AIKEN – South Carolina’s two most prominent head coaches came here Tuesday night and tried to change the impression of their programs.
While men’s basketball coach Darrin Horn worked to convince about 300 fans at the Gamecock Club’s third Fan Fest of the month that his team is not on its last legs, football coach Steve Spurrier emphasized to those same people that his team has not yet arrived.
“It was a good year. It was not a great year,” Spurrier said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘Great year coach, blah, blah.’ We lost our last two games. Our goal is to win that game in Atlanta and get a conference championship. We did achieve a few firsts, but we did finish very poorly and put a damper on a pretty good year we had going. But anyway, we are looking forward to this coming season.”
Spurrier also inched closer to saying starting quarterback Stephen Garcia will return for that season. Garcia is serving an indefinite suspension, his fifth since arriving in Columbia.
“Stephen Garcia will probably - well, he’s got a chance of coming back if he does the things the president and athletic director and I expect him to do,” Spurrier said.
From there, the coach turned his attention to the Gamecocks’ other offensive stars.
“We do have the best wide receiver in the country in Alshon Jeffery. We’ve got the best running back in the country in Marcus Lattimore,” he said. “We’ve got two superstars right there. The reason I can brag on them is they are outstanding young men. Publicity doesn’t affect them.”
Spurrier said his goal is to bring an overall SEC championship to South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished 9-5 last year, beating No. 1 Alabama, Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Georgia and Tennessee but losing to Auburn in the SEC title game and then Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to end the season.
“We were not a real strong team last year,” Spurrier said. “We finished seventh in defense and seventh in offense in the conference rankings, so we did not dominate. Our special teams have not scored a touchdown since I’ve been here. We have a ways to go, so don’t get too overly excited about our guys right now. We’ve got a chance, though.”
Horn, who is entering his fourth year with the Gamecocks, preached the same message but from the opposite end of the spectrum. His team finished 14-16 last year and was beset by dismissals and defections after the season ended.
“I don’t know about you all, but I wasn’t real happy with how the season ended,” said Horn, who received applause from the crowd when he was introduced. “We were disappointed just like you were. We are going to do a better job of coaching them; we’re going to recruit even better; we’re going to work even harder, and like Coach Spurrier taught me my first year, ‘You know what Gamecocks do, don’t you?’ They fight to the death.”