In his latest article for SI.com, Paul Finebaum oozes praise for the old ball coach:
It is difficult to find new ways to express praise for a man many consider the best SEC coach since the legendary Paul Bryant walked the sidelines 30 years ago. However, this 10-2 regular season may have to be considered one of Spurrier’s finest coaching jobs. That’s saying something for someone with a lifetime college coaching winning percentage of .722. [Emphasis added.]
A 10-2 record is impressive, especially when considering how few of those South Carolina has had. But to call this season “one of Spurrier’s finest coaching jobs” shows a stunning lack of perspective.
Yes, there were struggles to overcome:
Although South Carolina was picked to win the SEC East, in the first half of the season Spurrier battled the demons of longtime starting — and often suspended — quarterback Stephen Garcia. After a stunning home loss to Auburn on Oct. 1, Spurrier jettisoned Garcia for the final time for off-the-field transgressions. Spurrier then lost sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, a preseason Heisman candidate, to a season-ending knee injury. Many feared the loss of Lattimore would devastate the offense and lead to several more losses, badly the ending a season which had started with such promise.
But you could also argue that poor coaching decisions led to some of the above and cost the Gamecocks an opportunity to play for a national championship.
Spurrier’s handling of Garcia was pathetic. Garcia’s story is a sad tale of one stumble after another. Spurrier gave him chance after chance to redeem himself, but Garcia couldn’t quite do it. In the end, it’s fairly obvious that he gave Garcia too many chances. It’s a touch situation to handle for sure, especially when you want a player to finally “get it.” But if Spurrier had dealt with Garcia sooner, Connor Shaw would have likely led the team to a win over Auburn.
Think about it. The other SEC powers absolutely destroyed Auburn. Alabama, Georgia and LSU absolutely destroyed Auburn. And just like South Carolina, each of those teams played host to Auburn. But the Gamecocks lost a stunner 16-13. Auburn allows an average of 44 points per game against the Big 3 and South Carolina manages 13. That doesn’t seem possible.
That loss ultimately cost the Gamecocks a slot in the SEC championship game versus LSU. Now, South Carolina didn’t look impressive offensively for much of the season, but at the time the Gamecocks were ranked No. 10 in the country and a win over Auburn could have drastically altered the remaining course of the season.
The reality is that Spurrier’s lifetime achievements are fantastic, but his run at South Carolina – especially the resurgence Finebaum is gushing over, is due as much to the pathetic state of the SEC East as it is to coaching.