While spring practice marked the official start of on-field activities for the South Carolina Gamecocks 2015 football season, head coach Steve Spurrier is still faced with what happened in 2014. Storylines are a-plenty for this team as they enter the new season but answering and reflecting on the past season remains at the top of the list.
In an exclusive phone interview with the USA Today's Paul Myerberg, Steve Spurrier returned to last season, gave his thoughts on the kind of year it was, and explained how it changed him and his program as they entered the upcoming year.
Spurrier called this past season "decent." The adjective he used to describe his team before the year in an ESPN piece. "Statistically, we gave up more yards and more points than any defense in school history," Spurrier noted. "We were a little disappointed certainly."
Being around awhile in life and in football, Spurrier shows the ability to always find the silver lining, even in last year's disappointment. "To manage a winning record and win the bowl game, it was not all that bad a season when you look at what happened to us on the defensive side," he said. "In the middle of the year we lost four of five games at one point. But to the credit of our players and coaches, we hung in there and won three of our last four games. Had a winning record and won the bowl game. And to think 10 years ago, when I first got here, only three teams in school history had a winning season and won the bowl game. So we were able to do that for the fourth year in a row, four bowl games in a row. I think there's only three teams in the country that have done that right now in the power conferences. That's something to sort of hang our hat on. It was not a completely disappointing year."
As his team enters the spring, he certainly is motivated by how last year ended to change things around. "This one will be a bit more intense," Spurrier said. "We think we've got to get our team playing faster, more physical." Not only is he changing the ways of his players, he's making revisions to the way he and his coaches do things. "During winter conditioning, I told the coaches, if we're in town we're going to go on a 6 a.m. run. Our guys ran Tuesday and Friday mornings. So I went to a whole bunch of those. When I was in town I went to all of them. I really didn't do that last year. Maybe the players know, hey, these coaches are hanging on us. Hopefully they know this is important."
The Gamecocks will have plenty of new players in garnet and black while players that have been donning the colors are thrust into primary positions. The biggest headline being at the quarterback position. In the interview, Spurrier had some interesting quotes on spring starter Connor Mitch. "A kid named Connor Mitch has an opportunity we think to be a really good player." Later on in the interview, he references Mitch again saying, "We're sort of high on Connor Mitch. We think he's matured, he's grown up. He threw the ball very well in our first spring practice."
While there are several new players, there's also a new leader on the sideline and Myerberg asked coach Spurrier about the new hire of Jon Hoke. "I leaned toward him because I knew what he could do and he was available, finally," Spurrier said when asked what led him to Hoke. "His daughters are seniors in high school now. Of course they had the change over there with the Bears and I think he was anxious to come be a coordinator. We have a good working relationship. The timing worked out perfectly for him to come here." As Lorenzo Ward was questioned after practice on Monday about Hoke's fit amongst the staff, Myerberg brought up the same to Spurrier, saying, "Jon's an unassuming type of guy," and insinuating that Hoke has gotten along just fine with the other members of the coaching staff as Ward also confessed Monday.
Spurrier believes his team can and will be better than last season. He knows a rebound will start with doing things differently in workouts and on defense. His edits to the winter workouts and addition of Jon Hoke reflect that. He also understands that this spring and summer is crucial with such an inexperienced group. "It's an important spring in the fact that we'll have so many new players next year," Spurrier said. Added intensity, focus, and preparation is going to be the key to South Carolina's rebound. The Head Ball Coach knows it, and is saying so.