Ron Morris

Morris: Tigers still receive Spurrier's respect

USC coach Steve Spurrier poses with players for media day pictures at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sunday.
USC coach Steve Spurrier poses with players for media day pictures at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sunday.

THE ATTENTION STEVE Spurrier and South Carolina give Clemson has not changed in the three years he has coached in Columbia. It just seems that way of late.

Remember when Spurrier arrived, he incensed a few USC alums by saying the focus of his program should not be on defeating Clemson every season. He went so far as to remove all the “Beat Clemson” orange signs that dotted the underbelly of Williams-Brice Stadium.

“Winning the conference championship is what we’re trying to do,” Spurrier said Sunday. “If you’re not in position to do that, then the Clemson game, obviously, is the most important game of the year. ...

“If you’re out of the conference race, as we’ve been every year, then obviously an instate rival becomes the biggest game. I would think Georgia Tech-Georgia is very similar. I would think Georgia, if they’re not in the SEC championship game, then they would tell you that maybe the Georgia Tech game now becomes the most important of the year.”

So, apparently, we should not read too much into the “ruckus” Spurrier said he caused last week when he pointed out that someone affiliated with Clemson sent packets of “negative” information to USC recruits. Also, we should not give much credence to Spurrier’s comments to a Charlotte Observer reporter that inferred Clemson plays in a patsy league.

“My attitude toward them hasn’t changed,” Spurrier said of Clemson. “I just wish we could have held the lead for three straight years, and we’d have won all three of them.”

Spurrier, of course, fully recognized the value of defeating Clemson when USC held on for a 31-28 victory in 2006. His ensuing recruiting class was Spurrier’s best at USC and among the country’s elite.

If he did not realize it before, Spurrier certainly understood the significance of the rivalry after that game. We can only hope Spurrier can help maintain what appears to be a healthy respect between the two programs.

The rivalry does not need to go the route of the Florida-Florida State series when he coached in Gainesville, and finger-pointing and name-calling became commonplace. Nor does it need to return to the not-so-distant past when the USC-Clemson rivalry reached its lowest level with the 2004 brawl.

For the most part, Spurrier has avoided tweaking the nose of his rivals, a practice he raised to an art form when he coached at Florida. In fact, Spurrier generally has praised Clemson and its coaching staff the past three years.

Then came the packets of clippings sent to recruits concerning the arrest of USC players. It appears the packets were sent by a Web site, and Spurrier said Clemson coaches deny having anything to do with the mailings.

Spurrier said Sunday that Eric Hyman, USC’s athletics director, discussed the issue with Terry Don Phillips, Clemson’s athletics director.

“It’s been resolved. I haven’t heard of any packets going out since then, so I guess it’s been resolved,” Spurrier said. “Terry Don assured Eric Hyman that he looked into it and he handled it. (Phillips) doesn’t like that stuff. You’ve got to admire and respect him.”

Classy programs sell themselves and do not recruit against their opponents. We can trust that Hyman and Phillips nipped this brouhaha in the bud. It is similar to what Spurrier did Sunday in discussing his comment about Clemson’s schedule.

“I just mentioned the difference in schedules. It’s no big deal. I’m not complaining,” Spurrier said. “It’s just the way it is. I just wondered if you guys know the difference between Clemson’s schedule and our schedule, or any other ACC team for that matter.”

Anyone who even remotely follows college football knows the difference between playing an SEC schedule versus playing an ACC schedule. The SEC currently is the best league in college football; the ACC is lagging far behind.

Perhaps Spurrier’s point was that USC would likely have a better overall record than its 21-16 mark the past three seasons had it played in the ACC. What point that proves I am not quite certain, since USC rightfully boasts of playing in the much more heralded SEC.

Besides, Spurrier acknowledged Sunday, league strengths ebb and flow. Not too long ago, Spurrier said, USC would have had an easier time playing SEC members LSU and Georgia every season instead of ACC members Florida State and Miami.

So, to infer Clemson plays in a patsy league rings hollow. Such inference in the preseason indicates USC is paying needless attention to its closest rival. Any attention paid Clemson does not become paramount until USC is eliminated from the SEC race.

At least that’s the way Spurrier sees it.