COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier might have something special on his hands. Not something great, because this is a column about South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley, and Smelley isn't great. He'll never be great. If that's the kind of special you had in mind, sorry. No such luck.
|Coach Steve Spurrier doesn't have people skills. (Getty Images)|
See, Spurrier is changing, and not for the better. Back in the good old days when he was every bit as good as the hype, he truly was a mad scientist. He was reinventing the passing game in the USFL and at Duke and then at Florida, where his players had the skill to match his genius and the result was one of the best 12-year coaching runs in college football history.
But over the years the mad scientist dropped the science and kept the mad. The Spurrier of today is a shell of the Spurrier who won bigger than anyone ever has or will at Duke, or the Spurrier who awakened the sleeping giant at Florida by winning one national championship and seven SEC titles.
This Spurrier no longer coaches with the joy and passion of a kid sticking his finger in the dirt and drawing up a play that can't possibly work but does. This Spurrier has already done his concocting and creating. He has the offense he wants. But he doesn't have the quarterback he wants, because the quarterback he wants doesn't exist.
The quarterback Spurrier wants rarely makes a physical mistake and never makes a mental one. The quarterback Spurrier wants is brave enough to call an audible at the line of scrimmage and prescient enough to make the audible work. Change one of Spurrier's plays at the line of scrimmage and it better work. Otherwise, son, duck. Here comes the visor.
The quarterback Spurrier has is named Chris Smelley. He's not Danny Wuerffel, the Christian missionary who combined an otherworldly peace of mind with ungodly accuracy and swept the 1996 Heisman and national championship trophies. He's not even Shane Matthews, the noodle-armed Mississippi kid who rose from fifth string to starter on Spurrier's first team at Florida in 1990.
Smelley is decent physically. Nothing more, nothing less. He throws a nice ball, but nothing with classic zip or accuracy. He makes nice reads, but he doesn't see the field like Wuerffel or some of Spurrier's more cerebral quarterbacks at Duke, like Dave Brown and Steve Slayden, saw it.
Smelley has something else, something more valuable in Spurrier's system than an NFL arm, brain or vision.
Smelley has the ability to shake off Spurrier.
It's not easy. Don't think it is. If it were easy, Spurrier wouldn't go through quarterbacks like toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper. I could have written, "If it were easy, Spurrier wouldn't go through quarterbacks like Kleenex," but that analogy is imperfect. Spurrier doesn't sneeze on his quarterbacks. He craps on them. He shows them up on television by yelling and gesticulating and scowling at every mistake, and then he shows them even worse by replacing them with someone else -- someone who inevitably gets flushed down the toilet by the same Spurrier treatment.
Smelley is different. He's only a sophomore, but he already has done the rotating-quarterback thing, and he has done the benching thing, and he probably isn't finished doing either now that Spurrier has let misbehaving star recruit Stephen Garcia out of the doghouse and onto the field. Garcia saw his first career action Saturday against Georgia, even as Smelley was having a career game: 23-for-39 for 271 yards and a touchdown.
|Chris Smelley, meanwhile, just does his job. (Getty Images)|
Davis didn't get benched. Davis didn't get replaced or rotated. He stayed at tailback the rest of the game.
Smelley's a quarterback, so he was replaced twice in the fourth quarter by Garcia. The crowd loved it, giving Garcia some of the biggest cheers of the day. Smelley couldn't have loved it, but he didn't show he hated it. He showed nothing but a poker face on the sideline.
The only indication of irritation given by Smelley came during his postgame press conference, when he was gracious in defeat and cooperative to the media until he was asked if Spurrier had given him any indication how the USC quarterback situation would play out over the rest of the season.
"No," Smelley said.
The media waited for more, but what more was there to say? Spurrier is irrational and unreasonable, a mathematical genius who doesn't understand why nobody else can understand his theorems. Smelley's no genius, but he can add two and two. So while the media waited for him to expound on his one-word answer, Smelley stayed silent.