SPARTANBURG - Four days ago, Steve Spurrier said his decision to make his son, wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr., the primary offensive play-caller this upcoming season was based on his desire to spend more time with other areas of the team.
Tuesday night, he offered a new explanation for his much-debated decision to several hundred South Carolina fans attending the Spartanburg County Gamecock Club meeting at the Memorial Auditorium.
And it sounded something right out of an old commercial for a well-known investment company.
"Steve, Jr. has really earned the right to do that," Spurrier said. "Some people have said the coach is letting his son call the plays. He's been with me for 11 years now. He's actually been one of the best coaches on the staff. He has a pretty good track record as a recruiter and wide receivers coach. He's been around this offense for a long time. I think it will go very well."
Spurrier said his son's job performance over the last several season warranted the promotion. He specifically pointed to the development of Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley into All-SEC wide receivers as evidence of Spurrier, Jr's strong track record.
"Steve, Jr. is the most qualified guy on the staff," Spurrier said. "If there was somebody else who was better, you can be assured I'll tell them to do it."
Spurrier asserted the long hours every week it took to prepare the offensive plan for game day forced him away from other duties he must perform as head coach.
"Coordinating an offense is an all-week job," Spurrier said. "You have to get the plays on the wrist bands and everything else. Very few head coaches do it anymore. I used to call the plays without a sheet. Now, we have formations and shifts all over the place. (Spurrier, Jr.) is ready to do that. But I'll still be the overall offensive coach."
With the question of who will call most of the offensive plays answered, Spurrier must now decide who will pull the trigger when the ball is snapped. He reiterated the ongoing battle between Chris Smelley (1,176 passing yards in 2007) and Tommy Beecher (175 passing yards) for the starting QB job is tight following Monday night's scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"Smelley and Beecher are very close," Spurrier said. "Statistically, they've been about the same all through the scrimmages. Right now, they look like they'll be our two guys at quarterback."
In order to give the quarterbacks an opportunity to 'throw the ball around' in the April 19 spring game (1 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium), Spurrier said he will limit what the defense can do in terms of a pass rush.
He expects the QB competition will extend into fall camp.
"Maybe we'll have a starting quarterback when the spring game is over," Spurrier said. "But right now, they're both so close, I'd like for them to go through the summer and pre-season practice and maybe one of them will look a lot better than the other."
Spurrier was noncommittal as to whether redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, suspended after a third run-in with the police in 15 months, will join the pair of veteran quarterbacks on the practice fields in the fall.
The suspension imposed by athletic director Eric Hyman ends Aug. 15, but Garcia must fulfill a number of conditions before he'll be allowed to return to the football team.
Spurrier isn't so sure Garcia will be back.
"Stephen Garcia may be back, he may not," Spurrier said. "He's got a lot of requirements to fulfill to be re-admitted in August. We'll wait and see if Stephen makes it."
Spurrier said he expects incoming freshman Aramis Hillary from Edgefield County's Strom Thurmond High School will become the No. 3 quarterback in fall camp.
Spurrier's enthusiasm about Hillary's potential is unbridled.
"Aramis is a player we're really looking forward to coaching," Spurrier said. "He loves football and comes from a football family. He's a quarterback that wants to learn everything about playing the position. He has a commitment level I've seen in very few players. He really wants to be good. He'll probably be the third guy this season when he comes on campus. He can run a little bit but he's a passer also."
One of the positions Spurrier has focused on this spring is the struggling offensive line. He recently shared with them a story about Jake Long, the Michigan tackle expected to selected early in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.
"I wish we had a guy like that Michigan player who's supposed to be a first-round pick," Spurrier said. "I saw this guy interviewed. He said he wanted to shove the guy's face in the mud every time. I told our offensive line guys, 'Have any of you liked to do that?' We don't have a lot of mean guys up there. I wish we had more mean guys. We're not as mean as we need to be. I'm trying to spend more time with them."
How good will USC be in 2008? Spurrier, still feeling the sting of the five-game losing streak that doomed USC's bowl prospects, isn't saying. And he promised he won't, either.
"There's not going to be any pre-season talk," Spurrier said. "Whatever goals we have, we're going to keep to ourselves. Our goal right now is to play the best we can against N.C. State."
Spurrier acknowledged, though, that this year's team is talented enough to compete most Saturdays in the SEC.
"We have a lot of good players, but we haven't had our best team yet," Spurrier said, noting that the four players drafted in his first three years have been three defensive backs (Ko Simpson, Johnathan Joseph and Fred Bennett) and WR Sidney Rice.
The only USC player expected to be drafted this year is RB Cory Boyd, who is projected as middle round draft pick. The fact the Gamecocks should have only one player drafted is evidence hat last year's goal of competing for the SEC Championship were a bit unrealistic, Spurrier said.
"Hopefully, in the near future, we're going to have a bunch of players the NFL would like," Spurrier said. "We have a lot of players for spring practice. Talent-wise, we'll have our best team overall. Hopefully, we'll coach better. I've said many times that we have to coach better and our players have to play better. It all goes together. Our fans are doing their part and they deserve a winner.
"But we have to play well in crunch time. We have to win our share of close games. We've won a few here and there, but as everybody knows, we've lost too many close games. To have the big year we all want, we have to make those plays and coach those plays better. Looking back, we just should have said let's win more than we lose."
-- Since he was speaking to a crowd in the Upstate, Spurrier took time to talk about each of the players from the region. He said RB Brian Maddox would likely be the backup to Mike Davis this season. He also said DT Nathan Pepper should be a starter by the time the season opens in late August. WR Moe Brown is "catching everything this spring," Spurrier said. He also praised Freddie Brown, whom he described Monday night as USC's "slant specialist."
-- Spurrier said Nick Prochak, seriously injured when a vehicle collided with his scooter, could return to action by the start of the season. Doctors inserted a rod into Prochak's leg to stabilize it, he said.
-- Spurrier described new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's schemes as "good stuff." He added: "The players are learning and they've really accepted what we're trying to teach." Spurrier said one of the good things to arise from the five-game losing streak was hat USC was able to hire a couple of new assistant coaches. "If we had won, we'd still be struggling on third-and-21, third-and-18, third and all kinds of stuff. I believe we'll be fundamentally sounder under Ellis Johnson. I think he's going to do a super job."
-- Spurrier said USC's run defense, rated last in the SEC in 2007, was "very good" in Monday night's scrimmage. The offense gained just 37 yards on 30 rushes. "We need to do something to get the running game going," Spurrier said.
-- Spurrier said "all the starters" are playing on special teams. He believes the approach of new special teams coordinator will make the Gamecocks "a tougher team and a more disciplined team."
-- Spurrier described tight ends Weslye Saunders and Jared Cook as "average" blockers, though they catch the ball very well.
-- Spurrier said DB and KR Chris Culliver is one of the fastest players on the team in the 40, but that it's a different story when he's on the football field. "Chris needs to play faster when the ball is snapped," Spurrier said.
-- Spurrier said USC would have had 16 of 17 seniors graduate by May, but defensive lineman Joel Reaves "decided he wanted to drop out of class" to prepare for a pro football career. Spurrier credited a new class attendance policy he described as "go all the time" with helping to bolster the football's team's academic performance. "Our guys are doing well academically," Spurrier reported. Three players - RB Bobby Wallace, TE Dustin Lindsey and DB Chris Hail are not practicing during the week so they can meet with an academic counselor.
-- Spurrier noted USC has led in the fourth quarter of all three contests against Clemson in his tenure at USC.
-- Spurrier described new men's basketball coach as a "rising star" in the coaching profession. "He loves competing, he loves recruiting, he loves everything about basketball," Spurrier said. "He's no afraid of going up against basketball schools like Kentucky and Florida. I think he's going to be here for a long time."
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