University of South Carolina Coach Lou Holtz told his football team last night that he will retire at the end of the season, and former Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier has agreed in principle to succeed him, sources close to the situation said.
Spurrier, 59, agreed to the deal Wednesday, after he and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, met with Holtz and South Carolina alumnus William "Hootie" Johnson at Augusta National Golf Club, where Johnson is chairman. Spurrier hasn't yet signed a contract but will be paid between $1.5 million and $2 million per season, the sources said. Louisiana State Coach Nick Saban is the highest-paid football coach in the Southeastern Conference, earning $2.25 million per season.
Sources close to Spurrier have said Johnson's role at Augusta National and Spurrier's desire to be a member at the exclusive club approximately 70 miles from Columbia, S.C., were a factor in the coach's decision. Holtz is also a member at the club and Johnson is a former Gamecock fullback. Spurrier received a tour of the club's facilities Wednesday.
People close to Spurrier have discouraged him from taking the South Carolina job because they're not convinced he can match the success he had at Florida, where he won 122 games and six SEC titles in 12 seasons. Holtz led the Gamecocks to consecutive victories in the Outback Bowl following the 2001 and 2002 seasons, the school's first bowl wins.
But Spurrier, who has been out of work since resigning from the Redskins last December with a 12-20 record in two seasons, has said he wants to return to college coaching and wants to move back to the Southeast. Spurrier still lives in Northern Virginia while his youngest son, Scotty, finishes his senior year at Loudoun County High School.
Sources said Spurrier is convinced he can win at South Carolina (6-4, 4-4 SEC), despite the school's mediocre showings recently and small recruiting base within the state. Spurrier faced similar obstacles at Duke, where he compiled a 20-13 record in three seasons with the Blue Devils from 1987 to 1989, and twice earned ACC coach of the year honors.
Holtz, 67, is expected to announce his retirement early next week after the Gamecocks play Clemson on Saturday. Holtz would coach the Gamecocks in a bowl game. Holtz, who led Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship, has a 27-32 record in five seasons at South Carolina.
Holtz, a longtime friend of Spurrier's, has had discussions with South Carolina officials about replacing Athletic Director Mike McGee, who is in the final year of his contract. Spurrier's relationship with Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley soured during his final season at the school, and sources said Spurrier would be unwilling to accept a job at a school where the athletic director's future was in question.
Holtz and Spurrier are particularly close because Spurrier helped Holtz's wife, Beth, get admitted to a Florida hospital after she was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer in 1999. Holtz has all but endorsed Spurrier as a candidate to replace him.
"I've talked to Steve," Holtz said earlier this week. "I don't want to go in that direction, but I have talked to him. We talked about how you cure a slice, his son, etc. Steve's a good friend of mine, as I said. All I want to talk about is Clemson, Clemson, Clemson. That's all. That's the only thing on my mind."
Spurrier withdrew from the coaching search at Florida, which earlier this month fired Ron Zook, who succeeded Spurrier when he left to coach the Redskins in December 2001. Spurrier was contacted by Foley about returning to coach his alma mater, but Spurrier was unwilling to go through a long interview process that Florida President Bernard Machen wanted. When Florida officials asked for Spurrier's resume, he essentially told Florida officials "to go look in the school's trophy case," a source close to Spurrier said.
Now, the Gators face the possibility of playing against their former coach every year, as both schools are members of the SEC's East division.
Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner as Florida's quarterback, led the Gators to the 1996 national championship
Holtz is the eighth-winningest coach in Division I with 249 victories at six schools. He began his college coaching career at William & Mary in Williamsburg, and took all six of the schools he coached to bowl games in his second season after inheriting losing teams.