Spurrier Ready For North Carolina

COLUMBIA – Steve Spurrier still loves to beat North Carolina. He’ll get another chance when the sixth-ranked Gamecocks will get another chance Thursday night when they open the season against the Tar Heels.

Spurrier got his college football coaching start at Duke in 1987 and won all three meetings with rival North Carolina before moving on to become Florida’s head coach. Spurrier has always been grateful that Duke gave him the chance to coach and said Sunday that it’s still special when he faces the Tar Heels.

Spurrier has won 20 straight openers, including all eight since joining the Gamecocks. If Spurrier continues the streak, count on All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to play a big role.

Spurrier says Clowney has had a strong camp and is ready to go.


Tar Heels Poised For Border Battle

CHAPEL HILL — Less than one week remains before one of the most anticipated college football openers in Tar Heel recent memory. Head Coach Fedora met with the media on Friday to discuss the state of his team as they get set for their match-up at South Carolina.

Coach Fedora says he believes one of the keys to the game will be his defense’s ability to stop the big, explosive plays. And he says he’s seen a marked improvement in that category in the preseason practices.

“I have seen improvement, and we have worked extensively on tackling in the open field. […] If you don’t make that tackle, it becomes a big play,” Fedora says.

On the offensive side of the ball, Coach Fedora says freshman Ryan Switzer’s versatility opens up the playbook.

“Ryan is unique because he’s played in the backfield, and now he’s learned the slot. He’s a guy you can do multiple things with. He can actually run the ball from the backfield or he can be out at a receiver spot running routes,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora identified South Carolina’s Heisman hopeful Jadeveon Clowney as the best defensive player he has ever had to game plan against. And that’s high marks coming from him, as Coach Fedora says he has faced the legendary NFL star Brian Urlacher.

South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier has a couple dual threat quarterbacks at his disposal, and Coach Fedora says that makes the Gamecocks offense tricky.

“I don’t think they’re afraid to play either one of them. Both of them can throw the football, and both of them can run. […] That’s always a concern,” Fedora says.

Tar Heel defensive end Kareem Martin was on hand Friday as well, and he says the greater comfort level with the defensive schemes will lead to improvement from last season.

“This year, we’ve had a whole offseason with the playbook. We’ve had a lot of extra film sessions. There is a lot more confidence going around of what to do,” Martin says.

Martin says he is fired up about the upcoming battle of the Carolinas and says his team is ready to shine and show the nation what North Carolina is made of.

“Being able to start on such a big stage is always great. It gets to show the nation what UNC football is all about. We’ve been working really hard knowing we’re going to be on this big stage. We’re going there not to disappoint,” Martin says.


South Carolina’s Clowney May Sit Out Season Opener

Photo courtesy of Guardian Express

COLUMBIA – South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier may have been trying to send a message to his star defender, Jadeveon Clowney, when telling the media Monday that he could sit out the North Carolina game if he doesn’t return to practice soon.

According to NBC Sports, Clowney has been in and out of practice due to a shoulder injury, and previously a knee injury.

After Monday’s practice, Spurrier told the media, “if (Clowney’s shoulder) doesn’t come around real soon, we may play without him the first game.” He went on to mention that a number of players “act like they are really hurt” and that he’ll “handle those guys.”

With less than three weeks to kickoff, Tar Heel fans will likely be keeping an eye on No. 7 and the amount of time he’s able to practice.


The Light at the end of the Tunnel

It’s finally here ladies and gentlemen…. the last game of the 2012 University of North Carolina football season. Wow, this season has absolutely flown by and, for me; this is when depression sets in. After Saturday, the countdown begins to the opening kickoff of the 2013 season (August 31, 2013) in Columbia, South Carolina. That’s right – 279 days till the flagship school of South Carolina and the Ole’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks take on the flagship school of North Carolina. And if you’re like me, you will be counting down every one of those 279 days through national signing day, spring practice, summer workouts, ACC media day and the pigskin luncheon.

With that being said though, this has been a long and winding road for this group of seniors who have lived through 2 ½ years of an emotional roller coaster of change. Not many college football players can say they lived (and endured) through two head coaches, an academic fraud scandal, NCAA sanctions, scrutiny from peers, University faculty and officials, and constant negativity from local fan bases and major local media outlets in particular the Raleigh News & Observer. Within all of this adversity, a group of young men were truly developing before our very eyes not only on the field, but in the community as well (see last week’s column about Jonathan Cooper and Gentle Giants http://chapelboro.com/Gentle-Giants/14110127?pid=278297 ). These seniors have become valuable members of the University community and, despite the controversy that has surrounded their tenure here, will be remembered with fondness and distinction in Chapel Hill.

With the new hiring of Coach Fedora this past December and the reality that the 2012 Tar Heels would not be eligible for post season play, our football program was at a crossroads. All players had the right to transfer to a different University without sitting out a year and a special group of Tar Heel seniors led by Kevin Reddick decided to make a stand and finish what they had started. When Coach Fedora laid out the options to his Seniors during a meeting, Reddick was one of the first to address the possibility of leaving. “After we told the seniors, ‘Hey, you guys can leave if you want. You can do whatever you want,’ “Coach Fedora said.” Kevin was the first one to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going anywhere. We’re going to have a great season here next year.’ ” This shows the kind of character that is instilled in these young men not only by this University but also by the role models who have molded these athletes from prospects to lettermen. The parents, guardians, mentors, pop warner coaches, teachers and counselors all deserve credit for helping to make a forgettable situation a positive and something that the entire program can – and will – build on.

The reason why I bring this up is because Saturday will be the last time that the majority of these seniors will ever play the game of football and ever be a part of a family atmosphere and brotherhood like the one at UNC. I was fortunate enough to get to experience two Senior days (due to a medical hardship) so I know exactly what these guys are going through this week. The week will fly by and the players will experience a sense of loss as they experience everyday moments for the last time – the last Monday practice, the last game plan meeting, the last Tuesday lift session, the last time out with the guys for the weekly dinners. And as they walk through the tunnel and hear the final roar of the crowd and run through the smoke, they will remember back to the day four or five years ago when they first walked through the tunnel with the magic of college football and Kenan stadium awaiting, and they’ll feel as if it passed in the blink of an eye.

As hard as it is for the players to know that the end is near, sometimes the parents or guardians take it that much harder. They have supported and fostered the growth of this player from the days when he couldn’t tie his own cleats to now seeing him play for the last time. Maybe this player achieved his goals and lived up to his potential and maybe he didn’t. Either way, the end is here and it’s a sobering time for all involved. What I hope comes out of this last Saturday and what I think we’ll see is two things:

  • 1) A great effort by this football team and a program that is prepared to send these seniors off with a win while looking forward to building the foundation for next year and years to come.
  • 2) A packed stadium that allows everyone in the community the opportunity to spend a Saturday in one of the most beautiful stadiums in college football. Let’s all soak it in while we can because 279 days is a far ways off.

Please make sure to tune in one hour after the final whistle to 97.9FM to listen to more post game coverage with Paul Connell and myself on “ON THE HEELS.”

Smart. Fast. Physical. Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Re-Emphasizing Football

Maybe his timing shocked people and maybe he did not do it with the polish of a senior statesman (inadvertently committing a minor NCAA violation, himself), but it astounds me how Holden Thorp has become the villain in the firing of Butch Davis, who as the facts continue to seep out was, at best, an arrogant, see-no-evil football coach and, at worst, presided over a crooked program.
Those who support “Fire Holden Thorp” websites and actually send in money to erect billboards and hire planes to fly over Kenan Stadium are somehow blind to the fact that UNC is facing major NCAA sanctions after its October 28 hearing that, perhaps, Thorp lessened with his last-minute move. Indications are that Davis did not pay much more than lip service to “take full and complete responsibility” to see this never happens again.
And I contend now and throughout the coming season that the 2011 Tar Heels under interim coach Everett Withers will be better off without the Davis distraction hovering over the team, especially if more bad news keeps emerging. Head coaches are overrated on game-day preparation and sideline significance, anyway. The coordinators prepare the game plan and call the plays, the position coaches get the kids ready, and on Saturday the head coach mostly listens through his head set and occasionally flails at the officials. His weekend job is more shaking hands, kissing up to alumni and facing the media, which this fall would have been a constant side show.
Perhaps the most outrageous reaction was the emotional outburst from former player, Charlotte gadfly and Tar Heel Sports Network broadcaster Deems May, who somehow equated the coach’s ouster to a de-emphasis of football at Carolina. Of course, May blew whatever objectivity he appeared to have by referring to Davis as “my good friend” in his open letter to Inside Carolina.com. May used the term “de-emphasizing football” no less than six times and basically called for the resignation of Thorp and the entire Board of Trustees.
Some people have been fired for far less than that.
Rather than de-emphasizing football, which is a ridiculous notion given the millions UNC has pumped into the program in recent years, Thorp is emphasizing competing and winning within the rules and by staying out of the gray area, such as hiring reputed rogue coaches like John Blake. Thorp grew up on Tar Heel sports and wants to win games and championships as much as anyone. He and a silent majority of alumni just want to win them the right way.
By making the move two weeks ago, along with accepting Dick Baddour’s offer to step aside, Thorp has actually put Carolina on the fast track to recovery. NCAA sanctions are still coming, but Carolina certainly did not hurt itself by removing the CEO of the complicit program. Perhaps bowl bans and scholarship reductions will be mitigated by the move.
But, most importantly, Thorp now has a clear path to begin restoring the reputation of both UNC Football and UNC academics. He must make a plan and execute it for Carolina to have a bright future on the field and, perhaps, get out of this with minimum damage. I have to believe that all those carping critics will embrace the next move if it is the correct one.
Finding a strong, experienced athletic director with a track record for good hires, and proper management of those hires, is the first step. Here is a scenario that is making the rounds without any validation or verification to this point.
Eric Hyman is the 60-year-old athletic director at South Carolina. He was an All-ACC lineman here for Bill Dooley in the early 1970s, made the Dean’s List, and has since built a strong and successful resume in athletic administration. During his six years in Columbia, most Gamecock sports programs have flourished, their baseball club has won back-to-back College World Series behind former N.C. State coach Ray Tanner, their men’s basketball is improving under young coach Darrin Horn and Steve Spurrier’s football team is favored to win the SEC East this fall.
Despite a recent raise that puts Hyman’s salary just under $500,000, he has been non-committal about his future at South Carolina. That’s because one of the worst kept secrets in college athletics is that Hyman would love to end his career at his alma mater. His wife is from North Carolina and also a UNC grad. And, supposedly, Hyman could come right away.
The most interesting extrapolation of such a scenario is that, after the 2011 season, Hyman would hire TCU’s Gary Patterson, who has become one of the most successful coaches in the country with a .778 winning percentage (98-28). His 2010 team went 13-0, defeated Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished ranked No. 2 in the country; the previous year, TCU played in the Fiesta Bowl. Patterson has coached TCU to nine bowl games in his 10 seasons.
Not only has TCU been to BCS bowls twice from a non-BCS conference (Mountain West), the Horned Frogs were best among the 2010 preseason Top 25 on the Sports Illustrated list for having no players on their team with criminal records (UNC was tied for 15th with five players).
Hyman was the athletic director at TCU and hired Patterson, now 51, as head football coach in 2000. They remain friends, and in a misguided attempt to play for an automatic BCS berth, TCU will join the Big East Conference next year.

The Horned Frogs from Forth Worth in the Big East? Sounds like a perfect time for Patterson to go elsewhere. 

Now, the Hyman-Patterson scenario may not unfold. But it is the kind of bold move that UNC needs to follow Thorp’s firing of Davis. By doing so, even Deems May would have to say that Carolina was re-emphasizing football the right way.

Would you agree?

Eric Hyman              Gary Patterson