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October 27, 2010

BLOG: Silly Play-Calling Frenzy Is Back

Here we go again.

The P-word (play-calling) was uttered in Spurrier's weekly press conference on Tuesday, the signal for the annual October tradition/debate to begin.

The mainstream media's seemingly never-ending and farcical fascination (obsession?) over who is calling the plays on the South Carolina sidelines is a red herring for their true intent - create controversy where none exists to sell newspapers or convince listeners to watch their TV shows or listen to their radio programs.

Here's what you won't read or hear - Steve Spurrier has no moral, contractual or legal obligation to call the plays for the USC offense.

Unfortunately, some media folks and fans act like he does. So, they take a hissy fit worthy of a 6-year old child when he makes a decision contrary to how they believe he should do his job.

Maybe Spurrier calling the plays exclusively is what the media or a segment of the Gamecock fan base wants, or even demands.

And it wasn't like Spurrier just stood helplessly on the USC sidelines when the offense had trouble in the first half moving the ball against Vanderbilt. He had the play sheet and voiced his opinion whenever he wanted. As head coach, he has the right to do that.

I don't look for the "community system" now in place to last long. Spurrier emphasized Tuesday he determined in the wake of the UK game in which the offense struggled to get anything going in the second half that "a little changeup might be better for us."

Spurrier is not immune from criticism, and even I questioned the play-calling in the second half of the Kentucky game in a recent blog about the connection between winning and running the football in the SEC.

Once the defense and special teams start performing up to their capabilities, look for Spurrier to return his full-time attention to the USC offense.

But play-calling on the USC sidelines has rarely, if ever, been a dictatorship. Instead, Spurrier has often felt confident enough in his own abilities and those of his teams to secure the opinions of the other offensive coaches.

Steve Spurrier, Jr. was deeply involved in the play-calling a couple of years ago until the head coach took over again.

Moreover, as head coach, Spurrier is responsible for the entire team. So, if he wants to spend a week working with the secondary trying to work out some important issues in the wake of the disturbing second half collapse in the Kentucky loss.

This week, he contends he wants to work with special teams to help solve some of the concerns there such as punt return. Frankly, after watching some of the USC's blocking on punt returns in the few weeks, I would be apprehensive as well.

Here's something else you probably won't read in your unfriendly local newspaper - the name and title of the coach calling the plays on the sidelines is far, far less important than the ability levels of the players executing the plays out on the field.

Whenever these situations arise, I always refer back to one of my fundamental rules of college athletics: it's not about the X's and O's, but the Jimmys and Joes.

In short, the team with the best players usually wins. I'll take a mediocre coach and great talent over a great coach and mediocre talent every day of the week.

Believe it or not, Steve Spurrier is probably not the only offensive coach on the USC staff who understands the best running play for the Gamecocks is the inside zone read by Marcus Lattimore, or that the best option in the passing game is throw it in the direction of Alshon Jeffery or, if he's being triple covered, Tori Gurley.

The second half of the Kentucky loss and the entire Vanderbilt game showed firsthand how important the presence of Lattimore is to the entire USC offense.

Sure, Brian Maddox did a great job in the second half of the Vanderbilt win, but he's simply not as good as Lattimore, whose combination of size, speed, strength and vision are unequaled by most running backs nationally, let alone in Columbia.

I'm sure we'll see again this Saturday the importance of Lattimore to USC. He's 100 percent and should be ready to play against Tennessee. We could see a replay of the first half of the UK game.

Mangus has played and coached in Spurrier's system for 20 years. As a head coach at the Div. III level, he enjoyed a tremendous amount of success when he took the basics of the offense and tweaked it by adding elements of the spread.

I agree with Spurrier that the coach who spends most of his time during the week and then on the sidelines during the games with QB Stephen Garcia deserves to have significant input into the play-calling.

So, let the debate rage on. Even if there's nothing worth talking about.

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