COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier can't help himself these days: He likes his defending Southeastern Conference divisional winners, no matter how many distractions he must handle at quarterback.
Spurrier said quarterback coach G.A. Mangus will be back to coach despite his arrest this week for urinating in public in downtown Greenville. Spurrier also said suspended starting quarterback Stephen Garcia has made fundamental lifestyle changes and is poised for a big, big year.
"Times have changed around here," Spurrier said. "I think we all know times have changed."
The Gamecocks went 9-5 a season ago to win the SEC Eastern Division and play in their first league title game. South Carolina was picked to return to the championship at last week's SEC media gathering.
The offense features all-SEC players in tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery. The defense adds the country's No. 1 college recruit in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The biggest questions since April have concerned the quarterback spot, first with Garcia and then with Mangus, the man brought in as a mentor to the senior passer.
Garcia was suspended in April by the school for unacceptable conduct at a life-skills gathering — his second suspension this spring and fifth since he arrived on campus in January 2007.
Garcia was given guidelines to meet and has apparently done well enough to impress even Spurrier. Garcia "has changed his lifestyle almost completely," Spurrier said. "He's been on time. No goofing around. He's very serious. He's shown a commitment we haven't seen before. Hopefully that will continue and I expect that to continue. I expect him to be a different person."
A final official decision on Garcia's status with the Gamecocks won't come until at least Aug. 1, Spurrier said. The Gamecocks open fall camp on Aug. 3.
Mangus got himself in hot water this week when police caught him peeing on the street after a night of drinking. The police report said Mangus was unsteady on his feet, was slurring his words and smelled of alcohol.
Mangus took responsibility for his actions and apologized to Spurrier, the other assistants, the players and the school for his embarrassing actions. Mangus has a court date set for the misdemeanor charge on Aug. 26 and, if convicted, could face a fine of $470.
Spurrier immediately suspended Mangus from all coaching activities. That included Thursday's golf outing where Spurrier's other eight assistants played and took questions. Spurrier, the former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida, joked that he tried to take over working with the quarterbacks even with Mangus there.
"Yeah, I think G.A.'s going to be back," Spurrier said.
Mangus had gained a lot of credit with Garcia's growth as a player. Garcia threw for 3,059 yards last season, the most of any SEC returning quarterback, and 20 touchdowns as the Gamecocks defeated SEC rivals Georgia, Tennessee and Florida in the same season for the first time in school history.
South Carolina also upset then No. 1-ranked Alabama, 35-21, as Garcia completed 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards and three first-half touchdowns that stunned the defending national champions.
Yet, it wasn't the same Garcia at the end of the season in South Carolina's losses to Auburn in the SEC championship game and Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Garcia threw five interceptions and just two touchdown passes in the two games. Things got crazy this past spring when Garcia missed the first week of football practice for an undisclosed violation at the bowl site. When Garcia returned, he pledged he would never get in trouble again. Two weeks later, Garcia earned his current suspension.
Spurrier said he's seen a pleasing difference in his fifth-year quarterback.
"We think Stephen is really on track to perform well and grow as a first-class person," he said.
Spurrier also likes the Gamecocks' defensive potential this fall. Defensive end Devin Taylor and cornerback Stephon Gilmore were first-time all-SEC preseason picks and that's even before Clowney, the most buzzed-about recruit in South Carolina history, has seen the field.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson likes Clowney's promise. He hopes fans ease up on the hype and wait until the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Clowney figures out his place.
"I don't mean to throw cold water on it, but I think everybody's getting out ahead of this thing," Johnson said.
Chicken Nuggets: Spurrier said all this year's fall practices will be closed to the public and media. .... Spurrier talked of the plan he floated at the SEC's spring meetings to "give some extra dough to the football players." He said he's gotten plenty of positive feedback on the idea and didn't understand how anybody could be against the proposal. "I believe those guys deserve something extra, but that's something down the road," Spurrier said. ... Spurrier also discussed the call from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to make scholarships valid for more than one year, saying he hoped coaching groups would then call for assistant coaches to get multi-year deals. Spurrier said eight of his nine assistants have one-year contracts "and they're not going around moping they have a one-year deal."