and praise Stephen.

"Obviously, the UConn game was the last game he played, and it wasn't very good. I wasn't very good. As coaches, we're as good as our players, and the last game Stephen and I weren't very good. Nobody's praising me, and nobody needs to praise Stephen."

At this point, it sure seems like the latter could not hurt.

Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)

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