Originally created 11/23/04

Brawl tarnishes Holtz's retirement

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It ended with a sucker punch. The irony wasn't lost on Lou Holtz.

"Isn't it a heck of a note," he said Monday morning. "Lou Holtz is going to be remembered along with Woody Hayes for having a fight at a Clemson game. What a way to end a career."

Like the sucker punch Hayes delivered years ago, the players from both South Carolina and Clemson never saw Monday's administrative haymaker coming.

Down by 22 points after a fourth down pass fell incomplete with 5:48 left in Saturday's season finale, who would have thought that South Carolina could have come up with a way to spoil Clemson's bowl hopes. And two weeks after the Gamecocks stamped their own postseason ticket with a win over Arkansas, who could have imagined that the Tigers could still send them home for the holidays.

No bowl for you!

"I have absolutely no illusion that the decision by two universities acting in concert on a punishment for their respective teams will put and end to these senseless acts of mayhem," South Carolina president Andrew Sorensen said. "But it is high time that we university presidents... let (everybody) know that we will not condone such reprehensible behavior."

So on the day they convened to celebrate Holtz as he announced his retirement, they dropped the bomb on the biggest football entities in the Palmetto State. Go Furman!

South Carolina waited three years and devoted its season to getting back to a bowl game and it earned one. Clemson fought back tremendous odds to become the first team to recover from a 1-4 start and become bowl eligible. Neither will get to enjoy the fruits of all that labor because of 15 minutes of disgraceful petulance by some of its members.

"The team is not taking it very well," South Carolina senior Preston Thorne said. "People understand what happened was not appropriate. But at the same time we thought our hard work was worth something."

I admire the schools' principle spirit of not condoning "hooliganism." But couldn't this have been handled more appropriately with suspensions and expulsions? The university presidents don't understand the precedent they opened with this can of worms.

What if Saturday's melee had been in the first or third or sixth game of the season instead of the last? What if Clemson and South Carolina had been BCS caliber instead of barely bowl eligible? What if it hadn't happened less than 24 hours after the Indiana Pacers brawled with Detroit Pistons fans? What if NBA commissioner David Stern hadn't set a high standard by handing out the steepest penalties in sports history and effectively killed one team's championship hopes? What if South Carolina wasn't going through a coaching turnover?

"I don't think it was about sending a message to us," Thorne said. "I think it was sending a message to the country, especially on the heels of the Pacers incident."

Does this mean that if tempers flare in the SEC Championship game, Tennessee and Auburn will forfeit major bowl dollars and a national title shot?

This was one of the wildest days ever in South Carolina and will get even wilder this afternoon when the Gamecocks announce the hiring of Steve Spurrier to replace Holtz. Sorensen and athletic director Mike McGee were shuttling from press conference to press conference and meeting to meeting, doling out back slaps and slaps in the face with alternating tones of pride and shame. The bowl busting was a bitter interlude between one legend's exit and another's entrance.

Monday's news should have been, as Sorensen put it, about a coach who had "done more to put the University of South Carolina and the Palmetto State on the map than anyone in living memory." Instead it was less pomp than circumstantial evidence that put the state in an entirely different spotlight.

Holtz deserved one more game. He deserved one more chance to get his 250th victory. He deserved a more dignified sendoff.

Before he walked off the podium for the last time as South Carolina's coach, Holtz made one last request.

"It's my hope that the university would go to a bowl game and have the new coach, coach it," he said.

Five hours later, Holtz's last wish was denied. His going away present is he won't have to deal with the aftermath.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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