Spurrier at SEC Media Day

Coach Spurrier believes running game could be key for Gamecocks
Coach Spurrier believes running game could be key for Gamecocks



THE MODERATOR: We have South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

COACH SPURRIER: Nice to be here again. My 15th year. I know a bunch of you sportswriters still got me by a lot of years, but good to be here again. Looking forward to the coming season.

At South Carolina, first couple of years we felt like, with our team, our goal was to win more than we lose, and to win the Bowl game would be a pretty good year for us. We did that last year. We finished with three wins and won the Bowl game.

First year we lost the Bowl game, so we felt like, you know, that was a pretty decent year.

We've raised our goals this year. We're going to try to win the conference. We felt like we've really increased our talent level at South Carolina. We've added a lot of players that we think are at a pretty close level with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Obviously you need to be at their level to win the conference. We lost some close games last year, didn't play our best maybe or didn't coach our best. But we feel like our talent level is good enough now we should say, Hey, let's go try to win our conference championship.

I know it will be a huge assignment, but I believe our players, our team, we need to come to the ballpark feeling like we're just as good as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and that we can play with those guys to see what happens.

Don't know what's gonna happen, but that's gonna be our mindset going into the season, to see what happens. So we're looking forward to it. We think, again, our players, our talent level is up pretty close or maybe even even with some of those teams.

Okay, questions.

Q. When you went to Florida, there was a lot of talent on hand. You stepped right in and won. How hard has it been for you to be patient at South Carolina where you've had to build?

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, you know, like I said, I think every year at Florida our goal was to win the SEC because we had a team that we certainly felt was capable. We didn't do it every year, but we were actually pretty close most every year.

I think some years we won it with maybe not the best talent. Maybe one year we didn't win it with maybe the best team. The best team doesn't always win the conference championship.

In fact, some people asked me about last year. LSU led the conference in almost every category: Offense, defense, everything just about, but they didn't play their best at Florida or at Auburn, and they didn't win their division, didn't win the conference.

You know, some breaks, some good play at the right time certainly determined the champion. But, again, going into our third year at South Carolina, we believe our talent level has improved enough that we can realistically tell our players, We got a chance, fellas. We're going to set a goal to do it. I know we're not gonna be picked and we shouldn't be picked, but we need to come to the ballpark of these other teams and believe we're just as good.

Q. When you've talked the last few years about changing the culture of winning in South Carolina. They've had a losing attitude, had low expectations for too long. How is that coming along with the fans, athletes and people that are involved in the program?

COACH SPURRIER: Well, I never said anything about changing the culture. That was Lou Holtz that said that. I said something about changing our attitudes. Attitude, that's my word (smiling). I guess it's about the same thing.

But, anyway, the attitude of everything at South Carolina, when you haven't won much, we won our fourth Bowl game in school history this year by the way, so we did that, but the history there is not all that super duper. '69, South Carolina won the ACC. That's the only championship in 110 years of football.

But what we need to do is understand that the object of a football season is to try to win your conference championship. I really believe that. I'm really sort of a coach that tries to win a championship, which in our situation is the conference. I don't really worry about the national that much. I don't know why coaches do, to tell you the truth, because that's really a longshot and a lot of things have to happen.

What we can control as coaches is trying to win our conference championship, all of us. So that's where we are right here. Just trying to get our fans in the mindset that, you know, don't applaud our guys when we lose close games. You don't have to boo us or anything, but we don't need to be patted on the back for close losses. That was one thing we went through last year that hopefully we don't have to go through again.

But our fans are super. I really believe the reason we had such a big recruiting class, even though we lost those close games at home to Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn, the noise level was so great that recruits out there could see, hey, South Carolina is as big a big time atmosphere as all of these other SEC schools. I can go there and maybe play a little quicker. Looks like they need a few more ball players, and maybe be on the first SEC championship team ever. So that's I think really helped our recruiting.

Q. You lost two key players. Who do you feel will step up this year and bring the talent to the game to help you win?

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, okay, Syvelle really helped us last year in about the middle of the year, coming in and playing the quarterback. His ability to scramble, make plays, improvise really helped us in a lot of games. I really brag on Syvelle every chance I get. Hopefully he'll get a chance in pro ball somewhere.

Sidney was a very good player for us. His leaving may have helped us sign five really I think outstanding potential wide receivers. We got a couple of players that look just like Sidney: 6'4", 6'5". Joe Hills from Palmetto, Florida. Jason Barnes from Charlotte, North Carolina. A couple of 6'1", 6'2" guys, Dion Lecorn and Matt Clements. The fastest of all the guys we signed, Chris Culliver, from Garner, North Carolina.

Hopefully a couple of those guys or three or whatever will really be ready to play this year.

Q. As someone with a unique perspective on all this, what would you tell LSU fans to expect when they play Alabama? Have you talked to Saban about what it was like for you going back to Florida?

COACH SPURRIER: No, I haven't done either of those. I don't really try to tell people what to do. I'm not very big on advice or anything like that. I just try to worry about what I can control.

And someone asked me about us going to LSU. I said, Oh, it will be tough, there's no question about that. The eastern division is a very, you know, good division. But the other side of it is that you don't have to go undefeated usually to win the division nowadays. You need to beat your division opponents.

If you lose outside the division, sometimes that doesn't necessarily mean the end of the year.

So, anyway, what was your question? Something about LSU, I don't know (laughter). I don't have an answer to all those LSU and Nick Saban. I'll let you ask those guys all those questions.

Q. Talk about Blake Mitchell, the value of a senior quarterback in the SEC.

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah. Blake is a fifth year senior quarterback. Started two years off and on. Hopefully his experience and his mental toughness is much, much better. I think he's ready to have a big year.

I probably bragged on him a little too much prior to last year. But looking back, realistically, our offensive line was not good at all the first couple of games. Mississippi State and Georgia. We felt like we needed to put Syvelle in there just to run around, to dodge the pass rush. That's what he did. He really helped us.

Blake's the kind of quarterback, we need a running game and we need pass protection. When those two things happen, he can be very productive. He was most valuable player in the Liberty Bowl: Four touchdown passes, 300 something yards, I'm not sure. So he's very capable. He's capable of taking us a long way.

Q. With Jasper and Cory here today, have you been pleased with the leadership you got from your older players, and do you think you will have better senior leadership?

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, we have noticed our off season program this year, summer program, had been much better attended. Not perfect. But from what we hear from other players, most all the guys that have been there that we're counting on to play. There were a few freshmen, a few other guys missed maybe more than they should.

The players we were really counting on to be there pretty much have done much better than the first two years. So our commitment level from what we understand is much improved.

Jasper, again, stayed for his fifth year. He and Cory. Both of them could have been projected fourth, fifth round NFL picks and stayed. That's not always happened at South Carolina. Usually most those guys, if they can make a few bucks here and there, they take off as soon as they can.

But Cory and Jasper elected to stay their senior year, graduate hopefully, and hopefully help us have as big a year as we possibly can. So I really admire those guys for hanging with us another year.

Q. With what happened in the NBA last week with the referee, the gamblers or mob getting to him, is it ever a concern to you that sort of thing could happen in the SEC in football?

COACH SPURRIER: I've probably been accused of saying something like that a couple of times (smiling). But, yeah, we'll all have to be careful now of not saying, It appeared that guy had money on the game. You can't say that anymore. I don't know if I've ever said that before. There were a few games, not many. There's been a few lousily called games that deserved an investigation (smiling).

But that's why Commissioner Slive and Rogers Redding, that's their responsibility. I think because of what happened in the NBA, this will really heighten all the security and checking on guys' background all the time, what they're doing.

Referees really need to be scrutinized probably more so than us coaches are scrutinized. Anyway, hopefully it will be a good scare that will help every sport.

Q. Do you think you've gained some credibility with your players because you didn't come in the first year saying you were ready to win the conference championship, let's go do it, that you waited until you were ready to do it, and do you see them responding to that?

COACH SPURRIER: I don't know about the players. As a coach, I think you have to realistically set your goals. I think you have to look at your team, your talent level, give them something they can achieve. We tried to do that the first two years and have a go at it. We didn't achieve all of our goals, but we hit quite a few here and there.

Now that we believe our talent level is, like I said, pretty close to those top tier teams, we need to raise our goals. We need to believe we're just as good as those other guys.

That's where we are. What will happen, who knows. But our approach is right now that we can compete with these other teams. Now, to beat 'em, we got to play better, coach better, maybe get a break or two in those close games.

Obviously Florida played very well when the games were close. They had a bunch of close ones. That's pretty much how you win conference championships nowadays. I think Florida won, what, two one point games, us and Tennessee, some six pointers, seven. I'm not sure what all.

But to win a championship nowadays probably in our conference, the ability to win a close one is crucial.

Q. With the Internet today and technology like camera phones, are football coaches more paranoid than ever about stuff in practice getting out? Has it changed over the years?

COACH SPURRIER: Oh, it's definitely changed to where most all of us are closing practice. In fact, this year we're pretty much going to close practice. But we're going to open it up for some scrimmages at times so our fans can come watch practice. Normally, though, it's going to be closed, just like about everyone else is doing.

We believe it's important to have at least one or two a week where maybe the fans can come watch, those that want to. But it's important to close them up nowadays, yeah.

Q. A lot of talk lately about how tough the SEC has become. From your perspective, is it significantly tougher than it was when you were at Florida in the '90s? If so, how much of that has to do with the coaches in the league right now?

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, I think it is a little tougher than back then. Seems like there was only maybe three, maybe four teams that had a chance to win the conference championship, whereas now there's at least six to maybe even seven or so. Who knows.

But with so many good teams, I mean, when you usually look in the top 10 defenses in the nation, there's five or six SEC teams in there. It shows the talent level in our conference is pretty doggone good. I think someone said at the NFL combine, there were 59 SEC guys, and the next conference with 34 or something like that I read.

So there's a lot more teams capable of winning the conference. A lot of good coaches. But we're usually only a pretty good coach if we've got a pretty good team.

Q. In your recruiting, how important is it for you to get guys giving you those verbal commitments in July, August, before the season starts? Then the guys that do commit to you early, had you does that affect your recruiting of them up until February?

COACH SPURRIER: Well, what's most important is the good ones that sign with you in February, as we know, 'cause sometimes early commitments do change their minds. But we 're sort of in between on early commitments. Sometimes we may actually keep talking to a player that made an early commitment until he just definitely says he's made up his mind that's where he wants to go. I'm sure they do the same thing if we get an early commitment.

I'm not sure. Sometimes a lot of these early commitment guys may not be the top players. Sometimes a lot of the real top players like to wait and check everybody out, meet the players, get to know the coaches, all this, that and the other.

But, anyway, I was against an early signing period. I'm glad we keep it in February. I think recruiting has turned more year round, though. It has turned into the April/May is maybe more important than it used to be. Everybody's recruiting hard in those months now. That's what we all do. I think it's fair for all.

Q. In your system, how long does it take usually for the light to go on for a quarterback? When do you feel like it really went on for Blake and stayed on?

COACH SPURRIER: Blake did play well the last part of the year, only had a few errant plays here and there. But probably when he came in against Arkansas, we put him in the second half just to see what would happen. He only really threw one bad ball the whole night, but that was all it took for us to be a loser 26 20 that game 'cause we didn't get the ball back after one interception.

But he threw the ball beautifully that night. Receivers caught it everywhere. From there on he seemed to play very well. My experience coaching quarterbacks, once you bench them, they come back a better player. Some coaches don't like benching them. But it was interesting watching Rex Grossman this year. Of course pull for Rex all the time.

But, anyway, the last year, the 2000 season that we won the SEC, actually benched him the Georgia game and also the South Carolina game, but then we'd bring him back. He'd be a lot better after you benched him a little bit and bring him back.

I'm hoping that's what's happened to Blake. A little time on the bench, maybe he could see the game a little bit better, understand, whatever. But hopefully he will really have a big year for us.

Q. The first off season leading into your first year at South Carolina, you had some players involved in some off field incidents. How do you go about getting the handle on that from last year to this year? Is that something you can get a handle on?

COACH SPURRIER: We still have a few that step out of line. My sort of philosophy on coaching is giving a second chance, those first year guys. But if they continue down the wrong road, then certainly we dismiss them.

But there's some acts that we don't tolerate, that they will definitely be gone, and our players know what they are.

So my philosophy on discipline is that you remove the guys from your team that can't follow the rules. I can't watch them every night and every day. Somebody thinks you ought to bring in all these mentors to talk to them every night. Their time they're busy year round. Football players are busy: Study halls, tutoring.

Well, anyway, at South Carolina they are. I don't know about all these other schools. But their time, academics, tutoring, study hall, all that, we can't watch 'em all the time. So they got to make a choice. The way to have good discipline, in my opinion, is you just remove those that don't choose to get with the program.

Q. On paper it looks like your offensive line is about where you were last year. What makes you believe that it's going to be any different this season?

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, although our two tackles we think are ready to play, Justin Sorensen and Jamon Meredith. We think they're going to be pretty solid in there. Inside actually our two starting guards were a couple of walk on guys that didn't earn a scholarship till I got there in their fourth and fifth year, I guess, Thomas Coleman and Seth Edwards.

We got Seth from defense. He thought he was a defensive lineman, playing about fourth team. Finally got him over on offense and he became a starter.

Anyway, we think we've signed some players that can play. We think Kevin Young can play and we think Lemuel Jeanpierre who we took from defensive tackle, a big, strong, 300 pound kid that's smart and wants to do well. Lem has a great chance to be a very good left guard there.

We just think we've got some players that can play in there. But it is crucial that we get those guys playing together early and not wait till about the fifth, sixth game of the season like we sort of did last year.

Q. You talked a lot about talent today. There's so much energy expended talking about whether a guy is a four star or five star guy. Do you see recruiting as something a little bit more complicated with things that aren't necessarily measurable or quantifiable?

COACH SPURRIER: Oh, certainly, certainly. Some of those hot shot guys that you think are going to be really top players don't pan out. Our first recruiting class, I know we were doing some cartwheels around Columbia there. I think about half of them are probably still on the team out of 24, probably 12 or 13 is all that's left. A bunch of them quit, a bunch of them couldn't get with the program.

That's one good thing about college football, is that they do give us room for error. With 85 scholarships you got some room for guys that don't make it. Hopefully you don't get too many that don't make it, but there is some room for error.

Yeah, the ratings on those guys doesn't always mean a lot. You got to get 'em and train 'em and go from there. Of course, the attitude they come in with is just as important more important probably than their talent level.

Q. The NFL commissioner has gotten tough with off the field citizenship issues. Do you see that having any kind of impact or trickle down effect in college football?

COACH SPURRIER: Well, what's interesting about our sport is about every university and every coach has his own rules. Commissioner, he can sort of control us coaches a little bit if we get out of line, I guess, but he doesn't tell us class attendance policy or drug policy. Every university has a chance to do their own thing on those kind of issues when a guy gets in trouble.

Obviously I think all coaches much, much more strongly react when something goes bad now. You know, hopefully it won't be as much as in the past. But, again, my way is remove those guys from the team. Can't baby sit them all the time. One of our media boys asked me the other day, Do you let your guys go down to Five Points? Five Points is a college bar they go down to downtown.

I said, No, they got to learn how to go out in public without getting in trouble. If they can't, they need to go play for one of these other schools or something. Send 'em on down the road (smiling). No, you got to learn to, you know, mix with everybody. You don't need to be sheltered and all that. That's just my opinion.

Q. How have you and your staff changed your strategy with the text messaging ban going into effect August 1st?

COACH SPURRIER: I guess we'll quit text messaging on August 1st. That won't change much what we do. Do what everybody else does. Send out all the letters, this, that, the other. Wait, make our calls, and when it's appropriate text. Which is about what everybody else does.

Q. I know it's not one of your players, but given your background with quarterbacks, can you talk about what you see out of Andre' Woodson?

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, again, I don't like to talk too much about the other teams' players. He's obviously a good player. I really admire what Kentucky, their team did last year. Go 8 5, win the Bowl game. We thought we did something big beating Clemson, then Kentucky beat them also.

Anyway, Clemson was a pretty good team. They were a good team (smiling). At one point in the year they were a dang good team. I don't know exactly what all happened to them, but they didn't finish very well.

I like Rich Brooks, Kentucky. I really admire what they did and so forth. Quarterback's a good player. Their whole team did a lot of good things last year. I'm not into rating or judging other teams' players all that much. They're all good.

Q. Houston Nutt had a highly publicized off season with adversity. Have you ever had anything close to what he encountered these past several months?

COACH SPURRIER: Let's see. Let's see. I think the only time I had a little bad stuff is when we lost our last three games at Florida in, let's see, what year was that, '99. '99, wasn't it? Yeah. I think his problems stem from losing his last three games. We're only as good as our last game.

South Carolina, we won our last three somehow, so we had a good off season. It really helped recruiting, helped everything. Fans are positive. They're giving money like they've never given before I think (smiling). So life's pretty good when you win your last few. When you lose those last few, then all the problems come in.

So I think that was probably what, in my opinion, happened in Arkansas, is they just happened to lose those last three. They had a big year going and it just didn't work out there at the end.

Q. What does it mean to be committed at Carolina? Has it changed in the last 10 years? Does it mean different things for different kids when they verbally commit to y'all?

COACH SPURRIER: Verbal commitments, most of the young men really mean it, I think so. Then a few think, well, if I commit early and get hurt I have one to fall back on, if I get hurt playing high school football during the season. Who's to say what's right or wrong.

But generally, you know, most of high school kids keep their commitments. Some change and some should change, really, because times change. I always relate to it like if you got a girlfriend in the summer before your senior year, in February of the coming year she may not still be your girlfriend. It's like schools. You know, sometimes they look pretty to you, then six months later they don't look so good.

I think they all should sort of change, wait, make their commitments sort of after the season. But that's not the way they do it. But some really know what they want to do. If they firmly know where they're going, that's good. I think it's good to do it that way.

Q. Could you briefly comment on Chris Smelley, how you think he may fit into the future of your program?

COACH SPURRIER: Chris is doing well. Chris right now is your backup to Blake. I hope he's had a real good summer working out, throwing the ball. I haven't seen him throw a ball since last spring. He needs to, you know, improve his passing a little bit here, there, the other, learn our offense.

But physically he certainly is capable of being an outstanding quarterback, so I'm anxious to see how much he's improved through the summer. Players can really improve through the summer if they're dedicated and make a commitment to work on the things they need to work on. I'm anxious to see what he looks like the night of August the 4th. We'll go out and throw the ball around a little bit.

Q. What do you think of Commissioner Slive's edict four years ago to get all the teams off probation within five years? Now that it's close, the fact it might happen.

COACH SPURRIER: All the teams off probation?

Q. Yes.

COACH SPURRIER: Well, I think Commissioner Slive is super. Commissioner Kramer was certainly an innovative commissioner, to get the championship games going in our conference, so forth. I tell everybody, if you get to that game, that's the biggest game of the year.

If you're lucky to get to the national championship game, that's another big game obviously. But for starting the season, that to me should be our biggest game, every conference team, is the SEC conference championship game.

Commissioner Slive, he knows what he's doing. Television money I think is at an all time high for SEC. I think South Carolina, we got the most money of anybody 'cause I think we played a couple of Thursday night games last year.

Commissioner Slive's done a super job. He's one of the best, no question about it.

Q. Talking about the Thursday night games last year, you play Kentucky this year. Can you talk about the advantages you see in playing Thursday night games?

COACH SPURRIER: Well, certainly when I was first hired at South Carolina, Dave Brown, ESPN, said, We'll put you on Thursday night, open the season, if you'll do some during the year also. I said, Sure, that's a good trade off for the University of South Carolina, open college football the last two years on Thursday night.

We're not doing it this year. I think LSU and Mississippi State has it this year. But the following year I think we're scheduled to open.

He wanted us to do some during the season. I think we had the Auburn game last year, Mississippi State early. But that was opening season, then we got Kentucky this year. Yeah, everybody's watching. It's a night that you get the whole country to watch you.

There's advantages if you play well and win. If you don't play very well and lose, I guess it's not real good. But we've been very competitive. I think our Auburn game last year went down to the wire. So obviously TV guys love those good close ones.

It's been very good for us to play Thursday night. We're going to continue I think playing one a year at least.

Q. You mentioned that you were trying to raise expectations, convince them they could play with everybody, make a run at the conference championship. You're going to get tested early with games on the road at Georgia and LSU. Does it change your preparation for a season having two games like that at the beginning? Would you rather sort of ease your way in?

COACH SPURRIER: It really doesn't matter that much. At Florida we played Tennessee about second game every year it seemed like. What's fair's for one is fair for the other. Hopefully your team's really ready to play early. The good teams obviously get better as the season progresses. The bad ones usually go downhill. Hopefully we'll get better as the season goes. That's how you have a big year, is to continue to improve.

But, again, like I said earlier, we need to get our offensive line straight before that Georgia game and go from there. Yeah, those are two big road games. Actually we played a little bit better on the road than we did at home last year. As far as wins and losses we were 5 1 on the road and 3 4 at home. But we had more of the top SEC teams at home last year.

Q. You're 62 now. How much longer do you reckon you'll coach?

COACH SPURRIER: I read something the other day that yesterday's 60 is today's 40, if you're a workout person and eat correctly, all that kind of stuff. So I've always figured on at least five more years, five to seven. I got a seven year contract, I think. I think I'm the last coach calling the plays.

Any other head coaches calling the plays now, or am I the only dumb idiot still doing it? I've always said that if I can't call the plays maybe it's time to get out of it. That's sort of what I do, this, that and the other.

But, you know, I feel about like I did when I was about 45, to tell you the truth. I work out now more than I did when I was 45. I don't know what all that means. Yeah, I feel real good. So hopefully if I start forgetting the plays, can't get 'em in, all that kind of stuff, then they need to get somebody else.

Q. What would you do if you retired, other than play golf? Do you just like coaching football and you can't foresee yourself not coaching football?

COACH SPURRIER: Well, probably same thing you sportswriters. I mean, what else would y'all be doing if you weren't here all the time (smiling)?

Yeah, I had that one year off, and it wasn't much fun. I don't play golf well enough. I can play decent, but I don't play well enough to play every day. I played in that Lake Tahoe event. Hadn't played since. I just said, That's enough for a while. My mind is completely off golf. Have no desire to play golf right now.

I'm looking forward to the season. Yeah, it's fun. It's fun for me. I guess the competition's the most fun. It's fun trying to win at South Carolina. Lee Corso said it couldn't be done. Trying to do things for the first time. We have so many accomplishments that have never happened there that we have a shot at. So that's the fun part for me. I know it's a wonderful situation. I know we've got pretty doggone good players, real good players. I think we've got real good players right now. It's just a wonderful opportunity. I sort of feel lucky that I got a shot to be the coach there to try to do some of these things for the first time ever.

So I'm looking forward to it.

Q. Does this league need to do a better job with non conference scheduling, getting more games like Cal and Tennessee?

COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, that's another individual university decision. Commissioner doesn't tell us who to play except our eight conference games and so forth.

We're playing North Carolina this year and Clemson. Somebody asked me today, Why y'all playing North Carolina? I said, Because that's a good game. That's North Carolina versus South Carolina. Used to be a big game when both were in the ACC. Of course, North Carolina is still in the ACC. But there's some rivalry between the two states. Of course, I used to coach at Duke. We played those guys all the time. I've got a little relationship going up to Chapel Hill. But that's already a sell out. That game is talked about as much as a lot of our conference games right now.

But I think it's a good game. We still play a couple of teams that just come to our place. We don't have to go to their place. I still believe we always should play seven home games out of 12, which is what we're doing. But I think two of your four choice games should be teams comparable to what you are. Certainly South Carolina, North Carolina, we're pretty comfortable. Then we play Clemson every year.

Our schedule is a good one. It's not a real easy one, but I think it's fair.

THE MODERATOR: Coach Spurrier, thank you.

COACH SPURRIER: Okay, thank you.

Courtesy: SEC Sports Information