COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Lou Holtz wanted his South Carolina players to focus on their game against Clemson. They suddenly have a lot more on their minds.
Holtz will retire as coach at South Carolina after the season, The Associated Press learned Thursday night, apparently paving the way for Steve
Spurrier to replace him.
Holtz told his players before the team's final regular-season practice, according to a source close to the program who spoke on condition of
anonymity. All season, the 67-year-old Holtz said he was worn out, and even said Spurrier would be a good choice to succeed him.
On Wednesday, South Carolina cornerback Fred Bennett said Holtz promised the players he would tell them first when he decided about next year. "So I
respect him for that," Bennett said.
ESPN has confirmed a report in the Nashville Tennessean that Spurrier, who won a national title and six SEC championships in 12 seasons at Florida,
has agreed in principle to be the next coach of the Gamecocks.
If Spurrier decides to coach the Gamecocks, he would face his old team next season on Nov. 12, when Florida comes to Williams-Brice Stadium.
An announcement regarding Spurrier, who won a national championship at Florida, is expected next week, the newspaper said, citing an anonymous source
close to the situation.
South Carolina athletic director Mike McGee wouldn't confirm or deny the reports. Several calls to Spurrier's agent, Jimmy Sexton, were not
Holtz wanted the Gamecocks (6-4) concentrating on the Tigers (5-5). A victory Saturday would be the school's first seven-win season since 2001 and
probably earn a bowl upgrade. A defeat would be South Carolina's fifth in six years of the series since Holtz arrived. And it would be another slap
after last year's 63-17 loss that Holtz said left him as embarrassed as ever.
South Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton could tell Holtz was especially intense this week -- and not necessarily because he's leaving.
"We don't worry about any of that," Newton said. "We love coach Holtz and whatever he does, that's for after the season. We're only thinking about
Holtz has said that the atmosphere surrounding the South Carolina-Clemson game at Death Valley reminded him of his last game at Notre Dame.
"Not that I'm saying this is my last game," Holtz said. "The decision was already made and Bob Davie was going to replace me. We had a terrible week
of practice. We were 8-2 and had a young football team and we were playing Southern Cal.
"We played probably the worst football game I've ever had a football team play, yet we were up by eight points and missed an extra point. With about a
minute-and-a-half to go, USC scored and went for two and tied the game and we lost in overtime. We had five turnovers and all kinds of penalties."
Holtz had opened the door for talk of his future. He said several times that he's worn out and tired from the season. Holtz went through a troubling
offseason in which he let go four longtime assistants and took the offense away from his son, Skip. Holtz then went to work on a project he called
"changing the culture" at South Carolina. He taught weekly sessions with his players on being good teammates, accountability and citizenship.
While Holtz hasn't delivered on the Southeastern Conference and national titles he spoke of at his welcoming news conference in December 1998, he's
the only coach in Gamecocks history with two bowl wins.
Holtz thinks the team's talent level is up, along with discipline, commitment and academics. He feels the program is in much better shape than a year
ago, when the 63-17 loss to Clemson knocked South Carolina out of a bowl bid.
"I still say there's a lot of solid things," Holtz said. "We'll find out Saturday."
Spurrier and Holtz are friends. Spurrier helped Holtz's wife, Beth, obtain an appointment with Florida's NCAA faculty adviser Dr. Nicholas Cassisi for
treatment for her throat cancer. When Beth Holtz was in the university's surgical center for several weeks, Spurrier's wife, Jerri, checked on her
several times to see what she needed.
"He didn't have to do any of that," Holtz said in 1999. "He's got a million other things on his mind. I was out of coaching."
Spurrier, 59, went 20-13-1 in three seasons at Duke before taking over at Florida, his alma mater, in 1990. The Gators won six Southeastern Conference
championships and the 1996 national title under Spurrier. He posted 122 victories over 12 seasons, tormented opponents with his offensive flair and
witty one-liners, and left town with the best winning percentage in league history.
Spurrier abruptly left after the 2001 season, taking over the Washington Redskins. He resigned after two seasons with a 12-20 record.
After practice Thursday evening, Holtz drove his golf cart from the practice field to the stadium to speak with a group of fans gathered to wish the
team well before it leaves for Clemson on Friday. The coach thanked them for their support. "It's always meant a lot to me," he said.
When asked if he had told his players, Holtz jumped in the cart and sped back to his office.
Holtz is the eighth-winningest coach in Division I history with 249 victories at six schools. He took each school -- William & Mary, North Carolina
State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina -- to bowls in his second season after inheriting losing teams.
There was much speculation that Spurrier would return to Florida next season, following the recent firing of Ron Zook. But Spurrier pulled out of the
running, saying 12 years at one school was probably enough.
South Carolina has qualified for a bowl game -- the third in Holtz's six seasons. It was expected that Holtz would lead the Gamecocks in the
postseason before stepping aside. A victory would be his third bowl win at South Carolina when no other coach in the school's 112 seasons of football
had more than one.
Holtz said Monday the program was flush in young vibrant players like quarterback Syvelle Newton, receiver Troy Williamson and tailback Demetris
Summers. In addition, Holtz said the players were disciplined, academically talented and committed to winning titles.
That's not how it looked after Holtz left Notre Dame in 1996, then stunned college football by taking over 1-10 South Carolina. Holtz went 0-11 in his
But then he turned the program around, and the Gamecocks went on the best two-year run in their history, going 8-4 in 2000 and 9-3 in 2001 and beating
Ohio State in the Outback Bowl after each season.
It appeared the team was ready to challenge Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the SEC East. But South Carolina reached only five wins by October in
2002 and 2003.
Holtz began weekly sessions with players in a yearlong project he called "changing the culture" at South Carolina. And while things haven't been
perfect -- there's a 43-29 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 30 and a 48-14 defeat at Florida a week ago -- Holtz apparently felt comfortable enough to step