October 11, 2011
Poor Ron Morris. You spend years at the same newspaper, showing up at press conferences, collecting quotes, writing stories on a daily basis, building a byline. And then one day, as you're going about your business as usual, the central figure on your beat abruptly halts the proceedings to call you out in front of all of your colleagues for something you allegedly wrote months ago:
Yes, that was South Carolina's Head Ball Coach himself, Steve Spurrier, literally walking out of his regularly scheduled Tuesday press conference Tuesday morning over a story Morris allegedly wrote in the spring about Spurrier recruiting then-Gamecock point guard Bruce Ellington — now a Gamecock wide receiver - from the basketball team. I can't find that story (Update: Alert reader Craig has passed along a link), but it's clearly been gnawing at the HBC for all these months:
"I'm not gonna talk when [Morris] is in here. That's my right as a head coach. I don't have to talk to him, and I don't have to talk to him when he's in here. So what we're gonna do, all you TV guys, I'm gonna do a personal interview with you in this other room. And the writers that are still left in here, I'll come back here and talk with you right after that.
"OK? Everybody for that? What room we got? Media room? OK! Bring your cameras down there and let's do some one-on-one."
Ouch. You got told, Ron Morris, for some reason or other. Spurrier will be over here with the professionals while you think about that.
Oh, and while they're doing that, and the video of Spurrier's speech is making the rounds on YouTube, the university's media relations department will be typing up a press release that says the former starting quarterback has been officially booted from the team:
"Being a student-athlete at the University of South Carolina is a privilege, not a right," said Athletics Director Eric Hyman, "and we remind all of our student-athletes that there are consequences for their actions. For Stephen to return to and remain with the football squad this fall, we agreed on several established guidelines. Unfortunately, he has not been able to abide by those guidelines and has therefore forfeited his position on the roster. We wish him the best of luck as he moves forward in life."
"We are all saddened that this has occurred," said head coach Steve Spurrier. "We all feel like we've given Stephen numerous opportunities to be a student-athlete here at South Carolina. Obviously, he has chosen not to follow the guidelines of his reinstatement contract. We wish him the best."
Funny how Spurrier's attention-grabbing, headline-generating, favor-currying speech, delivered months after the column that prompted it, happened to come on the very same day as the biggest, most negative headline concerning his team all season, isn't it? What are the odds?
Sarcasm aside, Spurrier's shrewd little stunt never really had a chance of obscuring the final, disappointing chapter of college football's resident Bro Montana. Garcia was a repeat offender, enduring five separate suspensions — all alcohol-related — between his enrollment in January 2008 and his unceremonious exit Tuesday morning, but as inevitable as the ending seems now, it's worth recalling that Garcia had seemed to turn not one corner in his college career, but two.
The first came after his third suspension in March 2008, when he lost the "Wild Thing" locks, remained in good standing and entrenched himself as the full-time starter in a rising program that hit a new high last fall with its first SEC East championship. He looked like a success story, a kid who learned his lesson, matured and slowly grew into a leadership role on a team harboring all-time-high hopes this fall with virtually all of the stars of the 2010 squad coming back.
The second apparent corner came on the heels of his fourth and fifth suspensions in the spring, after which he managed to keep his nose clean through the summer and returned to re-seize the starting job from sophomore Connor Shaw one quarter into the season-opening win over East Carolina. Before his demotion in favor of Shaw last week, Garcia was the most experienced starting quarterback in the SEC, with more than twice as many starts under his belt (34) as any other passer in the league. Before Shaw's big day against Kentucky over the weekend, the smart money was still on Garcia returning from the bench to add to the total.
As of Tuesday morning, we don't know the nature of the straw — or possibly the anvil — that broke the camel's back. (Initial reports suggest a failed alcohol test, one of the conditions of his latest reinstatement.) But it is interesting to consider that it may have been Garcia's declining play — before his demotion, he'd completed fewer than half his passes and served up more interceptions (nine) than any quarterback in the country — that influenced whatever it is that finally did him in, rather than vice versa. With his job suddenly out of his hands, maybe he lost whatever sense of purpose was holding him back. Or maybe he's just an unrepentant hellraiser for all seasons, I don't know. Maybe it's a little bit of both.
Now: Is Spurrier going to send a "Sorry, still friends?" note to Ron Morris? Or is he going to stand by his grudge?
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