Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
He's one of college football's all-time greatest coaches, ranking second in SEC history with 106 conference wins. Still, Steve Spurrier hasn't been able to make South Carolina a serious threat in the SEC East.
But that may be changing this season, Spurrier's sixth with the Gamecocks.
Spurrier, 65, has South Carolina off to a 3-0 start that has many in Columbia thinking big. Further fueling the Gamecocks' fire is that the SEC East looks to be wide open.
South Carolina has been a success-starved program, having never won the SEC East or gone to a BCS bowl. Conversely, Spurrier won seven SEC East crowns, six SEC titles and the 1996 national championship while he was the coach of Florida (1990-2001), where he won the 1966 Heisman.
It has been a slow building process for Spurrier at South Carolina, where he is 38-28 with four bowl trips. But his persistence finally may be paying off. South Carolina has opened with victories over Southern Miss, Georgia and Furman, with a strong defense being the backbone of the team.
Spurrier is an offense-minded guy whose Fun 'n' Gun attacks at Florida were quarterback-centric. But Spurrier hasn't been able to develop top-notch passers at South Carolina. Junior Stephen Garcia has become more consistent this season, but the Gamecocks are relying on the punishing running of freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore to go along with that stout defense.
Now comes South Carolina's biggest test yet: at 3-0 Auburn, which is coming off an overtime victory against Clemson. It won't get any easier after that. The Gamecocks are off the next week before playing host to Alabama on Oct. 9.
Spurrier visited with Rivals.com to discuss a variety of subjects:
Have you been surprised by the early success this season?
"Not really. We have a pretty good team and we have taken care of the ball, and it has worked out for us that we have won a couple. But we have a long ways to go. We're not getting any turnovers. We haven't made a lot of big things happen in special teams. We aren't a great passing team by any means right now. We have a lot to work on."
How good is Marcus Lattimore?
"Marcus we knew was a very good player, and he had a sensational game against Georgia. Hopefully, he will continue on. We also have some good running backs in Kenny Miles and Brian Maddox, so they will get more action as we go through the year. But Marcus is a very good back."
Can you be content to run the ball to win?
"We would like to have more balance. But if we aren't a very good passing team, it doesn't make sense for the quarterback to go back and get sacked all the time."
Why doesn't your defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, get more national respect?
"I think he does get national respect. I know a lot of coaches tried to hire him this offseason. We were able to get him a good raise to the level that SEC coordinators are making at some of the bigger schools. I think he's getting recognized, and he certainly is considered by a lot of people out there as the best defensive coordinator in college football. I have had several guys tell me that."
How different of a coach are you than when you were at Florida?
"Well, we don't score as many points as we did at Florida. You have to coach differently and you have to try to do what your team does best. We would open the game down there throwing it all over the place. We tried that here and we usually had a sack or a turnover or a punt. So we have tried to play differently. But we still hope to throw it around a lot better than we have lately around here."
Why have you struggled to develop a top quarterback at South Carolina?
"I don't have the answer for that. I don't have the answer for that. We have coached them just as hard, I can assure you, as we coached the guys I had at Florida. I don't really have the answer why a quarterback hasn't really emerged."
Do you still root for Florida when South Carolina isn't playing the Gators?
"Sure I pull for them. That's my alma mater."
Is there anything you miss about coaching in the NFL [Spurrier was 12-20 from 2002-03 with the Washington Redskins]?
. "No, no. I enjoy watching NFL games on TV. If you love football, you love watching high school, college, pro as much as we can. I think the lifestyle of a college coach is much, much more suitable to me, personally."
If not for your experience as a head coach in the USFL with the Tampa Bay Bandits [1983-85], do you think you'd be where you are today as a coach?
"I owe everything to [Bandits owner] John Bassett and the USFL. ? Obviously, he was the only USFL owner who would have hired me. I was an offensive coordinator at Duke when I got the head job down there. I'll always be grateful to Mr. Bassett and the USFL coming along."
Will South Carolina be your last coaching stop?
Yes, I have said that, I have said that. Of course, I'm not 100 percent sure that it will be my last coaching stop. But in all likelihood, it probably will be."
On your golf 'bucket list,' are there any courses you still want to play?
"There are probably a couple. One is in Oregon; I think it's Brandon Dunes. Sand Hills in Nebraska is the other I have heard is very good. I have been fortunate to be able to play a lot of the good ones in the United States. But those are a couple I haven't played yet."
How much longer do you think you'll coach?
"Four to five years. I told some people this summer that I really feel like we signed a running back, Marcus Lattimore, that can do some special things for us. I also like this quarterback, Connor Shaw, and some of our freshman linemen.
"We have a lot of good, young players here. Our recruiting has been very solid the last several years, so we've got an eye toward the future. It's not like we have a senior team or anything. We have several seniors, but we have a pretty good balance of young guys and older players here."
Who are some of your best friends in the coaching business?
"[Oklahoma coach] Bobby Stoops is probably without a doubt the guy. He worked for me at Florida for three years [1996-98]. Other than that, I think I get along with most all the guys, but Bobby is about the only one I talk to often. We call each other once a week probably."
Do you keep in contact with Bobby Bowden?
"No, we never have stayed in touch. I mean, we talk when we see each other. I don't call a lot coaches. Bobby [Stoops] is about the only one I ever call through the year and so forth. He actually has a place at the beach where I have one, down in Crescent Beach, Fla."
What do you think of how Bowden went out at Florida State?
"I don't really have an opinion one way or the other. I just know history says a lot of coaches go out that way. It's unfortunate. I hope I don't go out that way. If it's going bad, I can assure you that I will be the first guy to say that, 'They need to get someone else in here.' History just shows that if it's not going as well as people think it should, they are going to make a change. I accept that as a fact."