COLUMBIA, S.C. - A devoted Gamecock fan strode to the microphone at the Colonial Center on Saturday morning to ask a personal favor of new South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
Since her ex-husband "bawls like a baby" every time the Vols' lose, "could you beat Tennessee?" she asked.
"We're going to try and beat everybody," Spurrier said to loud cheers at his first ladies football clinic.
Although such events are typical at colleges before summer football practice, Spurrier hadn't done one while coaching at Duke or Florida. What he found was about 2,000 crazed South Carolina fans, some dressed in "Got Spurrier?" T-shirts and loaded down with footballs, photos and posters for Spurrier to sign.
They stood and clapped when Spurrier was introduced, when he took the microphone to speak and especially whenever he talked about Gamecock future success.
"It's an example how Carolina fans and the ladies love their football team and love the program," he said.
That was evident to anyone at the arena. The school had never had more than 1,700 at any of the six sessions under Spurrier's predecessor, Lou Holtz. The line for Spurrier's autograph circled the entire court and then some. The overhead replay scoreboard flashed highlights of the South Carolina's spring game, which drew an all-time high of about 38,000 people.
"I think there are twice as many women here as last year," said South Carolina quarterbacks coach David Reaves. "It's really unbelievable the level of excitement coach Spurrier's brought."
While Holtz - who commands sizable fees for his public talks - connected with crowds at his clinics through his famous one liners, magic tricks and motivational words, Spurrier's simple, direct words hit home with women as well.
"We're here to teach the game of football and make Carolina winners," Spurrier said. "That's what we're trying to do."
Jeannie Dinkins of Columbia was giddy after she walked away with her signed picture of the new coach. "He'll do wonders for this team," she said, smiling.
He's already done wonders for the fans' confidence. Despite changing coaches and enduring an endless string of bad offseason news - no bowl game because of on-field fight at Clemson last fall; players stealing pictures, computers and video equipment from Williams-Brice Stadium; the dismissal of top tailback Demetris Summers and suspension of versatile rusher Cory Boyd; an NCAA report admitting to 10 violations and proposing scholarship losses; and a group of state high school coaches criticizing Spurrier's decision to pull scholarships of players recruited by Lou Holtz's staff - South Carolina fans purchased a record of 62,618 season tickets and have sold out the team's seven home games at Williams-Brice this season.
Spurrier said the negatives make more HEAD:s but, pointing to several Gamecock players in the stands, said to the women, "These guys here are our best; they're our finest."
Spurrier's trademark bravado peeked through a couple of times. When one questioner said he'd won 12 of 17 games against Georgia while Florida coach, he corrected, "11 of 12," then stated plainly that most of the time the Gators came in better than the Bulldogs.
After Spurrier's wife of 39 years, Jerri, said her family would host a weekly dinner for coaches on Thursday, her husband jumped in, "Wednesday."
The women also learned things about Spurrier few people should know. He loves to dance, Jerri said in response to a question about whether the couple went disco dancing in the 1970s. "I believe you've got to be performers and not spectators in life," he said.
The crowd found out the two games in Steve's coaching career Jerri missed - as a Georgia Tech assistant in 1979 when the Yellow Jackets went to Notre Dame, and one when Spurrier's Tampa Bay Bandits played the Portland Breakers in the defunct USFL.
Jerri was asked if there was ever a time she asked her husband, "What were you thinking?" after one of his colorful, pointed comments like calling Florida State (FSU) "Free Shoes University" or saying "You can't spell Citrus (Bowl) without U-T (University of Tennessee)"
"Probably every day," Jerri said.
Spurrier never let the crowd forget that he came back to college football to make the Gamecocks an elite team in the Southeastern Conference - sooner rather than later.
"We need to go beat some good teams," he said. "These guys are capable, very capable."
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