Monday brought two major headlines in the world of college football, both involving USCs.
The sad story surrounding the resignation of troubled University of Southern California Coach Steve Sarkisian dominated the daylight hours.
Later in the day, word began to trickle out that University of South Carolina (the other USC) Coach Steve Spurrier was voluntarily stepping down. Most of us thought he would say good- bye at season’s end, but the Ole Ball Coach is leaving immediately.
He has accomplished a great deal in more than 30 years of coaching. He averaged 11 wins per year as a first-time head coach for the short-lived, but entertaining, Tampa Bay Bandits of the equally short-lived United States Football League.
Spurrier has led three college programs into prominence, including the Duke Blue Devils, his first head coaching job. Spurrier won at Duke in the 1980s after the Blue Devils had been big losers for more than 20 years.
Most know what he did at Florida. There’s the national title and five SEC championships. Spurrier coached 150 games for the Gators and won 127 of them. He won 87 of 99 conference games.
After a two-year dalliance with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, Spurrier was back to coaching on Saturdays, this time at South Carolina.
He has won in Columbia, but not at his previous levels. The Gamecocks’ only appearance in the SEC Championship Game came in 2010 when they were routed by Cam Newton and Auburn on their way to the national title. As he departs, Spurrier leaves with an 86-49 record in 10 ½ seasons.
It is the half season that is troubling. Throughout his career, Spurrier has had only one losing season, his first at Duke. At 2-4 with games remaining at Texas A&M and Tennessee, along with home games against Florida and Clemson, the Gamecocks are likely to finish below .500 this season.
Barring any unrevealed health or personal issue, it seems that Spurrier is quitting on his team. We hear the old refrain that he may have a successor in mind and the plan is to get that now-elevated coach the full-time gig.
That is all well and good, but how about those young men he recruited? Quitting is not an option for them. They should be the top priority of the current coach, not who may have the job next year.
Leaders are successful in getting soldiers, managers, employees and football players to buy into what they are selling. By merely looking at his record, it is clear Steve Spurrier has enjoyed a great deal of buy-in during his career.
Successful football coaches (or successful coaches in any sport) instill and nurture traits that lead to winning. At or near the top of that list is “never quit.”
While there is no substitute for athletic talent, a gifted athlete armed with the drive to win and never quit attitude is the teammate everyone wants. Their coach must be the one at the front of the line until the very end.
When news first broke, many of us thought Spurrier was announcing he would retire at the end of the season. He is 70 years old and stepping down is fully understandable. Would that not have been the classier route to take?
Again, if there is an issue that needs his immediate full attention, then he has the support of any fair-minded individual. If not, he let down a lot of people who looked up to him and counted on him.
Spurrier’s detractors will not be alone in criticizing his unexpected departure. The coming days may reveal some of those who feel abandoned.