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Carolina’s Best Season Ever Was Also Spurrier’s Best Season Ever

In the storied, hall-of-fame career of Steve Spurrier, his work in 2011 should be listed right atop his resume.  Leading South Carolina to its first-ever 11-win season — and doing so while surviving the loss of two key players — was top-notch work.  Fittingly, the coach was more than ready to praise his team and enjoy the aftermath of the school’s 30-13 Capital One Bowl rout of Nebraska yesterday:

“The record speaks for itself as the best team ever. … This is about as big as it gets for me.  I love it.”

He should.  The man who is now just three wins shy of 200 for his career came to Carolina to prove that he could still build a college football program.  He had done so at Duke.  He had done so at Florida.  But a two-year foray into the NFL had left his reputation slightly dented.  And when he took over in Columbia in 2005, not many people outside the Palmetto State believed the coach could strengthen a program that had spent most of the last century getting its beak kicked in.

Carolina needed Spurrier to put the school on the football map.  Spurrier needed Carolina if he was going to regain his status as a master builder.

Done and done.

At Duke, Spurrier won an ACC title in 1989.  That’s no easy feat, but even in the Blue Devils’ championship season, the team finished just 8-4 (2-3 out of conference).  That’s great work, but certainly not Spurrier’s best.

At Florida from 1990 through 2001, the coach never won fewer than nine games in a season.  He cracked the 10-win barrier nine times.  He won six SEC titles.  And in 1996 he won the school’s first national championship.  Again, that’s a remarkable feat, but Florida is a recruiting paradise and the school itself has deep, deep pockets.

South Carolina?  It’s a school that ranks in the lower-half of the SEC in athletic budgets in the middle of a state that ranks in the bottom-half for population.  Facing those obstacles, it took Spurrier a while to gain traction, but there’s little doubt he’s done that now.

Credit should go to his recruiting and to former top defensive aide Ellis Johnson, who has now departed to become head coach at Southern Miss.  The talent level has risen at Carolina (see: Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney as two obvious examples) and Johnson’s defense allowed Spurrier to start winning even though his Fun n’ Gun offense failed to develop as it had at Florida.

But it was Spurrier himself who held everything together in 2011.  When quarterback Stephen Garcia used up his ninth life and was finally dismissed from the Gamecock team, Spurrier leaned more heavily on Lattimore.  When the phenomenal tailback was lost to a season-ending knee injury, Spurrier’s staff reworked Carolina’s attack to feature more zone read plays for new quarterback Conner Shaw.

When it appeared the Cocks would tumble minus Lattimore — he had provided 36% of the team’s total offense — USC instead found new ways to win.  In other words, Spurrier wasn’t just plugging new players into his system.  He adjusted his system to match the talents of his players.  That’s quality coaching.

No, South Carolina didn’t win a national title this past season.  And they didn’t win the SEC.  Heck, USC didn’t even win the SEC East Division.  But when you consider how far Spurrier has brought his Gamecock program in seven years — when you consider the “degree of difficulty” he faced in Columbia — there’s no question the coach did a tremendous job in 2011.

In fact, we at feel he did his best job.



When Spurrier was at UF he commented a few times that winning the ACC championship at Duke was probably his greatest accomplishment. The football program at Duke didn't compare to the program at UF. He noted that almost any coach at UF should be able to win the SEC periodically and even a national championship on occasion. I think he won more than his fair share of championships at UF.

South Carolina has a good enough program that they should have 11 win seasons periodically. Spurrier has been a great coach at UF and USC but this season wasn't as impressive as his championship season at Duke.


I think you misspoke when you said: "South Carolina? It’s a school that ranks in the lower-half of the SEC in athletic budgets in the middle of a state that ranks in the bottom-half for population."

From your website:

Rank School Athletic Expenses ’09-’10 (Millions) 1 Florida 105.2 2 LSU 102.2 3 Tennessee 96.6 4 Auburn 90.8 5 Alabama 85.3 6 S. Carolina 78.2 7t Georgia 76.2 7t Kentucky 76.2 9 Arkansas 71.8 10 Vanderbilt 45.7 11 Ole Miss 43.9 12 Miss. State 36.2

Gamecock Nation appreciates the recognition, but USC is a well-funded athletic program with proud fans. Finally, success is occurring on the football field.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator


Indeed, South Carolina ranked 6th as opposed to the 7th that I remembered (incorrectly). My bad. Apologies. No harm intended.

But while they did make the top half of the league in spending -- barely -- the point I was trying to make still stands. In 2010-11, Carolina spent $10 million less than 5th place Alabama, $14 million less than LSU, $18 million less than Auburn, $20 million less than Tennessee and a whopping $30 million less than Florida... which was the direct comparison I was making.

I was attempting to show that Spurrier's work this past season trumped even his greatest work at Florida because at Carolina he doesn't have the biggest budget or the one of the deepest talent pools in the country. I stand by that take.

No question USC has proud fans. I've noted on this site in the past that Carolina's fans might be the most loyal in the SEC considering the school's football and basketball struggles over the years.

Thanks for reading the site,



Thank you for this article! Gamecock Nation is proud of the 2010 football team's accomplishments. And when Garcia was kicked off the team, and we lost Lattimore to an injury, the football team "adopted" our baseball team's motto of WIN ANYWAY! And we did! Go Gamecocks!

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