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South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier far from his old self in Outback Bowl loss to Iowa

No flying visors, only disgust from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier as Iowa scores in the second quarter of the Outback Bowl on Thursday.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

No flying visors, only disgust from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier as Iowa scores in the second quarter of the Outback Bowl on Thursday.

TAMPA — Time was, his visor would have been airborne. Time was, his veins would have bulged as if golf club shafts were imbedded in his neck.

Time was, Steve Spurrier would have chewed the face off anyone who dared suggest he kick a field goal.

A field goal? Are you kidding me? With two minutes left? With a 24-point deficit? In a medium cut of a bowl called the Outback?

Yet, there Spurrier stood, calm as a pond without ripples, sending a kicker onto the field to salvage the last three points of the season.

Why? Because, as Spurrier explained it, losing 31-10 didn't sound as bad as losing 31-7.

Oh. In that case, well, congratulations.

On the other hand, wouldn't you have expected a little more from Spurrier?

After all, this is Coach Superior, remember? This is the man who once led the nation in creativity and swagger and fire. On fourth and 10, on his last offensive call of the season, wouldn't you have expected an explosive play from a strange formation by an efficient quarterback?

And while we're asking, in Spurrier's fourth season wouldn't you have expected more than what the Gamecocks brought to Raymond James Stadium on Thursday?

I know, I know. There are easier places to win than South Carolina. It's going to be tough for anyone, including Spurrier, to be great there. By now, however, wouldn't you have expected his teams to at least be dangerous? Wouldn't you have expected them to keep a few defensive coordinators up at night?

And yet, his offense plods along, as if he had brought former Florida coach Doug Dickey's playbook along with him instead of his own. There has been very little fun and even less gun.

Consider this: South Carolina threw an interception on its second play of the game. It fumbled on its fourth. It threw another interception on its 12th play. And another on its 19th. It fumbled on its 30th. All in all, it was the worst day Spurrier has had that did not include the words "Dan" or "Snyder."

And despite it all, no visors flew.

"We did some decent things in the middle of the year, but lately we've really struggled," Spurrier said. "We've got to get back to running the ball, run the ball, run the ball and throw some play-action."

Run the ball? Spurrier?

For a coach whose teams have played for national championships, whose players have been in the running for Heismans, these must be frustrating days. More than anything, Spurrier has been known as a competitive cuss who can't stand finishing second, even in Outback Bowls.

Once, he played the big rooms. Once, he brought rock 'n' roll to the stodgy old SEC, a league that thought you had to run the ball between the tackles 30 times a game to merit consideration.

Now, Spurrier strikes you as a former rock star playing the back room at the Holiday Inn. Maybe he'll have another hit someday. Maybe not.

That's the price of coaching at South Carolina. It doesn't have the unrealistic expectations of Florida, and it doesn't have the meddling ownership Spurrier found in the NFL. But the type of success he has had? It's hard to get there from South Carolina.

Did you watch him on the sideline? Do you think Danny Wuerffel did? Or Terry Dean?

These days, Spurrier pats his quarterbacks on the back instead of screaming in their faces. That's part of the deal, too. Stephen Garcia needs a lot more nurturing than he needs screaming. With Wuerffel, Spurrier could go ballistic because Wuerffel had everything around him to succeed. Garcia? Not so much.

Eventually, perhaps, Garcia will grow into the quarterback Spurrier seeks. Eventually, perhaps, the tumblers will drop just right and the Gamecocks can have that once-in-a-lifetime season.

After all, no one wants to see Spurrier wind up as just another coach of just another team losing in just another bowl game.

With Spurrier, the expectations have always been more than that.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier far from his old self in Outback Bowl loss to Iowa 01/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 5:40pm]
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