COLUMBIA — This is Steve Spurrier’s 20th season as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference, and his eighth at South Carolina.
He has seen a lot of changes in the league since he arrived at Florida, his alma mater, in 1990 — the creation of an SEC championship game, two rounds of expansion and the waxing and waning fortunes of several programs, including Tennessee.
In 2007, Tennessee went 10-4 and 6-2 in the SEC, after going 9-4 and 5-3 the previous season. Since then, the Volunteers have slipped, with overall records of 5-7, 7-6, 6-7 and 5-7, and league records of 3-5, 4-4, 3-5 and 1-7. This season, Tennessee is 4-7 and 0-7 in the SEC entering its season finale, Saturday at home against Kentucky.
On Sunday, the Volunteers fired third-year coach Derek Dooley. When Spurrier and USC travel to Knoxville next season, he will face his fourth Tennessee coach during his USC tenure. Lane Kiffin replaced Phillip Fulmer in 2009 and spent one season with the Volunteers before leaving for Southern California.
“It’s an unfortunate part of our business,” Spurrier said of Dooley’s firing. “We all understand it. I like Derek Dooley. I think he’s a good person. I think he’s a pretty good coach. It just didn’t work out. I don’t know how else you can say it. They were in I don’t know how many ball games this year that somehow or another, they found a way to lose them, most of them.”
The Volunteers lost by seven points to Georgia, by three to USC and by three in overtime to Missouri.
“When you get into the coaching profession, you understand these things can happen,” Spurrier said. “You always hope it doesn’t happen to you. You understand the administration, that’s what they have to do. They have to make changes if it’s not working. But hopefully Derek will bounce back somewhere and get another shot maybe somewhere else.”
Because Tennessee lacks elite high school talent, the Volunteers must recruit out-of-state players, and doing that consistently can be tough.
“It can happen to any program,” Spurrier said of Tennessee’s recent slip. “The sun doesn’t always shine on the same dog all the time, as we know. Tennessee, I think, is a very good coaching job, certainly with a huge stadium and tradition and everything they’ve got there.
“But Tennessee’s got to recruit pretty much all over the nation. They’ve got to get players to leave their home state areas and come to Tennessee. And it seems like in the last, oh, 10 years, 20 years, almost all the home states are getting their programs up to where the kids will not leave their state. I think that’s a little bit different now than it was several years ago. (Coaching Tennessee) is maybe not as easy of a job as it was 10, 20 years ago.”
A Taneyhill undercard
On Friday night, former USC quarterback Steve Taneyhill will provide an undercard for Saturday’s USC at Clemson game when his Union County team plays at Daniel in the Class AAA Upper State final.
Union County went 5-5 in the regular season and is 3-0 in the playoffs, with all three wins on the road, including last Friday’s at A.C. Flora in Columbia. If Union County beats Daniel, it will play Strom Thurmond or Hartsville in the state final Dec. 1 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Daniel is five miles from Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. As a freshman in 1992, Taneyhill led USC to a 24-13 win there, snapping the Gamecocks’ four-game losing streak to the Tigers. It was their first win at Clemson since 1984 and their fourth in the series, period, since 1975. Taneyhill also won at Clemson in 1994 and went 2-2 against the Tigers in his career.
In 12 previous seasons as a high school head coach at two South Carolina schools, Taneyhill won five state titles, including 2007-09 at Chesterfield, where he worked before debuting at Union County this season.
Immediately after beating A.C. Flora, Taneyhill was already looking forward, in his typically brash fashion, to returning to the Clemson area, 20 years after his seminal game.
“We’re going to be the big game before the little game on Saturday,” Taneyhill told reporters.
Saturday’s game between No. 13 USC and No. 12 Clemson will be the fifth in the series when both teams were ranked.
USC is 3-1 in those games. In 1979, No. 19 USC beat No. 13 Clemson 13-9 in Columbia. In 1987, No. 12 USC beat No. 8 Clemson 20-7 in Columbia. In 2000, No. 16 Clemson beat No. 25 USC 16-14 in Clemson. Last season, No. 14 USC beat No. 18 Clemson 34-13 in Columbia.
This year, Clemson enters the game 10-1, USC 9-2. The combined 19-3 record (.864 winning percentage) is better than the previous four ranked versus ranked matchups in the rivalry’s history. In 1979, the teams were combined 15-5 (.750), just as they were in 2000. In 1987, they were 16-3 (.842). Last season, they were 18-4 (.818).