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October 11, 2011
Cloninger: No happy ending here
"It's over and done with."
--------------------------------- THE PROCLAIMERS
So here it's finally happened, and we're all left to deal with the aftermath. As sad as it is to say, it's also completely unsurprising - Stephen Garcia again couldn't get out of his own way and has run out of chances at South Carolina.
The final nail, as it was in four of the other five, was alcohol. And while I'm certainly no saint or sanctimonious enough to suggest that I haven't tipped a few, it's sad, tragic even, to watch somebody with so much talent throw it all away.
It was obvious that Garcia had some inner demons to confront and he didn't do it very well. He was given chance after chance to straighten up, to lead, to be the player that the Gamecocks knew he could be, and he didn't.
The difference this time is that this is final. There is no sixth suspension, or chance for a sixth return. Garcia's career is over, and while some argue that it perhaps should have been done much, much sooner, all of that is out the window now that is indeed over.
The question is, what happens now?
The Gamecocks practiced Tuesday afternoon in the rain, and like all Tuesday practices, it was closed to the public and the media. One source close to the team said afterward that it was business as usual, no dissension, nobody angrily stalking into the night declaring that it was over since Garcia was no longer around.
That says that the rest of the team knew that it was time. Speaking with players over the past five years, I have spoken to many who loved Garcia for his competitiveness on the field but detested the way he represented USC football - and them - off of it. I was told that after the Auburn game that several players approached Steve Spurrier and pleaded with him to do something - Garcia wasn't getting the job done and if he didn't make a switch at quarterback, the entire season was threatening to be lost.
Spurrier did, and if there is a silver lining in all this, it is that. Connor Shaw lit up Kentucky for 311 yards in a performance that won SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors, and he will start again on Saturday as USC travels to Mississippi State. Garcia's dismissal does leave the Gamecocks extremely thin behind Shaw - backup Andrew Clifford has thrown four career passes and Dylan Thompson has only played sparingly in two games - but it needed to be done.
It was suggested to me that Garcia simply wanted out of USC, that his relationship with Spurrier and not playing well, being blamed for every team problem, had deteriorated to that point. It was also pointed out to me that Garcia - and this was spoken by someone who has a family that has had problems with addiction - simply couldn't help himself. Obviously they are all moot points now.
What I know for facts are:
* That Garcia violated the terms of his re-instatement.
* That the team is handling it and moving on.
* That Garcia, a college graduate and a father, has some serious maturity/mental issues that he needs to resolve if he's going to straighten out his life.
The past four years and change have never been boring - I distinctly remember having to take timeout from my weekend off to do a story on his second suspension, or third they all run together after a while - and I remember Garcia as an exciting player to watch. I also remember him as a charming individual, charismatic as hell, who could tell you something and you couldn't help but believe it.
Some of you have taken exception with my writing on Garcia over the years, which is your right. The two degrees on my wall don't say public relations on them.
But I am truly sorry for Garcia, for a talent wasted, and for a memorable run to end. We were all 18-23 years old once, and I know I did some extremely foolish things at that age.
Too bad that this one, with everything going for him, couldn't see what the rest of us saw - that we would gladly trade 20 years of our lives to live five minutes of his.
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