Cindi Ross Scoppe

Scoppe: The gift that Steve Spurrier gave South Carolina

THE FANS WILL talk about all the victories University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier delivered to the Gamecock faithful — the three consecutive 11-win seasons, the nine trips to bowl games in 10 seasons, the fourth-place national finish, the victory over a No. 1-ranked team. They will talk especially about all the wins against archival Clemson.

And of course the Spurrier success story meant more than simply happy fans. I’m sure that having a winning team brought extra revenue to local businesses, because happy fans are more likely to splurge than unhappy fans. And so the Midlands benefited financially from Steve Spurrier, who announced to his players on Monday that he is retiring, effective immediately.

Those less generous will grouse about how their can-do coach morphed into a quitter, how the man who defiantly attacked speculation this summer that he was about to retire did precisely that when he faced the prospect of his first losing record in 25 seasons.

But regardless of how he chose to end his career, the truly important thing about Steve Spurrier wasn’t so much that he won. After all, Gamecock fans demonstrated through decades of mediocrity that they remain loyal and, well, fanatical even, in the face of repeated losses. The truly important thing about Mr. Spurrier was that he convinced fans that he could win; that they could win. He convinced South Carolina’s flagship university that it could be a winner.

“Why not us?” was more than a question or even a proclamation. It was a mantra, one that the athletic program and the entire university became comfortable wearing.

That positive attitude is important because it is so sorely lacking in our state. South Carolina is a state, as former Clemson President Jim Barker laments, that feels defined by its obstacles rather than its opportunities, a state where nearly every conversation about moving forward seems to begin with the excuse, “Well, you know, we’re a small, poor state.”

Certainly we don’t need cheerleaders — people who tell us how great everything is when it’s not. What we need are people who tell us we can be great — and then lead us there. People who recognize our shortcomings, and are willing to do the work and able to provide the motivation and leadership to help us overcome them.

Some politicians and civic leaders try to do this, of course; maybe most of them do at some point. But defeatism — “Well, you know, we’re a small, poor state” — resides deep within the South Carolina psyche. It is ingrained in our souls, endemic to our very beings.

Steve Spurrier would have none of that, and for that Gamecock fans owe him their gratitude.

For that model, everyone in our state — be they South Carolina fans or Clemson fans or those who are completely indifferent to the fall insanity that consumes so many of our neighbors — owes him gratitude. And we owe each other, we owe our state, an obligation to adopt the Spurrier mantra for ourselves and for our state: Why not South Carolina?

Why not South Carolina — the state that pulls together, through public policy and private support, to make sure all children get a decent education, regardless of where they live or who their parents are? The state that provides excellence in higher education — and access to that excellence for any student who is willing to pursue it. The state that produces the smart, motivated workforce that attracts not just more jobs, but more jobs that pay well. That pay well enough to raise our abysmal income levels.

Why not South Carolina — the state that recognizes and protects its natural resources, rather than selling them out to the highest bidder? The state that uses the power of government to balance rights and responsibilities, rather than taking a hands-off approach to anything that feels like regulations.

Why not South Carolina — the state that relegates racism and other prejudices to the history books, or at least pushes them out of its governmental bodies? The state that demands, and receives, high ethical standards from its elected officials. The state that rejects extremists on the left and on the right who think “compromise” is a dirty word, who are more interested in driving us apart and making a point than in producing common-sense solutions to our problems. The state that sees obstacles as opportunities.

And at this particular moment, why not South Carolina — the state that reinvents itself after natural disaster, helping our neighbors long after the floodwaters have receded, rebuilding our tattered infrastructure and our homes and businesses in a sturdier, more sustainable way, heeding the lessons offered by our ordeal in order to adopt smarter public policies that will make us stronger and better in the future?

Indeed, why not South Carolina?

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.

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