Mark Twain said, or at least gets credit for saying, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
The 2015 South Carolina football team was Steve Spurrier’s cat.
What he learned is he’s a football coach, not a miracle worker.
One of the best college football coaches who ever lived? Yes
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
An SEC legend? On the league’s Mt. Rushmore.
Welcome on The Ocean Course on Kiawah for life? I’d bet, yeah.
But turning water into wine and these Gamecocks into contenders or even respectability was beyond his powers.
He didn’t seem to understand that in mid-July when he stepped to the podium at SEC Media Days and said he thought he had a team that could get back into or at least close to the nation’s Top 10. He didn’t seem to understand that later in the month, when he called an impromptu press conference to rail against his and the program’s “enemies.”
There were signs that this team could have this type of season, but Spurrier, normally a realist, ignored them this offseason and pushed his chips into the middle of the table. He had done plenty of things folks once thought impossible after all – getting the Gamecocks to the SEC Championship Game in 2010, winning 11 games (11!) at South Carolina not once or twice but three consecutive times, beating bitter rival and former state champion Clemson five straight years, turning the Georgia series on its head. This list could go on and on.
Just being Steve Spurrier had always been good enough for a couple wins after all, but it wasn’t this year. Or maybe it was. Maybe this team is 0-6 with another coach in charge. Two wins is exactly what the last line on his coaching sheet will show forever after he decided Monday to step away immediately from a team that is 2-4 overall and 0-4 in the SEC.
“Just gradually, gradually for whatever reason our team wasn’t quite as good as I thought we were going to be and that’s just the way it happened,” Spurrier said Tuesday when he announced his resignation. “Hopefully, some new leadership and we can become a much better team.”
Spurrier doesn’t regret not resigning last year, when he considered it late in a 7-6 season, he said. That was not the right time, he said. This is, he believes.
“There comes a time when you just have to say, ‘What direction is our football program going?’” he said. “And it wasn’t going the way we’d hoped so I need to step aside, simple as that.”
The 70-year-old coached college football for 25-and-a-half seasons. He had at least a winning season in the middle 23 of those years. If you understand how much it will bother him that his legendary career will be bookended by losing seasons (5-6 at Duke in 1987 and 2-4 at South Carolina in 2015), you understand how hard this decision was for him to make.
That, in turn, speaks for what he thinks about the chances of the Gamecocks turning this season around with him at the helm. From a practical standpoint, the timing of Spurrier’s decision works well for the University of South Carolina, which can begin its search for the next coach before other contenders get into the mix; for Elliott, who gets a chance to prove he should be a candidate for the permanent position; and for all his assistant coaches and support staff, who get a head start on figuring out where their next job will be.
“I just think it’s best for everybody, especially our team, our school, that I get out of the way now and we start in a new direction,” Spurrier said.
College football has never been about practical, though. It’s been “the name on the front of the jersey and not on the back,” and convincing 17- and 18-year-olds to make commitments and stick to them and spending obscene amounts of money with the sole purpose of affecting 12 Saturdays in the fall.
In that context, taking off when you’re getting blown out at halftime is a very tough move, which tells you how tough the 2015 season was on Steve Spurrier.