Joined The Augusta Chronicle in 1996 after spending nine years at The Aiken Standard. Served as copy editor, South Carolina bureau chief and Metro Editor before being named Sports Editor in April 2000.
Posted October 11, 2011 06:37 pm

Garcia experiment a train wreck

The train wreck that was the Stephen Garcia experiment finally derailed Tuesday.

It wasn't a fiery crash, but rather the inevitable conclusion to a bizarre five-year period in South Carolina football history. How else did you think it would end?

Garcia was dismissed from the Gamecocks today after he failed to hold up his end of a "contract" with the university. This came after he was suspended a fifth -- FIFTH! -- time for his career. Has any other player ever been given that many "second" chances?

Garcia's offenses ranged from juvenile to silly to stupid, but most of them seemed to involve alcohol and poor judgment. But the university and Coach Steve Spurrier kept giving him opporutunities to redeem himself, and he apparently used up his last one. No official reason was given for his dismissal, other than that he had violated the agreed-upon rules.

Sifting through comments on social media and other newspaper Web sites, I sense there is a feeling of sadness for Garcia. He is a talented football player, but it quickly became apparent this year that something was different. His timing was off, he made poor decisions, and an offense that was expected to score at will struggled mightily.

The nadir came in the Auburn game, and perhaps it's telling that Garcia's final play as a Gamecock was a completion but the game clock ran out before South Carolina could run another play and perhaps kick a tying field goal.

Time ran out on Stephen Garcia with that game. Spurrier benched him for last week's game against Kentucky, and Connor Shaw came in and produced the type of numbers fans expected from the Gamecocks all year long. His four touchdown passes in one game was better than any of Garcia's single-game totals.

All Garcia could do was play the role of cheerleader. He stood on the sideline, wearing a black baseball cap, and appeared to genuninely support his teammates.

Garcia's name is near the top in several South Carolina career passing categories. He threw for more than 7,500 yards, and he had 47 touchdowns against 41 interceptions.

Some fans will choose to remember Garcia leading the Gamecocks to a win against No. 1-ranked Alabama last year, and the school's first SEC Eastern Division title. Others will look back at his back-to-back wins over Clemson, something the Gamecocks haven't been able to do since Tommy Suggs was calling the signals more than 40 years ago.

There's no need to point fingers now, but all parties deserve some blame. Garcia for making bad decisions and getting in trouble. Spurrier for keeping him on the team because he presumably gave them the best option to win. And athletic director Eric Hyman for not putting his foot down and overruling Spurrier.

South Carolina came into the 2011 season thinking it could finally put it all together and make a magical run. Most of those goals are still available, but it will be interesting to see how the team reacts. It could still be special, or it could get ugly.

Kind of like Stephen Garcia's career.