Six weeks ago, it looked like Stephen Garcia might lead South Carolina to a historic football season and, along the way, break most of the Gamecocks’ major career passing records.
Tuesday, Garcia was packing up his Columbia house and preparing to head back to his hometown of Tampa, Fla., having been dismissed from the football team by athletics director Eric Hyman.
Garcia, who survived five suspensions from the team prior to this season, was kicked off after failing a random substance test, which indicated alcohol use, on Oct. 4, two sources close to the quarterback told The State.
“He kind of made his own bed, and this is the culmination of some of those earlier mistakes,” said Gary Garcia, Stephen Garcia’s father. “He’s upset that he’s not finishing what he came here to do and that’s win an SEC championship, but he also is maybe kind of relieved to get a little bit out of the eye of the storm and take a breath of fresh air.”
Garcia, who both lost his starting job and attended his grandfather’s funeral last week, was informed of the decision Tuesday morning, two sources said.
“This has got to be the worst two weeks of his life, but it’s not going to be the worst two weeks in his life going forward, I can tell you that,” Gary Garcia said. “You deal with trials and tribulations, and you learn from it. Hopefully, he continues to learn and grow. We’ll let the dust settle for a couple weeks and then look at what his options are.”
The tumultuous final two weeks of Garcia’s time in Columbia mirrored much of his career, featuring multiple suspensions and plenty of public admonishments from South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.
Garcia’s grandfather Augie died Sept. 28.
Three days later, Garcia threw two interceptions in a 16-13 loss to Auburn, giving him nine for the season and leading to his benching.
On Oct. 3, Spurrier announced sophomore Connor Shaw was taking over the starting quarterback job.
Garcia was given a random substance test the following day, which he failed, according to two sources.
“The death of my father along with the Auburn loss and being benched contributed to that violation,” Gary Garcia said Tuesday.
Spurrier called Stephen Garcia on Tuesday after his dismissal, Gary Garcia said.
“I don’t know what was actually said,” Gary Garcia said. “He got a pile of text messages and phone calls.”
Garcia told The AP in a text message Tuesday that he was "shocked and completely flabbergasted to be honest" by the dismissal. He said he would have a full statement later in the week.
Spurrier declined to comment on the dismissal when reached on his cell phone, but USC released a statement with comments from Spurrier and Hyman.
“We are all saddened that this has occurred,” Spurrier said in the statement. “We all feel like we’ve given Stephen numerous opportunities to be a student-athlete here at South Carolina. Obviously, he has chosen not to follow the guidelines of his reinstatement contract. We wish him the best.”
Garcia was suspended twice this offseason, once for an incident in the week prior to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta and once for an incident in an SEC-sponsored character education event. Garcia was reinstated fully to the team Aug. 1 under the condition that he follow several guidelines laid out by Spurrier and Hyman.
“Being a student-athlete at the University of South Carolina is a privilege, not a right,” Hyman said in the school’s statement, “and we remind all of our student-athletes that there are consequences for their actions. For Stephen to return to and remain with the football squad this fall, we agreed on several established guidelines. Unfortunately, he has not been able to abide by those guidelines and has therefore forfeited his position on the roster. We wish him the best of luck as he moves forward in life.”
Garcia attended his grandfather’s funeral last Thursday, rejoining the team the following day. He dressed out for Saturday’s 54-3 victory over Kentucky but did not appear in the game, standing on the sideline in a baseball cap and occasionally slapping hands with Shaw, who threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns.
After Garcia had been dismissed from the team Tuesday by Hyman — but before his dismissal had been announced — Spurrier was asked if Garcia would be the backup quarterback for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State.
“We’ll see how all of that works out this week,” he said.
Garcia completed 61 of his 118 passes this year — 51.7 percent — for 844 yards, four touchdowns and nine interceptions. His nine interceptions led the country at the time of his benching.
Still, Garcia leaves USC in the school’s record book.
He ends his career tied with Steve Taneyhill for second in school history with 20 wins. He is third in school history in passing yards (7,597), touchdowns (47), completions (589) and attempts (1,021).
Garcia’s 34 starts tie him with former University of Florida quarterback Shane Matthews for the most on a Spurrier-coached team. Only former Gator Danny Wuerffel — with 34 starts — was linked to Spurrier longer.
The Garcia-Spurrier relationship never was an easy one.
Spurrier was never shy about demanding more from his quarterback or expressing his exasperation at what he once referred to as “Garcia plays.” Still, he expressed optimism in August that Garcia was on a different path and would finish his career on a high note.
“Basically,” Spurrier said then, “we do believe he’s a good kid and a good person.”
Garcia hopes to play football in the future, his father said, and the Garcias will continue to cheer for the No. 15 Gamecocks, who lead the SEC’s Eastern Division.
“They have capable hands with Connor as he showed last week,” Gary Garcia said. “They’ve got a great running back in Marcus (Lattimore) and receiver corps, and a bunch of good coaches. Maybe, they’ll all rally together around this and win a couple for Stephen.”