The program Holtz left behind was on tilt. The Gamecocks had gone 16-19 over his final three seasons in Columbia. Last month the school admitted to five major and five minor NCAA recruiting violations during Holtz's tenure and submitted a proposal to the NCAA to give up two scholarships in each of the next two seasons. Spurrier suspended highly touted running back Cory Boyd for the 2005 season for disciplinary reasons (he'll redshirt and is expected to be back next season, with two years of eligibility remaining), and the new coach dismissed five other Gamecocks outright. "Our rules are pretty simple," Spurrier says. "If they choose not to follow them, then they are saying, basically, they would rather do their own thing than play football at South Carolina."
And if there were any questions whether the kinder, gentler Spurrier would be less demanding on the field, that was answered quickly when, early in the summer, he revoked six scholarships awarded by the Holtz regime, not for disciplinary reasons but because Spurrier felt he "had better players"; he granted two of the scholarships to former walk-ons who he felt were more deserving. (Two others were restored, and a third player will medical redshirt, meaning he'll keep his scholarship but not count against the NCAA limit of 85.)
Spurrier's pulling of the scholarships prompted 90 South Carolina high school football coaches to sign a letter asking that their five state championship games be moved from the Gamecocks' home field at Williams-Brice Stadium. "We feel that unless an athlete 'breaks rules' or embarrasses the institution," read the letter, "to revoke a scholarship because you feel an athlete cannot play at the level needed to compete ... is unethical."
In fact, it's common for a new coach to choose not to renew scholarships of some players he inherits. "Our big concern was the timing," says Andy Tweito, a board member of the South Carolina Football Coaches Association. "They should have been told coming out of spring practice."
Spurrier dismisses this as the griping of coaches "who were sad that some of their players really shouldn't have been here to begin with.... I can't work for the high school coaches."
It is as if some of the locals, though excited about having a celebrity like Spurrier in their midst, don't yet understand that they have made a binding decision to do things the Spurrier way. But most of the fans seem happy with the choice: a record 62,618 season tickets have been sold; there were about 2,500 fans for each of the first few nights of August football practice; for the annual women's clinic on July 30, which was supposed to end with the women charging onto the field through gusts of celebratory haze, there were so many participants that the team ran out of artificial smoke.
As he's driving back to Columbia, there is another indication that interest in Gamecocks football has risen. Jim Clausen, the father of Jimmy Clausen, one of the top quarterback prospects in the country and the younger brother of Tennessee quarterbacks Casey and Rick, checks in with Spurrier by cellphone from California--a state not known for sending its blue chips to South Carolina.
"Hey, Jim, how are you doing?" Spurrier says. "O.K., that would be great. Have Jimmy call me.... Let's see, 12:30 your time, that would be 3:30, O.K.... Let's do that, Jim. Thank you, my man, I appreciate the call."
After he disconnects, Spurrier explains, "It's legal for him to call us but [an NCAA violation] for us to call him. When they're calling you, you know that's good."
And he's calling because playing for Spurrier instantly turns a quarterback prospect into a Heisman candidate. If enough of Spurrier's scholarships end up going to players like Jimmy Clausen, a strong-armed 6'3" junior who threw 57 touchdown passes and only six interceptions last year for Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, Calif., then South Carolina's high school coaches may find little sympathy for their position.