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 oh 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.
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.
Interim head coach Shawn 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. Going to do everything we can to make the University of South Carolina proud of this football program.”
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.
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.
Some questioned Spurrier might want to last long enough to surpass the Bear’s mark of 159 SEC wins.
“Had I wanted to break that record, I would’ve stayed at Florida,” Spurrier, who finishes with 131 league victories, said in 2013.
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.
South Carolina’s inconsistency on offense this season has surely frustrated Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida who played for San Francisco and Tampa Bay in the NFL. After beginning his coaching career in the USFL, and leading Duke, he returned to the Swamp and took the Gators to a national championship with a high-flying, Fun-n-Gun attack.
The Gamecocks are 11th in total offense in the SEC, averaging 341 yards a game.
South Carolina plays at home against Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday.
Social media reactions are already rolling in and many are sharing their favorite Spurrier moments and quotes online.