COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Steve Spurrier knew it was time. South Carolina was struggling and the gregarious and once innovative coach was a big reason why. Always one to do things his way, Spurrier believed he needed to step aside, and no one was going to change his mind.
Spurrier resigned as Gamecocks coach Tuesday, resisting pleas from the University of South Carolina president and athletic director to stay through the season – accepting the harsh reality that the team’s awful first half was on him.
“You can’t keep a head coach as long as I have (coached) when it’s heading in the wrong direction,” Spurrier said.
The 70-year-old Spurrier considered leaving several times during his 11 seasons at South Carolina, most recently after last year’s 6-6 regular season. But a win over Miami in the Independence Bowl re-energized him and gave him hope for better things ahead.
The Gamecocks, though, have struggled at 2-4 and are 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in Spurrier’s 23 seasons in the league.
“I’m responsible. I’m the head coach,” Spurrier said. “It’s time for me to get out of the way and let somebody else have a go at it.”
Spurrier said he felt he needed to step down now because he doesn’t believe there is accountability with players if they know the coach won’t be back next year. He also said he would be a recruiting liability.
Spurrier said it was unlikely he’d ever be a head coach in college again because of the recruiting aspect. He did hope to consult for a team one day and promised players he’d still see them in the weight room and around town.
He tried to keep things light hearted throughout the press conference.
“Why’s everyone all dressed up?” Spurrier said entering the room. “This isn’t a funeral.”
Spurrier’s decision ends a 16-year run for South Carolina football, which was led by two of college football’s all-time greats in Lou Holtz (1999-2004) and Spurrier.
There were some immediate differences at practice Tuesday evening under interim coach Shawn Elliott, who was the offensive line coach.
Music blared over loudspeakers while players worked out. Offensive lineman Brandon Shell said Elliott will bring the same energy he brought to his position players to the entire team.
Linebacker T.J. Holloman said Elliott told players they have a clean slate.
“New start, in his opinion we’re 0-0,” Holloman said. “We’re just out here to get better and beat Vandy.”
South Carolina plays at home against Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday.
Spurrier had never had a losing season in 25 previous seasons coach at Duke (1987-89), Florida (1990-2001) or South Carolina, where he has been since 2005 talking about achieving things that hadn’t been accomplished before with the Gamecocks.
“I was the best coach for this job 11 years ago, but I’m not today,” he said.
Elliott said his job was to help the team move forward.
“Our team is not in shambles, as some might say,” he said after Spurrier left the podium. “Not sure the change is what they’ve needed but the change is what they’ve got.”
Athletic director Ray Tanner said he would form a search committee and hire a firm to help identify candidates going forward. Tanner said Elliott would be a candidate to earn the full-time job.
Elliott elevated quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus to offensive coordinator and play caller. Elliott said former Gamecock and NFL lineman Travelle Wharton will take over those position duties.
Spurrier was in the middle of his 11th season at South Carolina and while the Gamecocks are struggling, university officials praised his accomplishments and impact he has had on the football program.
The winningest coach at Florida and South Carolina, Spurrier joins the late Bear Bryant as the only coaches to win the most games at two SEC schools.
Spurrier said this summer he planned to coach two or three more years, then extended that to four or five years when several recruits who had committed to South Carolina backed away before signing day in February.
Then in July, Spurrier held a defiant news conference, telling Gamecocks fans not to listen to “enemies” questioning his commitment level, or implying he could no longer effectively coach at his age.
“We haven’t lost it,” Spurrier said in the summer. “We’ve got a dang good team.”
But things have quickly spiraled downward this season.
The Gamecocks lost to Kentucky at home in the season’s second week, then were blown out by SEC Eastern Division rival Georgia, 52-20, a week later.
Losses at Missouri and No. 6 LSU last week guaranteed Spurrier no better than a break-even season in the SEC.
Linebacker Skai Moore said he did not believe Spurrier quit on his players.
“He’s not a quitter at all. You can see that in his emotion, especially after games,” Moore said. “I feel like he made a decision that was best for him.”