HOOVER, Ala. — The coaches and players change at South Carolina. The challenge doesn’t.
A few years ago, coach Lou Holtz rambled on and on about trying to “change the culture” at South Carolina. But it’s obviously easier to change coaches.
Never mind that South Carolina has improved in three years under coach Steve Spurrier. It still languishes behind Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the SEC East. And it still needs to raise its self-esteem.
“At Duke University (where Spurrier won an Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 1988), the first thing I had to do was tell those guys they were just as good as N.C. State or Clemson, and hope like heck they believed me,” Spurrier said Friday afternoon at SEC football media days. “Fortunately, they did. And they played like it.
“You try to tell your players, ‘You’re good players, you’re capable; now, play like it.’ But we didn’t quite play like we were very good players (last year).”
South Carolina started 6-1 and finished 6-6 — another mediocre season produced by a mediocre program. But the longstanding mediocrity is more glaring when contrasted with Spurrier’s glowing resumé.
Isn’t the team supposed to assume the coach’s personality?
Yet the Gamecocks have never assumed Spurrier’s swagger. It’s not all their fault. They’re trapped in the strongest football division outside the NFL.
They have had their moments. They have beaten Georgia, Florida and UT once apiece, and come agonizingly close to winning just as many other matchups with the East’s big three. Those potential victories were frittered away in the Gamecocks’ failure to execute the most rudimentary plays.
The last-second loss to national champion Florida in 2006 comes to mind. So does last year’s loss to UT in which the Gamecocks outgained the Vols by almost 200 yards.
Such last-minute setbacks could be attributable as much to a lack of confidence as a lack of talent.
At last year’s SEC media days, Spurrier might have hoped to boost his team’s confidence when he proclaimed it ready to contend for a conference championship.
“Obviously, we were dead wrong in thinking our team was capable last year,” Spurrier said.
Reality reigned Friday.
“We only had one guy (Cory Boyd) drafted,” Spurrier said. “So it wasn’t like this team was loaded.”
Although the team has fostered no championship predictions from its coach, it’s more talented and experienced than last year. Linebackers Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley, and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn should become NFL draft picks. So should wide receiver Kenny McKinley and tight end Jared Cook.
“We’ve got ballplayers,” Spurrier said. “We absolutely have no excuses about ballplayers. We’ve got to coach better, and they’ve got to play like good players.
They also have to believe they’re good players.
“Yeah, we lack a little bit of confidence,” Spurrier said. “But we haven’t done enough to gain a whole bunch of confidence. … I’ve always been a big believer, you’ve got to expect some big things to happen before you can achieve it.”
The confidence issue comes up again when Spurrier assesses his new quarterback, junior Tommy Beecher.
“Tommy has the highest GPA on the team,” Spurrier said. “He can probably run better than the other quarterbacks and he can make all the throws.
“We’re hoping he can develop a lot of confidence.”
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.