Spurrier bails out on Gamecocks’ sinking ship

col-tbuzz-2Let me say this first so there’s no mistaking me for a hater: Steve Spurrier is, oops, was one of the greatest college football coaches ever. Not just in the SEC, where he rivals Bear Bryant’s all-time records, and not just in the modern era, because Spurrier is as old-school as they come these days.

Now that that’s out of the way, Spurrier also happens to be a quitter. His sudden resignation in the middle of a difficult season for South Carolina is akin to a captain jumping a sinking ship with women and children aboard. It seems the competitive spirit that drove him to the top of the college football world as both a player (1966 Heisman Trophy winner) and coach (1996 national championship) abandonded him in the twilight of his illustrious career. … or maybe it got the best of him.

Spurrier revolutionized college football by introducing a pass-oriented offense that made the old “3 yards and a cloud of dust” approach extinct. He magically transformed lowly Duke into an ACC title contender, turned his alma mater Florida into a national title contender, and lifted the Gamecocks to its highest point in program history. While his Fun N’ Gun attack was racking up points and records, Spurrier was running his mouth more often than his teams ran the football.

There was poor ol’ Bobby Bowden, a coaching legend at “Free Shoes University” until Spurrier upstaged him in his own state. There was favorite punching bag Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, where Spurrier made Rocky Top fans see orange with a series of butt-kickings and trash-talkings. And most recently there was Dabo Swinney, whom Spurrier seemed to delight in ruffling Clemson’s feathers. The old saying about what comes around goes around was certainly coming Spurrier’s way this fall.

We all saw this coming. Rumors of Spurrier’s retirement were rampant before his hastily called press conference before the season to announce he wasn’t quitting, wasn’t even considering it. It came off more as a desperate and defensive move rooted in paranoia with all the talk of his “enemies” being out to get him and the Gamecocks. If the purpose was to stop the mass exodus of recruits to other programs, Spurrier’s speech had the opposite effect of setting off alarm signals.

It all started to fall apart in a home loss to Kentucky and a humiliating defeat to Georgia. South Carolina’s offensive performance was painful to watch in a loss at Missouri and even Spurrier saw the writing of the wall. Rather than a farewell victory tour, this was going to be a death march through the rest of the schedule. Spurrier’s mouth had written checks over the years that he could not cover in November dates with Tennessee, Florida and Clemson, so he took his ball and went home.

It all came clear during the last-minute change of venue to LSU due to flooding in the Midlands. The fine folks in Baton Rouge were as nice as they could be to Spurrier and the displaced Gamecocks, at least until the game kicked off. Spurrier saw that his team was no match for LSU and few others left on his schedule, and the butt-kickings weren’t going to get any easier. In fact, the worst experience to cap his career may have been listening to the boo birds crow at home.

So Spurrier did what every coach preaches about – he quit. Yes, at 70, he was getting up there in age. Yes, he has accomplished everything he could as a coach. Yes, he leaves the Gamecocks program in better shape than he found it. But was it too much to ask for him to take his whippings like a man for six more weeks? When the going got tough, Spurrier bailed out on his players, the school, and most of all, himself. His Hall of Fame-worthy resume will now read “great player, better coach, offensive innovator, colorful personality and, ultimately, a quitter.”

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