By Chris Cox
Published Oct. 13, 2015
The man responsible for revitalizing the long-suffering University of South Carolina football program and turning it into a consistent force in the Southeastern Conference is finally calling it quits.
Legendary football coach Steve Spurrier hung up his visor and play sheet Tuesday afternoon, bringing to a close one of the more remarkable tenures in college football. He won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship at Duke – no easy task – and won more SEC titles at Florida than he lost games in his home stadium.
|USC’s Steve Spurrier announced today that he’s resigning as the Head Ball Coach. (Photo/South Carolina Athletics)|
“I feel like this day was coming,” Spurrier said. “It’s inevitable it’s coming. I didn’t plan on going out this way. I planned on being on the shoulder pads of the team coming out of the Georgia Dome with the SEC Championship. But that didn’t work out.”
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott will serve as the interim head coach for the rest of the season, and he will be under consideration for the full-time position, athletics director Ray Tanner said. Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus will become the primary offensive play caller.
“Being from Camden, spending a lot of Saturdays here watching the Gamecocks play, it’s pretty special,” Elliott said. “To say it was a dream of mine as a young kid, certainly it was.”
“Our team is not in shambles as some might say,” he added. “We’ve got a great group of energetic young men who are ready to go out there and lay it on the line.”
Tanner will both form an advisory committee and use a hired search firm to help find the next coach. There is no timetable on filling the position, he said, though it will be an extensive and national search.
Spurrier said he knew that he was likely done when the Gamecocks were 2-2, coming off a win over Central Florida. He phoned Tanner on Sunday to confirm his decision. He told the team it would happen after practice on Monday.
“It was only two years ago that we were only fourth in the nation,” Spurrier said. “Somehow or another we’ve slid and it’s my fault. I’m responsible, I’m the head coach. It’s time for me to get out of the way and let somebody else have a go at it.”
Tanner and USC president Harris Pastides will no doubt have a difficult time replacing his revered coaching prowess. But the economic impact he had on the university and surrounding area may be just as difficult to substitute.
His actual economic impact on South Carolina and the Midlands was nearly impossible to quantify, USC sports and entertainment professor Tom Regan said recently, as the coach was but one asset in the university’s total athletics department. But his significant value to that financial driver cannot be undersold.
The former site of the South Carolina Farmer’s Market has been home since 2012 to the 50-acre, $30 million Gamecock Park tailgate hub, complete with grassy promenade and brick entranceway. Behind it rests a behemoth $17 million indoor practice facility, which is now receiving its finishing touches.
A massive 36-foot high scoreboard was also added in 2012, and three years earlier, the S.C. State Fair underwent a $5 million upgrade to its 40-acre parking lot which changed it from a dirt lot to a green space complete with underground drainage system. And a recent $14.5 million project to surround the stadium with tree-lined walkways instead of the old asphalt was completed before this season.
Commercial development has also vastly changed the landscape surrounding the football epicenter. Carolina Walk Condominiums, The Spur at Williams-Brice, Stadium Village Lofts and The Gates at Williams-Brice all sprang up between 2005 and 2007.
“Between the private investment and public investment that has occurred, they’ve taken this area and made it a very appealing, fan-friendly tailgating atmosphere that would rival any school in the country,” Regan said. “That is partly because of the success that they’ve had in football. Would that occur if they were back in the days of a Clemson coach now? No, that would not occur.”
When Regan arrived at USC in 1991, the athletics department had a budget of $19 million. Now it’s around $105 million, thanks to an additional $31 million annually as part of the Southeastern Conference’s TV rights deal. Between the SEC Network, bowl game payouts and other contributors, the league as a whole generated a record $455.8 million this past year.
And the school’s apparel contract with Under Armour – the sports clothing company agreed in 2011 to pay USC $6.2 million over six years – also adds a nice lump of cash to the athletics department budget.
“Without football, the viability of an athletic program at the University of South Carolina is not sustainable,” Regan said. “I’ve often said football is the golden goose, and it is. And it has to be taken care of.”
And taken care of it is, with expanded facilities, new apparel contracts and new residence developments like the recently completed 650 Lincoln all playing their parts in USC’s success. But the team must also win to earn all that, Regan said, which Spurrier had little problem with during his tenure.
“All of the sudden you’re seeing a multi-million dollar investment into an athletic program that is based around football in the SEC,” Regan said. “Is that an asset worth taking care of and investing in? Yes. Without football, our athletics budget is not good.”
Reach Chris Cox at 803-726-7545 or on Twitter @chrisbcox.