Vaught's Views: South Carolina's Steve Spurrier is still the same funny, cocky coach he has always been
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was his usual funny and confident self Tuesday at his 20th Southeastern Conference media days in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo / July 18, 2012)
He’s the same funny, irreverent or even cocky self that takes shots at himself and others — “It's easier to win the national championship than the SEC. Ask (Alabama coach) Nick Saban.” He also joked that some media members had been to more Media Days than him “because they don’t fire the media.”
Of course, Spurrier then pointed out that South Carolina had never won a SEC championship and bombed two years ago when it did reach the SEC championship game.
“I do think we are going to have a good team this year. We return a lot of good players even though we had six players drafted by the NFL and lost some good players,” Spurrier said. “Actually, we have got a lot of good players and our goal is still to win the SEC. We’ve had a bunch of firsts — winning the SEC East, winning 11 games — but we have not won the SEC and that’s what we hope to do. Maybe this will be the year we finally win the SEC, but we also realize we could fall flat on our face if we don’t prepare well.”
Could be, but at least it is always refreshing to me to see a coach that isn’t afraid to speak his mind. That could rub others the wrong way, but it is the way he was the first time I saw him at a SEC Media Day as the coach at Florida and the way he was two years ago when he lost to Kentucky for the first time.
He’s changed his philosophy, too, something not every coach will or can do.
“At Florida, we came out firing, got ahead and then ran the ball. Now we are running more,” Spurrier said. “We have good runners and our quarterback (Conner Shaw) is a good runner. Running the ball is what we do best.”
He noted that last year the Gamecocks were fourth in the SEC in total offense, and that in the last four games Shaw had the highest quarterback rating in the country. That came after Spurrier finally booted Stephen Garcia off the team and Shaw knew he was No. 1.
“Sometimes when a quarterback knows he is the guy, he plays a little bit better,” Spurrier said almost as advice for Kentucky fans who will face an unsettled quarterback situation going into the season and maybe all season. “Obviously, quarterback is a very important position and his skills are really good.
“Conner is both a passing and running quarterback.¿He might be a better runner. Never had one quite like that, so he’s going to keep running the ball. He is a guy that can run for a first down when a play breaks down. The importance of that is tremendous. Tim Tebow used to do it al the time at Florida. You can’t underestimate that.”
It was just a few years ago that it looked like Kentucky was ready to climb over South Carolina in the SEC pecking order. Then Spurrier got the ball rolling and Kentucky took a few steps back. Now the Gamecocks are soaring and Kentucky is fighting to get out of the SEC cellar. Maybe it’s time for UK to think about changing its philosophy offensively and try something different. Or maybe it’s time to upgrade facilities even more, something Spurrier insisted has helped the Gamecocks advance. Or maybe it was just getting the right hire with Spurrier eight years ago and then giving him time to build the program the way he wanted.
“We like our team a lot,” South Carolina receiver Ace Sanders said. “We believe we can win the SEC. That’s what we want to do.”
Could Kentucky do that?
“I don’t know. Every team in the SEC is good, including Kentucky,” Sanders said. “It’s all about talent, believing you can win and then executing on the field.”
Brutal, but honest.
Does Kentucky have that talent? I don’t think so. Does Kentucky have that belief? Coming off a 5-7 season, I don’t think so. Could Kentucky execute? That it could do to the best of its ability and then see what happens.
But Spurrier noted despite all the credit he gets for his offense, it will be South Carolina’s defense that determines if the Gamecocks can or cannot win the SEC East or overall SEC title.
“We may be stronger on defense than offense. We were third in the SEC in defense behind LSU¿and Alabama last year,” Spurrier said. “I think our two defensive ends are the best in the conference. Our linebacking corps is very good. They are all seniors and all fifth-year guys. We have a lot of experience.¿Our defense has got to play very well and if it does, we could be pretty good.”
Which is a statement going into this year that Kentucky can’t make, but maybe should realize it could make based on what Spurrier has done at South Carolina.