Thu, Nov 25, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Steve Spurrier tones down talk in South Carolina

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA

Steve Spurrier's swagger was not quite so pronounced when he arrived Tuesday at Williams-Brice Stadium to be introduced as the new football coach at the University of South Carolina. His words came without the same cocky self-assurance he displayed in 12 seasons as coach at Florida.

He is different now, Spurrier admits. Two losing seasons with the Washington Redskins, in 2002 and 2003, can change a man.

It humbled Spurrier.

"I think one thing I learned, I learned a lot more humility," Spurrier said during a news conference to announce he would replace retiring Lou Holtz. "Maybe I was a little arrogant, maybe I ran my mouth more than I should.

"Human nature sometimes causes you to maybe feel like you have more answers than you really do when you've got a real good team. So hopefully I've learned some humility and greater respect for all coaches."

If this is the new Spurrier, eager South Carolina fans will take him. He signed a seven-year contract with a guaranteed payout of US$1.25 million a year with incentives that could add as much as US$900,000 each year, a deal that Spurrier negotiated to be lower so that his assistant coaches would be paid more.

There was a celebratory feel to the news conference, with Spurrier receiving a loud and long ovation when he stepped to the podium. They are hungry here in this Southeastern Conference school that has always been overshadowed by national powers such as Georgia, Tennessee and, of course, the Florida machine run by Spurrier from 1990 through 2001.

They thought that Lou Holtz, the former Notre Dame coach who was hired in December 1998, would lift South Carolina to legitimacy in the SEC. And Holtz was partly successful, leading the Gamecocks to bowl games in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Remember, this is a university that has gone to a total of 11 bowl games in 60 years. The Gamecocks had qualified for a bowl this season as well, although they will not play as self-imposed punishment for a brawl that occurred during a game with Clemson on Saturday.

That was the last game for Holtz, 67, who announced his retirement Monday.

Holtz made South Carolina respectable, but he did not deliver the titles it craved. The Gamecocks have not won a championship since taking the Atlantic Coast Conference title in 1969, although they were an independent from 1971-1991 before joining the SEC. Spurrier, 59, is the hope now. He arrives with a 142-40-2 record in 15 years as a college coach, including a 122-27-1 record at Florida as well as a national championship in 1996 and six SEC titles. That record was well noted by Athletic Director Mike McGee when he introduced Spurrier. His time in Washington was not mentioned.

Perhaps that is best. Asked what he missed most about the college game, Spurrier's response was revealing.

"If I answer that question, then I start criticizing the NFL," he said. "I'm going to try my best not to say anything bad about the NFL or those players or whatever, and I am not angry at anybody. Just say it didn't work out. I'll take all the blame for the losing seasons and leave it at that."

Spurrier lost more than games (12-20) when he was in Washington. He lost the swagger.

"It's not easy to lose," said his wife, Jerri. "It's just not easy to lose."

Spurrier did not coach this season, but there was much speculation he would take the Florida job when Ron Zook was fired on Oct. 25.

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