Spurrier's ban of writer after axing Garcia fails smell test

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Steve Spurrier should be above shenanigans like he pulled Tuesday. (AP)  
Steve Spurrier should be above shenanigans like he pulled Tuesday. (AP)  

I've known Steve Spurrier since he was the offensive coordinator at Duke in the early 1980s. Next to Bear Bryant, I consider Spurrier to be the single most influential coach in SEC history because when Spurrier came to Florida in 1990, he forever changed the very fabric of SEC football and the way it was played.

That is why the events of Tuesday are so sad.

First, there was the final and complete dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia from the team at South Carolina. A talented, highly recruited player out of Tampa, Garcia was supposed to give Spurrier his much-coveted big-time quarterback, something that had eluded Spurrier since coming to South Carolina in 2005. He would be the piece Spurrier needed to finally deliver an SEC championship to a long-suffering fan base.

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But it didn't work out that way. Garcia was a problem child from the first day he walked onto campus, enrolling in school early and earning his first suspension before he had attended a single spring practice. Last March Garcia received his fifth suspension but still was allowed to remain in the program. Were Spurrier and the school really trying to help the kid, or were they simply enablers because he gave them the best chance to win?

The answer is in the eye of the beholder. But the facts are that Stephen Garcia was finally benched last week following a 16-13 loss to Auburn after he threw his eighth and ninth interceptions of the season. Connor Shaw, Spurrier announced on Oct. 3, would start against Kentucky. The next day, according to The State newspaper in Columbia, Garcia received a random substance abuse test. He failed, according to two unidentified sources who spoke to the newspaper. And a week later, he was gone.

Our Brett McMurphy reached out to Garcia's father, Gary, who said the prevailing emotion of the day his son's college football career came to an end was one of "relief." Stephen no longer had to deal with the pressure and the scrutiny of being a college football player at this level.

You'll read no excuses here for Stephen Garcia. He brought this on himself. He was given an opportunity -- and perhaps too many of them -- and a plan to salvage his career when another program would have long ago cut him loose. At the end of the day he would not -- or could not -- find the strength or the discipline to make it to the finish line. And somehow, with all the vast resources of an institution like the University of South Carolina and what appears to be a family support structure, no way could be found to help this kid conquer his inner demons.

And if that doesn't make you sad, then you have no heart.

The second disappointing thing I saw coming out of Columbia on Tuesday was Spurrier's ill-timed decision to single out a veteran columnist, Ron Morris of The State, and basically ban the reporter from his regularly scheduled weekly press conference. Spurrier let it be known that he would not speak to the assembled, credentialed media as long as Morris was in the room. When Morris refused to leave -- the right thing for Morris to do -- the media session ended and several beat reporters were shuffled into Spurrier's office for a private audience.

Spurrier obviously has an issue with something Morris wrote. He said he had a problem with a story that was written months ago. That's fine. Coaches and writers disagree. That's the way the First Amendment works. There are proper channels for everyone to air their grievances and get the problem resolved.

But for Spurrier to starting banning media on the same day he finally washes his hands of Stephen Garcia looks like: A) He's trying to change the subject and turn media elsewhere; b) he's losing his grip on the program; or c) he's just being petty. Any of those behaviors are beneath Spurrier and his position.

I know you applaud when coaches take on the hated, negative media. And that's fine too. Again, that's the way the First Amendment works.

But we are reaching legacy time for Steve Spurrier. He has already won more SEC games (113) than any coach aside from Bryant. His six SEC championships tie him for second (behind Bryant's 14) with Hall of Fame coaches Vince Dooley (Georgia) and John Vaught (Ole Miss). He's already in the College Football Hall of Fame as a player. He has a chance to become only the fourth man in history to join the Hall as both. He doesn't need this.

I personally hope he coaches another 10 years. He is in great shape for a man of 66 (actually he's in great shape for a man of 46). He's a straight shooter, and I like that. He doesn't cheat, and he won't tolerate those who do. He remains the best in-game play-caller of my generation. He is good for college football. But Tuesday was not a good day for Steve Spurrier. Not a good day at all.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Wednesday at 8 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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