COLUMBIA, S.C. - Nobody thought South Carolina's new coach would have it easy. But even Steve Spurrier expected a smoother return to college football than this.
For 12 seasons at Florida, Spurrier's Gators mashed opponents with few bumps along the way. Three games into his new job at South Carolina (1-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference), Spurrier's ripping apart his offense and defense, apologizing to fans and searching for players who "love" the game.
He has never lost his first two SEC games, hasn't lost two league games in a row since 1992 and may have set a record for earliest apology by a first-year coach with his "I'm sorry" to supporters after the Gamecocks fell to Alabama, 37-14, this past Saturday.
"We're not where we hoped we'd be, but we've still got a lot of season left," Spurrier said. "We're not discouraged. We're disappointed that we haven't improved as we've gone thus far."
So now Spurrier turns to some of his newest players to jump-start the Gamecocks. It's not something he did often with the Gators. But the way the Gamecocks have looked so far, Spurrier feels he's got no choice.
"So I think it's now that we need to give some other players a chance and also, we've got to tell our players who have been playing that we've got to play with a better effort level," he said.
It's not the first time a national championship coach has been humbled on the South Carolina sidelines. Six years ago, Lou Holtz endured the worst season of his Hall of Fame career, going 0-11 in his Gamecocks debut. Holtz quipped the following summer that when he wrote his autobiography, the chapter of his 1999 Gamecocks would be "The Lost Year."
Spurrier's not conceding anything's lost yet.
But several things have him shaking his head.
A defense counted on to keep South Carolina in games has looked shoddy. It's 11th in the SEC against the run and gave up 338 yards on the ground Alabama, prompting a few frustrating sideline scowls from Spurrier.
The offense is dead last in the SEC at 48.7 rushing yards a game and is a very un-Spurrier-like 11th overall.
They were outgained by Alabama 489-256, prompting Spurrier's words to Gamecocks backers. "I do apologize to our fans. I thought we'd be more competitive than we were today," Spurrier said Saturday said after the biggest home loss in his 15-plus years of college coaching.
Worse yet for Spurrier, he said some of the Gamecocks aren't showing any passion.
"I don't understand it," Spurrier said. "I've seen it on the other side, and I've seen it on my team now. And I don't like it very well and don't have the answer to that."
It was hard for players to argue with the coaches' assessment.
"I mean, you can look at the game tell that we probably weren't as intense as we needed to be," kicker Josh Brown said. "Looking back, we could've done a lot of things different."
Spurrier never promised an SEC title right away. It was generally thought, however, that South Carolina's talent had improved under Holtz's six seasons to where, with a key recruit or two and some touches from the Ol' Ball Coach, Spurrier could at last get the Gamecocks competing for SEC East championships.
That goal seems further away for Spurrier, who's got a seven-year contract with South Carolina.
Spurrier plans to show his players tapes of the Georgia and Alabama games, trying to show the Gamecocks how winning teams do things.
There's reason for hope.
After Holtz's sorry season, the Gamecocks went 17-7 and won back-to-back Outback Bowls - still the high-water mark in 112 years of South Carolina football.
"Hopefully, we can get some things going to help emphasize the point that here's how we expect you to play and if you don't, the other guys are going to play, even if they're not as talented," Spurrier said. "That's OK. Our fans want to see effort and they want to see guys play the game the way it's supposed to be played.
"So that's where we are."
Clearly, it's not where Spurrier figured South Carolina would be.
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