Some Closing Thoughts (I Hope) on Steve Spurrier, Ron Morris and Stephen Garcia

Well, yesterday was interesting for Gamecock fans. A little bit too interesting, perhaps, for a team intent on winning the SEC East for the second time in a row. But interesting, nonetheless.

You know the basic facts. And I'm in a unique position as a Gamecock fan. I can give you context, or at least the context as I see it. Agree with it or disagree with it for all I care. But this is going to be as honest and lacking in rah-rah homerism as I can make it, because I think far too many people that have far too little idea of what is going on are chiming in from all sides.

(As much as it surprises me to be saying this, there's actually a pretty decent read on the Garcia situation by ESPN. Of course, it's Chris Low, who's really only partially ESPNish. Digressions aside, it's one of the better pieces written by a national writer on the subject.)

I hope it doesn't wander too much, but it's as much my own attempt to make sense of a roller-coaster of a day and a ball of emotions as I can. Which is probably an exercise worth undertaking on its own. But if it can give you any insight into one of the most bizarre and eventful days in Gamecocks football in recent memory, then it's time well spent.

It started out as nothing more than a humorous aside from Steve Spurrier's press conference. Spurrier showed that he has the ability to verbally level someone that Mike Gundy could only hope for, carpet-bombing Ron Morris for no apparent reason other than Morris wrote a column about a hotly disputed item months ago. Then Spurrier decided he would no longer talk to the assembled media if Morris was there. He would just talk to everyone else -- including, I might add, other writers from The State -- as long as Morris wasn't around.

My first reaction was something akin to applause, though applauding a YouTube video sent over Twitter seemed like a ridiculous reaction, so I didn't. For Gamecock fans, Ron Morris is like Paul Finebaum without the charm. You don't really want to react to his columns, because you know that he's just trying to troll you. But it's hard sometimes, because while Morris is a gifted writer, he doesn't always play by the same system that the rest of us go by. That system could be defined as logical consistency and intellectual honesty.

One of my most lasting impressions of Ron Morris, back when I still read his columns, was a post I did two blogs ago on the old (and now dreadful to re-read) site Cock 'n' Fire. (There's where the nom de guerre comes from, for those who don't know.) That post cited two columns -- one written when Steve Spurrier conducted a grilling of secondary coach Ron Cooper in front of the media after a close win against Kentucky:

Already this season, Spurrier has ranted after a game about how his team plays "stupid." He also went after USC fans for cheering his team following a close loss to Auburn. At least on those two occasions, there was a wide swath of gray area concerning his comments.

There was no middle ground on what he did to Ron Cooper on Saturday. What he did was wrong. [Emphasis added]

And one written a few weeks later, concerning comments Spurrier made about the officials, back before we knew who Lane Kiffin was and such concerns became quaint:

For that reason, we give Spurrier the benefit of the doubt when he blasts his own fans for cheering after a loss. Our criticism is tempered when he calls out an assistant coach during a post-game press conference. And, we understand where he is going when he calls his team "losers."

There is a lot of gray area in all of those instances. There is none when it comes to calling out officials. [Emphasis added]

So, you see, when Ron Morris wants to show how fair-minded he is about Spurrier before blasting Spurrier, he trots out the same credentials to prove his point. But he can't even keep his own supposed fair-minded credentials straight.

That's not a little thing for a man whose entire reason for writing in life is supposed to be telling us what he really thinks of a situation. If you're going to change your mind on something you wrote a month earlier, at least have the courtesy to tell your audience that you did so and what your reasons were. Otherwise, you're not being honest with yourself or your readers.

- - -

I don't know that Spurrier was thinking of those sorts of slights when he finally went off on Morris yesterday. I seriously doubt it. But this did not come out of nowhere. Spurrier and Morris have had confrontations before. I can remember another press conference after a game -- the exact date eludes me -- where Morris continued to push Spurrier to answer a trollsome question, and Spurrier finally got very close to Morris' face and said something along the lines of, "What do you want me to say, Ron?" And it was an ugly side of Spurrier that we don't often see, the same side that we saw Tuesday on YouTube, only this time with a little more self-control.

My guess is that the Ellington column that Spurrier referenced was still eating at him a little bit. Most of us are aware that Spurrier can hold a grudge or two. He almost certainly knew that the Garcia news was coming down the pike within hours, if not minutes. And he knew what Ron Morris was going to say about the situation, because anyone who's followed Ron Morris for any length of time knew what Ron Morris was going to say.

Somehow, this was all going to be Steve Spurrier's fault. And while Spurrier is not blameless in the whole situation, Morris would find a way to blame it on him even if we later found out that Dabo Swinney had swapped out the urine samples in the hopes of getting Garcia dismissed.

That's why I think Spurrier references not wanting to help Morris -- he didn't want to give Morris grist for the column he knew was coming. It's ironic that Spurrier ended up making a bigger deal out of the whole thing by blowing up. Or maybe it's not. Contrary to the perception you get from listening to his press conferences or public statements, I think Spurrier still has something approaching a soft spot for Garcia. Maybe he just wanted to deflect some of the attention away from a troubled young man whose life was about to be turned upside down all over again.

(Spurrier kind of denied and confirmed that theory at the same time Wednesday -- saying he hoped Garcia could have stayed at South Carolina, but saying that he wasn't trying to deflect attention with the outburst. Even so it's not hard to wonder about whether that at least played into the timing.)

If Spurrier had done this to any other beat writer or columnist who covers South Carolina, I almost certainly would have felt differently. Then again, the man didn't win a Heisman as a a quarterback by not knowing how to pick his targets.

All of that said, and for all of my comments on Twitter that Morris was not just an innocent bystander in this, was it the most professional and mature way for Spurrier to handle the situation? No; and it was personally mean to a degree that I probably would have been uncomfortable doing it myself. Then again, it's also not the end of the world. There is a wide swath of gray area here, as one sports columnist might put it.

- - -

Which brings us back to the real reason for Spurrier's outburst, on some level: Stephen Garcia. And a whole range of emotions that I really don't know what to do with.

On the one hand, it's kind of a relief. There's a certain amount of mental energy that you expend cheering for a guy like Garcia -- accepting his mistakes both on and off the field, in part because you know that there is likely a great moment just around the corner.

But it's also so incredibly sad to see someone with so much talent basically throw it away. People forget just how earth-shattering it was for a highly touted recruit from Florida to come to South Carolina to play college football. This was before Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney. Those kinds of players from inside South Carolina didn't come to Columbia, let alone a guy from another state with several high-profile BCS schools inside its borders.

And I wonder if the hype that accompanied that in some way helped to create Stephen Garcia, contributed to the sense of invincibility that was his undoing both on and off the field. Both that invincibility, or fearlessness if you prefer, was part of what made Garcia so great and so unforgettable, as Chris Low pointed out.

The frustrating part was that he competed hard on the field and was truly a warrior. He didn’t always play smart, but he never played scared.

Can you be too fearless? Where is the line that separates courage and stupidity, and why do we always hope that our athletes know not to cross it when we spend all week cheering for them to play the game without fear -- and in the case of football, without paying attention to the damage they are doing to their bodies and possibly their minds?

Maybe that's part of Garcia's strange draw. He was so incredibly and transparently human. He embodied our contradictions and our imperfections and everything that makes us what we are. We are all Stephen Garcia; most of us just have less to lose.

And that's the reason that I'm not really angry at Stephen Garcia anymore. I'm concerned about him. It's not just a college kid deciding he wanted a beer; it's a college kid knowingly breaking an agreement not to drink, an agreement that was the only reason he was allowed to remain on the football team.

This is not a football story anymore. It's a human story. Maybe it's time to realize that it always was, and that's why we found it so hard to turn away.

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