The "Old Ball Coach" Overhyped?



You'd think ESPN announcers were paid royalties every time they called South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier "the old ball coach." Given how much he's loved by the network, it's fitting that South Carolina will open the ESPN season Thursday Night against Southern Miss.

Yup...all the great teams in the country...all the legendary coaches across the landscape. And, ESPN is opening the season with South Carolina/Southern Miss. WHY???!!!

We couldn't tell you. We have respect for what Steve Spurrier's accomplished. He truly was a dominant force in the sport. BACK IN THE 1990'S AND UP TO 2001!! What's he done lately?

  • He went to the NFL to coach the Washington Redskins, in an inexplicable attempt by Daniel Snyder to ask a college gimmick offense, used in the colleges by a very talented team that could run and hide from opponents, to thrive at the pro level where defenses are animals.

This wasn't likely to be a success. College coaches are usually failures in the pro's. High octane college offenses don't translate well at all to the pro level. And, there were even signs in the colleges that top defenses had figured out how to slow down Spurrier. We can't say it was a disaster. But, it wasn't a success:

2002: 7-9 record in the NFL
2003: 5-11 record in the NFL

  • After some time out of the sport, Spurrier was hired by South Carolina in hopes that he could rejuvenate the program. Sure, it's harder to recruit in South Carolina than in Florida. But, an offensive genius like Spurrier would find a way to win wouldn't he?

2005: 7-5
2006: 8-5
2007: 6-6
2008: 7-6
2009: 7-6

Well, he has been winning. The team hasn't been below .500 since he got there. And, they do play in the toughest conference in the land. South Carolina can't be embarrassed by this level of performance. Are they happy?

  • When you dig a little deeper, you see some blemishes. Here's what Spurrier has done in SEC play only during those seasons.

2005: 5-3
2006: 3-5
2007: 3-5
2008: 4-4
2009: 3-5

The success is largely a result of friendly scheduling. South Carolina typically gives itself one challenge game a year outside the league, then beats up on cupcakes. Even with Vanderbilt and Kentucky in their half of the SEC, the Gamecocks have only posted one winning record in league play during Spurrier's tenure. And, that was his first season. Spurrier is 13-19 since then in the SEC

  • If you throw in the bowl record, the picture is a little bleaker. South Carolina is 1-3 in four bowl appearances under Spurrier. Remember they banned themselves from the postseason one year because of misbehavior after their rivalry game with Clemson. So, we're talking about a coach with a losing record in the SEC, and a losing record in bowls.

You don't hear much of this on ESPN. EVEN THOUGH THEY SHOW A LOT OF THE LOSSES! Spurrier is "the old ball coach." He's a Hall of Famer.

Here's what you should know about Steve Spurrier:

  • His offense can't work in the modern game, and he's never been able to make an adjustment. If his teams aren't playing cupcakes, they have big trouble scoring points.
  • It's very tough to play quarterback for this man. He's impatient, and he actually doesn't have any idea how to move the ball any more anyway. That creates a cycle of frustration for whoever is in the position.
  • Spurrier actually learned a lot about defense when he was with the Redskins, and has applied that knowledge to his SC teams. They really play very strong defense. When his teams are in position to pull an upset, its because his defense has kept them in the game.
  • Spurrier's teams are basically B-minus on the report card...meaning they have a puncher's chance against any power, but they're not going to string together victories against powers. They're also capable of losing to a D team if they're not focused and prepared.
  • In terms of "against the spread" performance, the legal football betting markets have largely been in synch with reality. South Carolina is just 18-19-1 the past three seasons versus the number. Spurrier is not a guy you can get on for value (as public personalities rarely are). They Gamecocks are 15-20-1 to the Under...meaning there has been some value in seeking out defensive battles and exploiting them. That's what we advise as a general rule, looking for the best Under opportunities on the schedule.

Keep that in mind as you handicap Thursday's game with Southern Miss, and the rest of the 2010 schedule.

Thursday: vs. Southern Miss
9/11: vs. Georgia
9/18: vs. Furman
9/25 at Auburn
10/2: Bye
10/9: vs. Alabama
10/16: at Kentucky
10/23: at Vanderbilt
10/30: vs. Tennessee
11/6: vs. Arkansas
11/13: at Florida
11/20: vs. Troy
11/27: at Clemson

We expect South Carolina to have at least one great showing against Georgia/Auburn/Alabama, particularly with two of those games at home. We see at least a couple of Under spots in there that we'll be thinking about very seriously early in the season, and maybe as many as 5-6 overall.

Unfortunately for Spurrier, this shapes up as a very demanding slate. The bye comes early. Then the six weeks from 10/9 through 11/13 feature Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, and two road games vs. lesser foes who are surely capable of upsetting a distracted visitor.

Southern Miss and Furman are the relative breathers. Troy won't be a pushover, particularly at the tail end of a challenging stretch. We can tell you right now Clemson will be on our watch list in that season finale because Carolina could be a walking MASH unit by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.

Spurrier will be happy with 6-6 this year. A losing season would not be much of a surprise in this context. If that happens, ESPN may be calling Spurrier the "former ball coach" at the end of the season. A winning season? We'll be happy to tell the world that Spurrier's Gamecocks posted a successful campaign against a brutal gauntlet when the time comes.

We may or may not be involved aggressively in Thursday Night's opener.

We can tell you this...we will be involved aggressively SOMEWHERE on that Thursday card! Sign up right now for service here at the website. We've got great rates for the BLUE RIBBON and CLOSED CIRCUIT clubs. Game day releases can always be purchased a few hours before kickoff with your credit card as well.

Among games of interest coming up in the next few days:

THURSDAY: Pittsburgh/Utah on versus in the marquee matchup of the night.

FRIDAY: Arizona/Toledo in a special bonus spot

SATURDAY: Purdue/Notre Dame, North Carolina/LSU, Connecticut/Michigan, Washington/BYU, and Kentucky/Louisville.

SUNDAY: SMU/Texas Tech and Tulsa/East Carolina

MONDAY: Boise State/Virginia Tech and Maryland/Navy

Note we'll have an expanded preview of that North Carolina/LSU prime time affair on ABC in our Saturday report here in the NOTEBOOK. As the college action continues throughout Labor Day weekend, we'll have expanded coverage on these pages.

Steve Spurrier did have a Hall of Fame career. We don't want to lose site of that. He's past his prime right now to a very clear degree in our view. JIM HURLEY IS A HANDICAPPING HALL OF FAMER WHO'S STILL AT THE PEAK OF HIS GAME. SIGN UP WITH THE MOST SUCCESSFUL NAME IN HANDICAPPING RIGHT NOW!


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