The news that Steve Spurrier plans to coach through at least the 2016 season should be much heralded by South Carolina and its fan base.
Spurrier often has said he would stop coaching if he believed his teams could no longer win. His statements Monday are sure signs Spurrier believes USC can quickly return to being an SEC East championship contender.
“This is a good situation, and I think we can turn it around quickly,” Spurrier said. “I hope so.”
The situation Spurrier faces at the conclusion of a disappointing 6-6 regular season is eerily similar to one he and his program encountered at the end of the 2009 season.
Never miss a local story.
A disenchanted fan base returned from the bitter cold of Birmingham, Ala., following a 20-7 beatdown at the hands of Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl, wondering if Spurrier would ever turn USC into a big winner.
That was the conclusion of Spurrier’s fifth season at USC. To that point, his teams were 35-28 overall and 18-22 in the SEC. His 2007 club had climbed to No. 6 in the nation before losing five consecutive games to conclude the season. His 2008 team split eight SEC games, but ended the season with blowout losses to Florida, Clemson and Iowa.
Adding to the bleakness were reports that several players headed to the locker room before the conclusion of the game against Connecticut, and that a player and an assistant coach scuffled in the locker room afterward.
For all the world, it appeared to be a program in disarray.
Spurrier must have believed there was a brighter future. One change was made to his coaching staff following the season. Shawn Elliott replaced Eric Wolford as the offensive line coach when Wolford took the head-coaching job at Youngstown State.
Perhaps, Spurrier recognized how much talent was on the way in the next recruiting class. That class of incoming freshmen included an all-star cast of A.J. Cann, Victor Hampton, Marcus Lattimore, Kelcy Quarles, Ace Sanders, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson.
As it turned out, that class helped push the USC program to unprecedented heights, from an SEC East title in 2010 to three consecutive 11-win seasons to a trio of consecutive final Top 10 rankings.
Then came this season. The Gamecocks were the consensus pick to win the SEC East and were ranked No. 9 nationally in the preseason. The fall was mighty, culminating in a lopsided loss to Clemson.
A return trip to either Birmingham or Shreveport, La., for a bowl game is unlikely to excite a fan base that has grown accustomed to New Year’s Day bowl games in Florida.
Optimism about next season and beyond is difficult to find. No quarterback returns with any significant experience, unless you count wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, who can run the offense out of the wildcat formation. There are likely to be major holes on the offensive line.
A defense that ranked 91st nationally by allowing 31 points per game and 90th in total yards, allowing 434 per game, must improve drastically. Spurrier has mentioned often that a strong group of defensive players in the incoming recruiting class should reinforce the troops.
Still, that is not enough to get fans excited about a turn-around.
Yet, had Spurrier thrown up his hands and walked away, it would have signaled a long rebuilding process ahead for USC football. Instead, his optimism is what should make USC and its fan base believe a turn-around in fortunes will be quick, and the Gamecocks will soon be back to challenging for the SEC East championship.