Steve Spurrier: “When we’re getting picked over Florida, Tennessee and Georgia to win the division, that means some things have changed.”

July 26, 2011 – 8:00 am by Eric Schmoldt

When Steve Spurrier took over at South Carolina in 2005, a lot of people wondered what in the world he was doing. At 60 years old, he was going to try to turn around a program that had never really been a winner before?

Perhaps it sounded crazy back then, but it’s just what he’s done. Spurrier’s Gamecocks were picked to win the East in the Southeastern Conference in preseason polls, and some believe South Carolina could even contend for a national championship. Spurrier says that’s the goal, but they’ve got to win the East again first. That’s a pretty good start considering some thought they’d never even do that.

Steve Spurrier joined ESPN Radio with Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo to discuss the Gamecocks’ lofty expectations, his prolific running back and wide receiver tandem in Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, why he embraces being picked to win the division, the challenges of coaching quarterback Stephen Garcia, his reasoning for giving Garcia repeated get-out-of-jail free cards, why the Gamecocks are better suited to close out seasons late in the year now, how long he’ll continue to coach, and what it means to have the program winning.

How optimistic are you that you guys can live up to high expectations?:

“We’ve got to go play and find out, probably, but you’re right. Some years South Carolina may have been picked to have good years, but this was actually the first year that we’ve actually been picked to win the Eastern Division in the 19 years we’ve been in the conference. I tell people that’s pretty neat. When we’re getting picked over Florida, Tennessee and Georgia to win the division, that means some things have changed.”

What’s it like to have a prolific running back-receiver combo like Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery?:

“I’ve been saying all summer that Marcus is the best running back in the country and Alshon the best receiver. … We’ve got to run Marcus, we know that. And hopefully he can stay healthy. Two of the games we lost last year, he got hurt early and did not play the second half. … We do have two really good players there. We’ve just got to get the ball to them.”

Why, when so many coaches seem to downplay being picked first in the preseason, do you embrace it?:

“I’m downplaying that I think we’re going to win it. I don’t know who’s going to win it. What’s neat about it is the media people believe we have assembled a team better than the other teams, and that’s the first time that’s happened. It never bothered me that people would pick us to do well. You don’t really talk about the preseason picks, I don’t, when you get with your players. Hopefully your guys are smart enough to know that you’ve got to go play the game, prepare, that kind of stuff, if you’re going to have a big year.”

Has quarterback Stephen Garcia been as big a challenge for you as any player you’ve ever had?:

“He’s been a challenge and he’s been frustrating to coach, but there’s probably some reasons for it. But, again, like I said, he’s made some lifestyle changes that maybe will help him stay more focused during the game and make better decisions.”

Why have you stuck by him through this stuff?:

“We felt like he was our best quarterback, so if he had a mistake or an errant play, you don’t just jerk him out of there. … Of the eight conference championships I’ve been fortunate enough to coach, in four of those years of the eight, we had two quarterbacks play. … So, you can play two if you have to.”

Why have some of your teams had trouble closing out seasons in the month of November?:

“The reason South Carolina’s not played well at the end of the year is probably the schedule, with Florida and Clemson. But we’ve beat Clemson a couple years in a row and of course we beat Florida this year, so we’ve turned that around a little bit. But we lost those games in December last year in the Georgia Dome. But we’re putting together, I think, a stronger team than we’ve had in the past.”

How much longer are you going to coach?:

“Well, I’ve been saying four or five years for about 15 years now. I never thought I’d be coaching in my mid-60s, but here we are and we’ve got a good team ready to go. I think I’ve got three or four more years. I’ve got [Jadaveon] Clowney and I think I’ve got Lattimore at least two more.”

What would it mean for you and to the state of South Carolina to win a national championship?:

“Well, the first goal is to win the East and then try to win the SEC. And then the winner of the SEC has won the national the last five straight years. But will shoot for the East first and go from there. But that’s our goal. Our goal’s to win at South Carolina. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done there. … A lot of people never thought we’d even be picked on top.”

Listen to Steve Spurrier on ESPN Radio here

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