The Steve Spurrier that was battered and bruised by the 2014 season is all gone now. South Carolina’s 11th-year coach made his record 23rd appearance at SEC Media Days on Tuesday, and he did not tiptoe into the room.
“We’re hoping to return to where we were the prior three years, a top-10 team,” a surprisingly bold Spurrier said. “We believe we have a fighting chance to do that.”
He’s probably the only one.
“I know the critics are out there, and that’s why they’re called critics,” Spurrier said. “They criticize every chance they get, and we gave them some chances to criticize us last year, which is OK.”
The Gamecocks finished 7-6 last season and likely will be picked in the bottom half of the SEC East when the preseason predictions are released here later this week. That will be fine with Spurrier. In fact, he probably likes it more than being a favorite.
“Yeah, we don’t deserve much (recognition),” he said.
He has driven that point home with his players several times this summer, junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper said.
“He has told us that nobody is expecting us to do real well,” Cooper said. “It motivates us a lot. We’re a 10-, 11-win team.”
Maybe the most remarkable thing anybody said here Tuesday was this from Cooper: “We’re not expected to go 7-6 here at South Carolina.”
Of course, that’s exactly what people have expected from the Gamecocks, even hoped for from the Gamecocks, for almost all of their history. The fact that Cooper has no notion of that is a reminder of how remarkable the first half of this decade was at South Carolina.
Now the question is, “What does the second half of the decade hold?”
“We know we have to have a better year than last year, which we will,” Cooper said. “People think we’re not going to do as well as we know we are, and that’s OK.”
It’s OK with Spurrier, who enjoys proving doubters wrong as much as any coach in the league. There’s also an intangible benefit to the underdog role. When Spurrier was taking jabs at his rivals while coaching a dominant Florida team, it always felt unsporting. When he does it from the middle of the pack, it’s just funny, and he did it again Tuesday.
“There was a lot of buzz with Arkansas and Tennessee last year. Guess what? They had the same year we had, 7-6 and won the bowl game, so some 7-6s I guess are better than others,” Spurrier said. “There are people in Knoxville and Fayetteville still doing cartwheels over going 7-6.”
The difference is the Volunteers and Razorbacks came at those records from the south. The Gamecocks dropped in from the north. South Carolina was a preseason top-10 team and picked here a year ago to win the SEC East. From the first quarter of the first game of the season, it was clear those expectations were misplaced.
“We were overhyped,” Spurrer acknowledged.
The Gamecocks salvaged their season with three wins in the final four games, including an Independence Bowl victory against Miami that people close to Spurrier think was especially important to the Head Ball Coach. Only two teams beat the 1966 Gators team quarterbacked by Spurrier – Georgia, and we know he feels about the Bulldogs, and the Hurricanes.
“We got rejuvenated. We got new life (from that game),” Spurrier said. “We’re really looking forward to this year. We’re sort of anxious and eager to see what we can do.”
HBC’S BEST QUIPS
On a roomful of reporters:
“I figured a bunch of you guys would have retired by now.”
On Arkansas and Tennessee: “
There’s people in Knoxville and Fayetteville still doing cartwheels for going 7-6 (last season). And we were doing cartwheels, too.”
On new defensive head Jon Hoke:
“I went to the NFL, and Jon Hoke went to the NFL. I lasted two years, and Jon Hoke lasted 13. So he’s a lot smarter, better coach than I am.”
On Florida and new coach Jim McElwain:
“I think they’ll do well. Hopefully not too well for a while.”
On wide receiver Pharoh Cooper:
“The South Carolina Pharoh. Not the American Pharoah, but we got our own South Carolina Pharoh.”
On high-profile recruits:
“You handle them a little differently. Every now and then, I’ll tell the player, ‘Are we going to have to put you on the Clowney program?’”
On hanging ’em up:
“Somebody said, ‘Why are you still coaching?’ I said, ‘Well, I forgot to get fired, and I’m not going to cheat.’ That retirement thing, I don’t think I’d be very good at it.”