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September 25, 2012
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is sensitive to player safety, and he has the track record to prove it.
In a coaching career that has spanned almost 30 seasons between Spurrier's first head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL to his current tenure in Columbia, there are numerous examples, many of which will be covered here later.
Most recently, the Head Ball Coach has been criticized for allowing starting quarterback Connor Shaw to play in the UAB game earlier this season, and skepticism was expressed as to whether or not Shaw would be healthy for the next contest or even the rest of the season as a direct result of that choice.
The facts: Shaw's shoulder injury is one that has been deemed by medical professionals as one that cannot get "worse" in terms of damage. During the healing process, the only issue is pain management. When the questions were the loudest, Shaw delivered a resounding answer Saturday.
Consider Spurrier's comments on the SEC teleconference the Wednesday after the Vanderbilt game regarding Shaw's injury (sustained during that game), which clearly gives his stance on when Shaw does or does not need to be on the field and his concern with Shaw's pain level:
"It's painful. The doctors said it's something he can play with if it's not too painful. If he's in pain, he doesn't need to be out there playing," Spurrier said. "From what I understand he thinks he's not going to have any pain by the weekend, but we'll just have to wait and see. If he can't throw the ball very well, we don't want him running around, and every time he gets hit it looks like he's in deep pain. We're not going to have that."
It was apparent before the East Carolina game that Shaw did still have some pain from the injury, so the Gamecocks went with backup signal-caller Dylan Thompson.
Shaw started the following week against UAB and had his struggles, also taking a hit from a defender that caused him some pain in the shoulder that caused him to leave in the first half. Shaw made it clear after the game that he played because he was cleared by trained doctors, attributing his struggles to lack of practice time.
"I was ready to play (against UAB) and the doctors cleared me," Shaw said. "Of course, I was frustrated. I was battling confidence. I didn't get a lot of reps in practice. But myself, the coaches and trainers felt I was good to go."
Of course, heading into the Missouri game there remained some questions about Shaw's health, but the criticism also came down for playing Shaw for a game in which he was medically cleared and lofty predictions about Shaw battling soreness the rest of the season were made. However, doctors and USC trainers - not Spurrier - gave the professional opinion that his status could not get any worse.
"It's an injury that takes time to heal, but the doctors and trainers feel that he cannot hurt it any worse," Spurrier said before the game. "And if he can play through pain, then that's his decision. Obviously, Connor loves to play and that's been his decision. So, he's ready to go."
Hindsight is always 20/20, but Shaw showed absolutely no ill effects at any point during a 31-10 win over the Tigers. The junior signal-caller also submitted his best passing performance to date, going a nearly perfect 20 of 21 for 249 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and no interceptions.
He showed no hesitancy running, even submitting an impressive 80 yard scoring jaunt where he dove into the end zone headfirst (called back due to penalty). In other words, he looked pretty healed.
"I came out here today feeling good and I've had a lot of support from our staff and players and trainers," Shaw said after the game. "That's always great to have."
It should also be noted that Spurrier was quoted leading up to the game that weekend saying that Shaw had been throwing the ball around very well in practice that week.
Shaw said after the Missouri game that he was sure the shoulder would be sore the next day (as should be expected), but that it did not hurt at any point in the game. There's simply no evidence that by allowing Shaw to play - against either UAB or Missouri - that Spurrier was allowing any more risk to Shaw than he would normally face in a football game. If he had pain, he would be taken out of the game, just as he was in the Vandy and UAB games and just like he sat out the ECU game because of it.
Plenty of other examples during Spurrier's career in terms of his handling of player injuries come to mind, as well.
Going into Spurrier's final season at Florida in 2001, he tragically lost one of his players, Eraste Autin, after he collapsed due to a heat stroke after a workout. It was an event that Spurrier called "the saddest time" that he ever had as a coach or a player. It was something out of everyone's control, including players, coaches, and training staff. No doubt, it left a mark on Spurrier with player safety concerns.
"As a coach and a player, we just have to be extra careful. There are hot days and cool days," Spurrier said later in 2001. "They're not all the same. On hot days, you've got to cut back.
"I've seen guys come across a finish line, take a knee, and you'd swear they were about done. But they get some water and then be OK. Then all of a sudden you lose a player that doesn't appear to be in any kind of trouble. We've just got to find ways to be a little smarter."
Last season, Gamecock senior spur Antonio Allen was battling a strained neck leading up to the Arkansas game and was medically cleared to play in the early November game. However, Allen felt that he was not able to be effective and said that the USC staff left it up to him as to whether or not he would be on the field. The quote from Allen himself to GamecockCentral.com:
"It feels like there's a big gap in there," Allen said (before the game), motioning to his neck. "They left it up to me and I can't move my head and cover anybody."
During the course of that same Arkansas game, Connor Shaw and DeVonte Holloman both sustained concussions. Spurrier's comments after the game regarding their status for the following game:
"Our trainer said they will be tested during the week. They will check them as they go through the week and go from there. If they're not cleared, they won't play. That's the way we'll do it."
While at Florida, Spurrier on two different occasions showed the media video footage of what he thought was cheap shots by the opposition on his quarterback and running back, respectively. Asked several days ago about whether opponents would try to target Connor Shaw's shoulder, he said he did not believe there were dirty teams around like there were "some days back." He also added the following:
"Almost every team has a team chaplain and our prayer before the game is 'no injuries to either team.' I would imagine the other schools pray the same thing. We all should be praying that if we don't."
Looking at even a select few of the facts surrounding Spurrier's philosophy on player injuries and the actions he has taken over the years, including his handling of the Shaw situation, it is clear that when it comes to player safety issues, there is not room for criticism.
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