The winningest coach in South Carolina’s history is not the coach at South Carolina any more. Steve Spurrier, 70, stepped down Monday, telling his team in an evening meeting that he was resigning immediately. He told the world Tuesday.
“You can’t keep a head coach that’s done it as long as I have when it’s heading in the wrong direction,” Spurrier said. “It was only two years ago that we were fourth in the nation and the last of those 11-2s, and somehow or another, we’ve slid. And it’s my fault, I’m responsible, I’m the head coach. And it’s time for me to sort of get out of the way and let somebody else have a go at it.”
That somebody will be offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, a Camden native who takes over as the interim head coach for the final six regular season games. Elliott inherits a team that is 2-4 overall and 0-4 in the SEC for the first time since its winless 1999 season.
“I think the team needs to hear a new message, a new voice, from another coach,” Spurrier said. “I think I was probably the right coach for this job 11 years ago, but I’m not today. I’m not today, and that’s the cycle of coaching. Sometimes you’ve run your course, you’ve had your run and you’re ready to pass it to the next guy. And that’s where I am here today.”
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Spurrier began to seriously think about retirement on Sept. 27, the day after his team struggled to beat winless Central Florida 31-14, he said. The Gamecocks trailed 14-8 at halftime of that game, and Spurrier called Tanner the next day.
“I said, ‘Coach, I’m going to try to get through this season but I sense that this is about it for me. I just sense it’s it,’” Spurrier said. “Central Florida, it was a struggle against those guys. I said, ‘I don’t know if I need to continue having these kinds of struggles.’”
The Gamecocks fell to Missouri and LSU in the last two weeks, and Spurrier and USC athletics director Ray Tanner had their first long conversation about his possible retirement Sunday afternoon. Spurrier and Tanner met for 90 minutes at the team’s football complex at Williams-Brice Stadium and then each called the other later that day, Tanner said. Spurrier then slept on his decision and called Tanner on Monday morning to tell him he still planned to resign immediately. When the two men met face-to-face again Monday afternoon, Spurrier informed Tanner that he would be telling his team that evening.
Tanner and university president Harris Pastides each tried to convince Spurrier to finish the season as head coach but to no avail.
“If the players know you’re not going to be their coach after such and such a time, you just don’t have that accountability, I think,” he said. “It’s time for me to move on and time for South Carolina to start rebuilding again.”
Spurrier briefly considered coaching against Vanderbilt this weekend in Williams-Brice Stadium and resigning prior to the team’s Oct. 24 open date.
“I told coach Tanner and president Pastides, when something is inevitable, let’s do it right now,” Spurrier said. “Let’s give the interim coach an opportunity right now.”
Spurrier, who was named South Carolina’s 32nd head coach on Nov. 23, 2004, finishes his 10-and-a-half seasons at South Carolina with a 86-49 record. In 25-and-a-half seasons in college football, he was 228-89-2. Only 18 men have won more FBS games. Only Bear Bryant has won more games as a coach in the SEC (Bryant finished with 292, Spurrier with 208).
“He changed our culture, our champion mentality and became the winningest coach in the history of the program,” Tanner said. “We are honored and blessed that Coach Spurrier has been with us for this length of time and has made such an impact on this school and our athletics department. He has been an inspiration to us all. He’s been a great friend to all of us and a great colleague.”
Spurrier’s six SEC titles, all won at Florida, are tied for second all-time behind Bryant’s 14, and he has named Associated Press SEC coach of the year four times. His winning percent (73.2) ranks 14th in SEC history. In intra-conference games, his winning percentage of 70.8 percent is eighth all-time.
“He gave us our swagger, our pride and our Sandstorm enthusiasm,” Pastides said. “That will be coach Spurrier’s legacy for a lifetime.
Spurrier turned three programs that had been floundering – Duke, Florida and South Carolina – into winners, claiming the ACC title at Duke in 1989, the national title at Florida in 1996 and the SEC East at South Carolina in 2010.
The list of firsts he compiled at South Carolina is long – first 11-win season, first SEC division title, first win over a No. 1 team and first five-game winning streak against Clemson.
“I really think the one that I personally like was the 18 straight home wins,” Spurrier said. “Eighteen straight at home was a school record, and that was pretty special I think, and our fans had so much to do with that one. I would say that’s my favorite.”
His only two losing seasons as a collegiate coach were his first (5-6 at Duke in 1987) and his last (2-4 at South Carolina this season). In an interesting bit of trivia, Spurrier’s first win as Gamecocks head coach came on Sept. 1, 2005, against Central Florida and his last came on Sept. 26, 2015, against the same opponent.
“I didn’t plan on going out this way,” he said. “I planned on being on the shoulder pads of the team coming out of the Georgia Dome with an SEC Championship and that didn’t work out.”
Tanner chose Elliott as the interim after meeting with several of the team’s veterans around midnight Monday, Tanner said.
“We’re moving forward,” Elliott said. “When I walked in this morning I said to our staff, our goal is to win this week, win today, win tomorrow, win the next day and beat Vanderbilt. Our team is not in shambles as some might say. We have a great group of energetic young men who are ready to lay it on the line.”
Spurrier left the door open to return to football in some capacity in the future.
“I am resigning, I’m not retiring,” he said. “Get that part straight. I doubt if I’ll ever be a head coach again, maybe coach a high-school team or something. I won’t say I’ve retired completely from coaching. Who knows what will come in the future?”
Spurrier’s announcement was attended by dozens of media members at Williams-Brice Stadium. Many of the team’s current coaches and some of South Carolina’s players also attended, although wife his Jerri did not attend because she had a class at the university. Jerri Spurrier is working toward a psychology degree at South Carolina.
“I have gone on a lot longer than most people so I have been blessed way beyond my wildest expectations,” Steve Spurrier said. “It’s time to take on the adventure of the next of life. Jerri and I are looking forward to it. … I think she’s looking forward to it.”