Quarterbacks have been fighting for Steve Spurrier's respect for decades. They did it when Spurrier coached at Duke in the 1980s, when he was at Florida throughout the 1990s, and now at South Carolina. Few ever fully received it, save for Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel in 1996.
The problem with gaining Spurrier's confidence is he expects his quarterbacks to be perfect the first time they take a snap under center ... and improve thereafter.
Stephen Garcia is finding that out. Not long after Garcia led USC to its 28-26 victory against Kentucky on Saturday, a game in which the quarterback threw for 233 yards and three touchdowns, he was asked the question: Are you getting closer to what your head coach expects of you?
"That's a hard question," said Garcia, who could have been speaking for every quarterback who has played under Spurrier. Not one - except for maybe Wuerffel - knew he was running Spurrier's offense the way the coach wanted it run.
"You know, he strives for perfection, really demands perfection," Garcia said. "I'm trying to get there every single week. It's going to be tough, but like I've said, I'm just going to keep trying to do it. But I feel like I'm getting there."
Garcia then paused, and you could see the wheels spinning in his head, knowing his every word - like his every play on the field - would be critiqued by Spurrier.
"I'm getting there," he said, "besides the interception that was into double coverage."
In other words, never mind Garcia's 1-yard touchdown run, or his spectacular late-game leap for a first down that sealed the win. Those kinds of plays are expected of Spurrier's quarterbacks.
It was the interception Garcia threw, his first in 125 attempts, and the other near-interception that came under fire from Spurrier. Or when Garcia should have stepped out of bounds, and instead was stripped of the ball for a fumble.
"He had some bad plays last week that could have cost us the game, but fortunately didn't," Spurrier said. "On two first downs he threw a 4-yard pass right to the defensive guy for Kentucky. He caught one and dropped the other. ... The fumble and those picks could have cost us the game. But it didn't, and we overcame it and he made some good plays along the way.
"He's still a long way off from being really where I hope he can be someday."
Spurrier recognizes his praise of Garcia almost always is couched. More often than not, he punctuates a sentence of commendation with a verbal comma followed by the word "but." Spurrier says every player must be treated differently based on how he deals with praise or criticism.
"You deal with every player's personality, also," Spurrier says. "Some guys you think can handle praise, like Cliff Matthews. I'll tell you he's one of the greatest athletes and football players I've ever had the privilege to coach because you know it doesn't affect him. He's going to be there every day. He's consistent.
"Stephen has just not shown the consistency yet, and you have to temper your praise of players who have not shown great consistency."
It does not help matters that Garcia came to USC as a much-heralded high school quarterback and immediately found trouble in Columbia. Two suspensions before he played a game changed the dynamics between player and coach.
A Spurrier quarterback must earn respect on the field. But it begins off the field, where Spurrier demands total dedication. More than with his linemen or running backs, Spurrier wants extensive film study from his quarterbacks. He asks his quarterbacks to throw thousands of passes in the off-season.
Any off-field incident is a sign to Spurrier that his quarterback's mind is not where it should be. Garcia seemed to violate every one of Spurrier's guidelines for what eventually will make a standout quarterback.
On top of that, Spurrier always has been brutally honest in evaluating his quarterbacks. Even back to Spurrier's Duke days, quarterbacks have found if they can weather his sharp tongue and learn his ways, they can flourish.
One who could not handle it was Bobby Sabelhaus, a highly sought-after quarterback when he signed with Florida in 1995.
"I picked the right school, but the wrong coach," Sabelhaus told the Gainesville Sun in 2007, long after he had left the school having never thrown a pass there. "My gut told me to go to Florida, but I didn't take into account my relationship with (Spurrier)."
As with Sabelhaus, it has not been easy for Garcia. In order to keep the spotlight off his quarterback, Spurrier has not allowed Garcia to talk to the media except following games. There also are the continued exchanges between the two on the sideline, spats occasionally captured by TV cameras.
To his credit, Spurrier brought in G.A. Mangus as a quarterbacks coach this season, and Mangus - at least on the sideline - seems to serve well the role of good cop to Spurrier's bad cop with Garcia.
Mostly, though, it is a matter of Garcia continuing to improve and strive for perfection, while keeping both ears open to what Spurrier has to say.
"I'm trying to keep it limited," Spurrier says of praise for Garcia. "You have to keep it limited with him, as you know. He can still play a lot better, so we don't want to be singing his praises too much. On the other side, I want to give him credit for much improvement."
As every one of his quarterbacks knows, perfection does not come easy under Spurrier.
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