“Part of the problem is there was a self-defeatist attitude — doom and gloom,” said Todd Ellis, the school’s leading career passer (1986-89), “where we were always talking about how we were going to come up short, talking about things we can’t do or complaining about taking on too much. That all changed right away.”
The program looks entirely different today. Spurrier has overseen nearly $50 million worth of upgrades, from the stadium to the locker room to the parking lot. They’ve also added a $12.6 million academic enrichment center, and a $14 million indoor facility is in the works.
All the while, Spurrier can see that the football landscape has changed, both in the SEC and the NFL. Oft-criticized for forcing his pass-heavy “Fun-n-Gun” offense — with its play-action, draw plays, audibles and multiple-receiver sets — on the NFL when defense and running backs won championships, Spurrier is now running the ball and relying on a swarming defense in the SEC. The NFL, meantime, has evolved into a quarterback-driven league, not unlike his old Florida teams.
“You got to do whatever the strength of your team is. . . . In the NFL, teams got to do what fits,” Spurrier said. “There’s not many teams that throw every down except Green Bay, New England, Denver — they throw a lot. But look at the Bears, they still play defense, get turnovers.
“There’s all kinds of ways to win. Whatever your talent suits is what you should do.”
‘Never been done before’
The Gamecocks appeared in the SEC title game two years ago. Last season, they posted their first 11-win season in school history. They could match that mark this year. With junior Marcus Lattimore in the backfield and sophomore Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive line, Spurrier has plenty of weapons.
“It’s definitely a fun time to be a Gamecock,” said T.J. Johnson, a fifth-year senior on the offensive line. “It really is.”
Spurrier, who still calls offensive plays and works with the quarterbacks at practice, insists he enjoys winning with defense as much as offense, even if the games aren’t as thrilling to watch.
“I do think it’s still difficult on him,” said Ellis, who co-hosts Spurrier’s weekly coach’s show. “His blood is to attack, attack, attack, get a lead and then run the ball.”
It’s a philosophy laid out by Alabama Coach Nick Saban and one that any team hoping to be competitive in the SEC must follow. But Spurrier said his goals are different than those of Saban and LSU’s Les Miles and Florida’s Muschamp. He uses a different measuring stick to gauge success.
“I’d rather win an SEC title here — I’d rather win a division here — than a national championship at Alabama or Southern Cal or something like that,” he said. “That’s been done before. The things we’re trying to do here, they’ve never been done before.”
It seems like yesterday that Spurrier was making jokes about Bobby Bowden being too old to recite his own players’ names at Florida State. In South Carolina’s game notes, Spurrier is called the Head Ball Coach, no longer the Ol’ Ball Coach. But he’s 67 now. He had a knee replaced a year ago, but said he’s as active and enthusiastic about the job as ever. Still, Spurrier is determined to not overstay his welcome on the sideline.
“I’m not going to coach a lot longer,” he said. “I’m not going to be a lifer, to where you coach until they run you out.”
Whenever that day comes, he’ll almost surely leave behind a better South Carolina team than the one he inherited — just as he did at Duke and Florida.
“He launched our program,” Ellis said. “I don’t care if he retired tomorrow — he has proven to everyone around here, you can go all the way at South Carolina. He’s shown the next guy to come along that you can do anything at South Carolina.”