The four days from Nov. 20-23, 2004, reshaped South Carolina football. The Gamecocks sent off one legendary coach with great regret but replaced him with a coach who became the biggest winner in program history. Between, they answered questions about themselves at one of their lowest points and began recognizing the challenge of how to achieve what they had always dreamed.
The aftermath from the week in 2004 that changed USC football:
MIKE MCGEE: Announced his retirement on Jan. 18, 2005, and served until June 30, 2005. He lives on a Colorado horse ranch and dotes on his 17 grandchildren. McGee was a Harris Poll voter in the BCS system and still follows USC football, watching when the Gamecocks are on TV.
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McGee’s 12-year tenure was notable for his coaching hires – McGee hired Holtz, then Spurrier as his last gift to the university. McGee also hired track coach Curtis Frye, who won the school’s first national championship; all-time winningest volleyball coach Kim Hudson; basketball coach Eddie Fogler, the reigning National Coach of the Year, after Bobby Cremins had been hired and abruptly resigned three days later; equestrian coach Boo Major, who won two national championships; and baseball coach Ray Tanner, who won two national championships.
“There’s been very few of the Carolina games that I’ve missed,” McGee said. “I talk to coach Spurrier once in a while and I talk to the new athletic director. They’re doing a good job.”
ERIC HYMAN: He took McGee’s foundation and built a mansion. Hyman took over as athletics director in 2005 and ushered in the greatest era of athletic success that USC has ever known, winning conference and national titles while transforming facilities into some of the best in the country. Hyman hired coaches Bill McDonald, Kalen Harris, McGee Moody, Beverly Smith, Dawn Staley and Frank Martin. He departed in July 2012 for the AD spot at Texas A&M and was replaced by Tanner.
STEVE SPURRIER: He became USC’s winningest coach during the last game of the 2012 regular season. He notched the three best seasons in program history (11-2 in 2011, 2012 and 2013), won USC’s only SEC division title (2010 East) and had the Gamecocks as a staple in the AP Top 25 and the bowl picture. Spurrier did what Lou Holtz never could – survive the “Orange Crush.” Against Tennessee, Florida and Clemson, Holtz was 1-17. Spurrier is 16-13, with this year’s game against Clemson on Saturday. Spurrier has beaten Clemson more times (six) than any coach in USC history other than Rex Enright (eight), and is on the longest winning streak against the Tigers in program history (five). He is in his 10th season.
LOU HOLTZ: He has been an analyst for ESPN since retiring at USC. He lives in Orlando, Fla.
THE USC-CLEMSON FIGHT: It left an indelible image on the rivalry. The teams had a pre-game handshake in 2005 and each game since has finished without incident. The fight had repercussions, though.
USC’s Daccus Turman, Jermaine Sims, Freddy Saint-Preux, Woodly Telfort, Moe Thompson and Charles Silas were suspended for the 2005 season-opener because of their roles in the brawl. The SEC also announced that Matthew Thomas, Taqiy Muhammad and Jamacia Jackson would have been suspended if they had any remaining eligibility. Telfort and Thompson were dismissed from the team before the 2005 season.
Clemson’s Duane Coleman, Nathan Bennett, Brandon Cannon, Roman Fry, Maurice Nelson and Anthony Waters were suspended for the 2005 season-opener for their roles in the brawl. Cory Groover, Tommy Sharpe, Nick Watkins, Bobby Williamson and Yusef Kelly were given letters of reprimand from the ACC.
USC’S LOCKER ROOM THEFT: It was resolved in 2005. Telfort, Syvelle Newton, Dondrial Pinkins, Saint-Preux, Rod Wilson and Brian Brownlee were charged with various offenses but avoided any serious penalties. Newton and Saint-Preux, two of the only three with remaining eligibility, finished their careers at USC. Telfort was dismissed from the team.
ANDREW SORENSEN: He left USC in 2008 and was replaced by current president Harris Pastides. He became a chief fundraiser at Ohio State. Sorensen died on April 17, 2011, of an apparent heart attack. He was 72.
JOHN STRICKLAND: The USC center graduated in 2004 with a degree in retail. He is an oil sales manager for Vertex Energy and lives in Columbia. He loves the bridging to the past that Spurrier has endorsed.
“I had a tryout with Washington and got cut, and when I came back and met him, he said, ‘You were with the Redskins about as long as I was,’” Strickland said. “He’s a player’s coach. I knew he would get this program turned around. Lou kind of made the South Carolina job a Top-25 job, but Spurrier made it a Top-10 job.”
JONATHAN ALSTON: The former offensive lineman graduated from USC in 2004 with a degree in sociology. He works in waste management and construction in Raleigh, N.C. He sees a businesslike-yet-fun attitude in the current Gamecocks.
“Not to say we weren’t together, but it’s more of a business-type scenario as opposed to this-is-my-brother, kind of like a fraternity,” he said.
“When Spurrier came, and to see the success that they were having, and the facilities and everything that’s available to the guys now, you feel like, ‘Man, I’m so happy for my younger brothers.’ We started them down that road.”
JABARI LEVEY: The former offensive lineman lives in Charleston and is finishing his USC degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism. He is also taking courses to be certified as a high-school coach.
Levey was set to go pro after the 2004 season but Spurrier asked to meet with him, Troy Williamson and Thompson.
“He asked Moe and me to come back and be the leaders on the team. That definitely persuaded me,” Levey said. “It was only a year, and I had a legendary coach for it. I was leaving with Lou, but when we saw Spurrier come into the room, we were like, ‘My God, this is real! We got coach Spurrier!’ ”
Levey hurt his knee in the second game of the 2005 season and was never the same.
“I kind of rushed back and played hurt through my senior year,” he said. “I kind of wish I would have left, but staying the extra year, I don’t regret it. The fight was another reason I chose to come back, because I didn’t want my college career to end like that.”
Levey remembers the change Spurrier brought.
“Some of the guys who weren’t giving 100 percent picked it up,” he said. “The effort changed. A coach like Spurrier, he was a legend. We didn’t want to mess up.”
ANDY BOYD: The former tight end had six years at USC due to rampant injuries, playing three under Holtz and three under Spurrier. He graduated from USC in 2007 with degrees in history and psychology and earned a master’s in sports and entertainment management while serving as a graduate assistant coach. He is the strength and conditioning coordinator, head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.
“We were getting ready to have the next three, four weeks off,” Boyd said. “Coach Spurrier stood by the entrance and as every player walked out, we all shook his hand and introduced ourselves. He took the time to introduce himself to everyone and tried to put a name with the face. To me, that went a long way.”
Boyd remembered the Gamecocks returning from the 2004 Christmas break to begin the post-Holtz era.
“The thing that I liked so much was everyone had a clean slate,” he said. “Whatever happened with the old staff, it was starting from scratch. That’s a chance to regroup yourself and put everyone on equal playing ground and the cream will rise to the top. It was something that none of us had been through.”
Holtz ran an old-school kind of team and Spurrier went with player evaluation, rigid practice routines and individual meetings with position coaches.
“I think it made guys hungry, especially with what coach Spurrier had done at Florida. That opportunity was there for us at Carolina,” Boyd said. “In-state recruits started staying home. Just to know how far the program has come and what has been accomplished in that time period is just remarkable.”
KERRY THARP: The sports information director left USC in 2005 for a position with NASCAR, where he remains today as senior director of communications for competition. He remembered the hectic days of the final week of Holtz’s tenure but still has wonderful memories of his run at USC.
“I am a huge, huge University of South Carolina fan,” Tharp said. “I didn’t go to school there, but I worked there 20 years. I have such a great deal of pride in what’s happened over the last several years. To know that you can be really anywhere in the country and people know that you’re a Gamecock, they know that your program has arrived.”
Although he only worked with him for a few months, Tharp and Spurrier built a strong relationship. Spurrier has gone to the Daytona 500 as Tharp’s guest several times. Tharp credited McGee as being probably the only AD in the country who could draw Holtz out of retirement and then replace him with Spurrier.
“You knew that whomever was going to come in and succeed coach Holtz was going to be a quality big-time coach,” Tharp said. “When I look back at it, what an opportunity for the university to have two Hall-of-Fame coaches like that back-to-back.”