September 2008

Something To Do on Saturday Afternoon Besides Golf

Author: Gary Cole

September marks the time when the days begin to noticeably shorten, when the evening breeze is just a little cooler and when the enthusiasm of South Carolina football fans begins to burn. And with good reason as South Carolina has two truly exciting college football teams, each led by colorful coaches who are proven winners.

Tommy Bowden, entering his 11th season as head coach, has never had a losing season at Clemson. And with the talent he has ready to take the field, that string is not likely to be broken. The two-time ACC Coach of the Year has the best running back duo in the nation in C.J. Spiller and James Davis, both of whom will likely play on Sunday’s after their college careers have ended. Bowden also has the luxury of a returning starter at quarterback. Cullen Harper comes back after leading the ACC last season in passing efficiency. If Bowden’s young defense lives up to its potential, Clemson has a shot at finishing in the nation’s Top 20 teams.

However, despite having a career record of 69-42 with the Tigers and a strong team ready for the coming season, Bowden has not been above criticism since he’s so far failed to get Clemson into the BCS national championship picture. However, a rumored flirtation for the head coaching job at Arkansas during the offseason snapped the Clemson administration and fans back to reality as they quickly moved to give Bowden a much-deserved contract extension.

Bowden is, of course, from the famous Bowden football family. His legendary coaching father, Bobby, is still in charge at Florida State while his brother, Terry, was the former coach of Auburn and is now a TV football analyst. Tommy, who is married and has two children, one a former and the other a current student at Clemson, is especially proud of the fact that his team has been able to beat in-state rival South Carolina in six of eight meetings, a fact that hasn’t been lost on Steve Spurrier, the man who is both affectionately and derisively referred to as “The Ole Ball Coach.”

Spurrier, of course, heads up a resurgent football program at South Carolina. However, even for a man who is generally acknowledged as the most offensively innovative of all college coaches, the job has not been easy. The Gamecocks could do no better than 6-6 last season, especially disappointing as they were 5-1 through the first half of the year. “We didn’t play well and we didn’t coach well” was Spurrier’s candid assessment of the second half of last season. That candor led to speculation that the 63-year old Spurrier might be ready to retire. “Wrong. I feel just as good as I did when I was in my ‘40’s,” says Spurrier. “I’m staying.”

Initially, Spurrier indicated that he would do all the play calling this season. On second thought, he’s decided to turn much of that responsibility over to his son, Steve, Jr.. “He’s going into his 11th year of coaching with me. He was with me at Florida when we won the SEC three times. He went to Oklahoma with Bobby Stoops and the second year there they won the national championship. He’s been watching me call plays and he’s also been calling them in from upstairs in the booth. Anyway, I just feel that he’s ready to be the principal play caller. But we’ll work together. If it goes bad, I did it. If it goes pretty good, he did it.

Spurrier will be focusing much of his attention this year on the development of junior quarterback Tommy Beecher who he thinks is a special talent. Spurrier should know about quarterback talent as he was a special enough quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in 1966 and coach Heisman winning quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, when he was the head coach at Florida.

Beecher’s not the only outstanding talent for the Gamecocks. Wide receiver Kenny McKinley was a first-team SEC performer last season and will likely earn All-America honors this year. The USC defense will be headlined by linebacker 275-pound linebacker Jasper Brinkley who was a star performer in 2006 but missed last season because of injury. In addition, the defense returns 10 starters from last year and has a new coordinator, Ellis Johnson, who vows to make the Gamecocks more effective in stopping the run. The SEC schedule, as always, is tough but with the “The Ole Coach” calling the shots, South Carolina has a chance at an end-of-the-season bowl.

By the way, both Bowden and Spurrier golf, but only in the offseason. We tried to goad Spurrier, who may be the best golfer of any Division I coach, to challenge Bowden to a round as a way of evening up the in-state rivalry between the two schools where Clemson holds the edge. With the football season approaching, neither would take the bait even though we offered any of Hilton Head’s premier courses as the site for the competition. Each is evidently willing to have their football teams do their talking, something that will happen on November 29th when they face off at the end of the regular season.

About The Author Gary Cole

Twice included in American Photo’s 100 Most Important People in Photography.

Named best college football prognosticator by The Village Voice in a study spanning 10 years and including other media such as Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, USA Today and The New York Times.

Recipient of the Jim Murray Outstanding Sportswriter Award (2002) by the All-
American Football Foundation.

Extensive coaching of youth sports including 13 years as a basketball coach at FAAM (Fellowship of African American Men) which focuses its efforts on helping underprivileged youth.

Active fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Married with six children

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