COMMENTARY: Spurrier vs. Garcia -- Smoke or Fire
"Under my thumb."
--------- THE ROLLING STONES
I have no doubt, and neither should you, that Stephen Garcia will take the first snap of South Carolina's 2010 season-opener.
It's after that that's become the question.
Steve Spurrier lashed out at his quarterback in an interview with ESPN.com's Chris Low, a man who I know isn't telling tales out of school since he's a good ol' boy from my hometown. Spurrier was point-blank in saying that if Garcia didn't act like he wanted to become a great quarterback, he wouldn't get the chance to become a great quarterback.
"I'm excited for the future right now, and I'm hoping Stephen Garcia will change his ways a little bit and get fired up about being a great quarterback," Spurrier told Low. "But he just doesn't do anything extra. He does just what he has to do and nothing more, and it's not going to work that way. The quarterback's got to know everything and know what's going on. Hopefully, he'll change. But thus far, he hasn't shown it."
Garcia responded after the Garnet and Black Spring Game, saying he was upset when he heard about what his coach said.
"But it is motivation and I'm just going to have to use it as motivation and try to prove him wrong," Garcia told GamecockCentral.com. "I'm going to learn from it and work really hard this summer and hopefully I'll change his mind."
Some have questioned whether Spurrier is trying to push a few buttons or was unnecessarily harsh. Garcia had a good year in his first full season as a starter, and with two years left, the future seemed bright.
I agree with that assessment. Garcia could become one of the Gamecocks' all-time greats in the next two years.
I also agree with Spurrier's words, and his plan. Simply, if this is how he truly feels (and I believe it is) and is a motivational tactic with a definite course of action behind it (also true), then it's time for Garcia to act like he wants to be an all-time great. Good enough isn't going to cut it.
The Gamecocks have their best chance to make some noise in quite a while next year, perhaps their best chance since they joined the league. The team is stocked with talent at every position but offensive line, and if a new offensive scheme featuring more no-huddle, tailbacks in open space and a throwing-while-running passing game can work, USC can bypass O-line struggles and perhaps live up to those lofty expectations.
But as Spurrier knows, it all starts with the quarterback. Every team needs a field general, and while Spurrier has too many times been victim of "Well, that's not the way I would have done it," he's right on target with Garcia.
Because Garcia still hasn't shown the necessary want-to that he needs in order to be the leader.
I thought it was on tap. I think we all did. As a tearful Garcia sat down beside Eric Norwood after the PapaJohns.com Bowl, covering his eyes as he forced his apologetic words past trembling lips, it was easy to think this could be The Moment - The Moment when he became The One.
I even wrote about an interesting parallel. After Spurrier wisecracked during Garcia's second year, saying to please let him know if Garcia ever made any Tim Tebow-esque speeches to the public, perhaps the PapaJohns postgame was Garcia's way of saying he, like Tebow, wasn't going to rest until he led the Gamecocks to the pinnacle.
So far, I haven't seen anything to make me believe that's the case.
There's a lot I didn't see in spring, as in time in the film room and so forth. But what I did see on the field was Garcia still locked on one receiver, far too many interceptions and a push from true freshman signal-caller Connor Shaw.
Yes, it was just the spring. Perhaps Garcia held back because he didn't want to be wearing a yellow jersey like half of the defense. That makes sense, because I think that no matter what, he's at least going to start against Southern Miss.
But perhaps that wasn't the best way to impress Spurrier, who has raved about Shaw's skill, headiness and the worst thing to hear if you're Stephen Garcia - Shaw's commitment to the game.
No one's ever said that Garcia has had to be chased out of the film room or was caught studying his playbook when he should have been studying algebra. Meanwhile, we hear from center T.J. Johnson that he and his roommate, Shaw, use their free time to go out on the quad and practice snapping.
Don't think for a second that Spurrier doesn't know that, and also that he now has a guy to turn to.
Spurrier couldn't afford to get on Garcia too much in the past two years. In 2008, it was Garcia and Chris Smelley switching back and forth, with neither holding a definite claim. In 2009, it was Garcia or nothing.
This is the first time Spurrier has really had a guy able to produce right away, other than the starter, so he's back to the same system he used at Florida. Keep harassing one until he rises to the top.
At USC, it hasn't worked. Blake Mitchell took just enough and decided that was enough. He was always at a level of solid-but-not-spectacular, falling below it several times but always rising back to it. Mitchell just never got above it.
Then there was Smelley, who didn't have the head to deal with the constant criticism and sniping. Garcia was thought to have that part down, coming to USC with banner headlines and a rebellious attitude.
Now it's come full-circle. Shaw is the future, Garcia is the present. Each will play this year.
Garcia has to decide how long he wants the present to exist. Because his coach has seen the future and has decided it works.