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QUALK TALK: Age, Messaging, and the State of the Rivalry

For some reason, Steve Spurrier called a press conference on Wednesday. Not sure if you heard, but it made headlines.

Said presser was organized so Spurrier could prove to his fan base he wasn’t out of touch. But what group of fans is Spurrier worried about? I haven’t heard a single one of them say he should retire or criticize him for coaching at his age, yet that was his stated reason for calling the media together in the first place: He didn’t want his fans to believe what they’ve been reading.

It seems like a calculated recruiting ploy, but if that’s the case, he already did that once this offseason. If he’s having to create special occasions to convince people he isn’t old once a quarter, there might be a legitimate problem.

Your interpretations of his monologue are a product of your perspective. Fans of South Carolina or Spurrier will defend him and be energized by his impassioned defense of the program and his stellar coaching record. Those who oppose him will point out the childish whining of a perpetual bully who has spent his career jabbing at others and can’t take a punch himself.

Personally, it seems odd that a 70-year-old man with his track record of using the media as a way to verbally spar with unwitting adversaries—can’t spell “citrus” without “UT”, Free Shoes University, etc.—got angry when a columnist pointed out that his program is “in descent” (factually, it is) and that he’s the oldest coach in the history of his conference (another absolute fact).

He also managed to call out his “enemies” in the media, sounding more like a paranoid dictator desperately clinging to power while constantly looking over his shoulder than a Hall of Fame football coach. That was weird, too, but that’s a side note.

What struck me as I prepared for my Thursday morning radio show is that this is the first time all offseason I thought about South Carolina in the context of my job(s) covering Clemson.

Sure, I have talked about South Carolina in some broader contexts. Pharoh Cooper is a supremely talented football player. Spurrier has done some wonderful things. The Gamecocks are on Clemson’s schedule, so I’m sure I’ve mentioned them in passing.

But not once have I really sat down and considered the Gamecocks in the context of the college football season. The team seems decidedly average. I’ve pointed out five potential stumbling blocks on Clemson’s schedule, and Spurrier’s team isn’t one of them.

The rest of the nation seems to agree. No one expects anything of substance from the Gamecocks. They have no quarterback. They are reinventing themselves on defense. (For the record, I do expect improvement, but only to the middle of the pack.) For the first time in my radio career, I find the result of the annual rivalry game between Clemson and South Carolina to be more of a foregone conclusion than a topic of discussion—at least on paper.

It’s clear that Clemson has ascended. It’s also clear that South Carolina has descended. The Tigers aspire to win championships, while the Gamecocks are a borderline bowl team.

Spurrier’s impromptu statement is the best news a Clemson fan could hope to come out of Columbia. A confident coach running a strong program doesn’t do what Spurrier just did. The leader of a recruiting apparatus that’s humming doesn’t need to passively assuage concerns of high schoolers that way.

Most importantly, an effective messenger doesn’t need a special event to share the message when all he’s done for the last couple of weeks is sit in front of cameras and reporters at SEC Media Days and during the ESPN Car Wash.

Spurrier had two weeks with a captive audience to clearly communicate that his age wasn’t an issue, and he obviously didn’t. Otherwise, why call the presser in the first place?

Frankly, all of this is Spurrier’s fault. He said himself he was only planning to coach for two or three more years, then he expected us to forget that when he tried to change his story. This is simply an extension of a discussion that has seen Spurrier take enough positions on his future to masquerade as a presidential candidate.

While Clemson’s coaching staff prepares to make a run at a championship, South Carolina’s head coach is trying to convince his own fans not to jump ship. That’s where the rivalry is today, and it might be the biggest piece of news for Clemson fans this week—the same week in which the Tigers were picked to win their league.

Maybe there’s a method to Spurrier’s madness. Maybe he’s got a master plan, which always seems to be the case. Maybe the ship is sinking faster than it appears at South Carolina. I’m not sure which is the case.

I am sure about one thing: When the dust settles, Clemson fans can go back to ignoring South Carolina until September. There are bigger fish to fry.

God Bless!

WQ

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