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Mediocrity challenges Spurrier

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier speaks to the media Friday at the SEC football media days in Hoover, Ala.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier speaks to the media Friday at the SEC football media days in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — A year after South Carolina climbed into the top 10 but failed to finish strong, Steve Spurrier said a few more seasons of mediocrity would prompt him to let another coach try to finish the task of taking the Gamecocks to the SEC championship game.

On the day when USC was picked in its customary fourth-place position in the SEC East, Spurrier talked about the challenges of coaching at a school with one conference championship in its 114-year history.

“I knew it would be difficult. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be that much fun to try to do it,” Spurrier said Friday near the conclusion of SEC media days. “If it was easy, all them other coaches would have been winning at South Carolina.”

Spurrier, who won a national title at Florida and an ACC crown at Duke, said the Gamecocks need to have a couple of big seasons and break the stronghold the troika of Tennessee, Florida and Georgia has held on the East.

And for the first time since arriving in Columbia before the 2005 season, the 63-year-old Spurrier mentioned the possibility that someone else might be the man to do it.

“We need to win the division somewhere along the way. That’s the next step we need to take, or else, if that doesn’t happen in about five years then somebody else needs to try to do it because we’ve got a lot of good players,” Spurrier said. “That’s what coaching’s all about. If one guy doesn’t get it done in seven, eight years, something like that, give that next guy a chance.

“But South Carolina can win. I really believe that. They can win. And they can beat the other schools. We just haven’t done it consistently, yet.”

With a 21-16 record, Spurrier has more wins than any USC coach after three seasons. Following an eight-win season and a Liberty Bowl victory in Spurrier’s second year, the Gamecocks started 6-1 last fall and vaulted to No. 6 in the BCS standings.

But the first five-game losing streak of Spurrier’s career left the Gamecocks with a 6-6 record and out of a bowl game — “mediocrity at its best,” Spurrier said.

Spurrier did not stand pat after his first non-winning college season since 1987, his first year at Duke. He brought in a pair of new coordinators to run the defense and special teams and announced he would delegate the offensive play-calling duties for the first time in his career.

While receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. will be the principal play-caller, his father will listen in on the other end of the headset.

“He’s ready to do (it). Then I’ll still have the sheets ready to insert (plays),” Spurrier said. “So it will be a team effort. Yet one guy’s got to do it. He’ll get ‘em in there to start with.”

Gamecocks receiver Kenny McKinley said Spurrier’s decision to share the play-calling chores should not be viewed as a sign the coach credited with bringing the SEC’s passing attacks into the 21st century has lost his touch.

McKinley said Spurrier still has an uncanny ability to make in-game adjustments to take advantage of what the defense is doing.

“He’ll call timeout and come tell us, ‘We’re going to try to throw out here.’ Just make it up right there on the spot. And they work,” McKinley said. “I don’t know what makes him think of this stuff. He’s just a genius.”

Spurrier reiterated that redshirt junior Tommy Beecher, who has no career starts and 25 pass attempts, will get every chance to be the starting quarterback. Beecher begins preseason camp ahead of Chris Smelley, who was 4-2 as a starter last year, and Stephen Garcia, who is suspended until Aug. 15.

Spurrier said Beecher has the brains and the brawn to be successful.

“Tommy has the highest GPA on the team. He can run probably better than the other quarterbacks. He can scramble around a bit, and he can make all the throws,” Spurrier said. “Physically, you haven’t seen a lot of him yet. But we’re hoping and believing he will develop a lot of confidence, and we believe he can be a very good SEC quarterback.”

Though he made no bold pronouncements about contending for the conference title, Spurrier said USC has the facilities and the players to compete in the East. The Gamecocks are 1-2 against Florida, Georgia and Tennessee under Spurrier.

“We’re not that far away from being a pretty good team,” he said. “When you see South Carolina run out on the field for warm-ups, you’re going to say, ‘Those guys look like an SEC team now.’”

Spurrier’s challenge is getting the Gamecocks to play like it, too.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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