by Rick Bonnell, The Charlotte Observer
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier stands 85 feet tall at the outset of this football season.
Symbolically so, at least: There's a banner celebrating Spurrier's 10th season with the Gamecocks outside Williams-Brice Stadium. He made sure to say Sunday that pomp wasn't his doing.
"It wasn't my idea," Spurrier said at his news conference setting up Thursday's season-opener against Texas A&M (6 p.m., SEC Network).
"Hopefully we can keep winning here at Williams-Brice. I don't want people throwing eggs at it and that could happen."
Highly doubtful. With Rock Hill's Jadeveon Clowney, the top pick by the NFL, now a Houston Texan, who else would Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner promote but the ol' ball coach?
The ninth-ranked Gamecocks have won 11 games each of the past three seasons. They've won 18 consecutive games at Williams-Brice, longest home winning streak in the country. South Carolina has a five-game winning streak over cross-state rival Clemson.
Spurrier has things humming in Columbia. For much of the Gamecocks' football existence this could have been described as the program fans loved the most for doing the least.
Spurrier made that term – "program" – legitimate. It was telling Sunday, when he was asked about no turnover of his assistant coaches, that the biggest dividend was a fast start on the 2015 recruiting class.
That's what big-time programs do: replenish to the degree there isn't a collapse after a star like Clowney departs for the pros.
Spurrier was asked when he felt he ran a program in Columbia, rather than a group hoping to string together a few appearances at mid-level bowls.
"Obviously were very similar the first five years … we were basically 7-5 and usually lost the bowl game," Spurrier recalled.
"Then our facilities improved. And we got better assistant coaches and then got better players.
"Now we can recruit the best players in our state and in other states. They want to play for winners. When you graduate your players and stay out of trouble (you gain the reputation you want) and we have a track record for that."
Spurrier credited former South Carolina athletics director Eric Hyman with the fundraising push to make the Gamecocks' facilities competitive. Hyman moved on to Texas A&M in 2012 to help guide the Aggies' transition to the SEC.
The turning point might have been the conclusion of the 2008 season. After going 7-3, the Gamecocks lost their last three games to Florida, Clemson and Iowa by a cumulative 118-30 margin.
Spurrier shook up his staff, turned the offense over to quarterback Stephen Garcia (though that had mixed results) and got a breakthrough recruit in running back Marcus Lattimore.
He also seemed to grow more adaptive to his roster. Known for his love of the passing game, Spurrier now appears more receptive to ball control when the talent leans in that direction (as it might this season with tailback Mike Davis, who rushed for 1,138 yards and 11 touchdowns last season).
Still, for all the good vibes of those 11-victory seasons, the Gamecocks have yet to win an SEC title. Spurrier is often the first to bring up that hole in his resume in Columbia.
"Keep pushing and pushing and see if you can win an SEC someday," Spurrier said Sunday. "That's why you have more than one goal each year, but the SEC is a pretty big one."