HOOVER, Ala. — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spent his Tuesday morning at Southeastern Conference Media Days poking fun at some league rivals, discussing his football program and — of course — fending off questions about his advancing age.
The most quotable coach in the SEC turned 70 in April, and he now enters his 11th season at South Carolina and 23rd in a league that’s famous for churning through head coaches because of the immense pressure to win.
But Spurrier’s still standing. And usually smiling.
“It’s not near as stressful as maybe some people make it out to be,” Spurrier said with his trademark grin.
That’s not to say the Gamecocks don’t have work ahead this season. The program struggled through a disappointing 7-6 season in 2014 and returns just four offensive starters. There have been some changes on the defensive staff — including the addition of co-coordinator Jon Hoke — and Spurrier must break in a new starting quarterback.
But Spurrier said he relishes the challenge of remaking the program, hoping to get back to the level reached from 2011-13, when it won 11 games in three consecutive years.
He said the way the Gamecocks ended last season — by winning three of four games, including the Independence Bowl — helped rejuvenate him for the coming fall.
“We were 7-6, same as Tennessee and the same as Arkansas, and I think they’re sort of celebrating big seasons last year,” Spurrier said, working in a trademark not-so-subtle jab. “So we were celebrating also.”
The veteran coach said he feels good about his team and won’t rule out a run to the top of the Eastern Division this fall, saying “stranger things have happened.”
The chances of that are largely dependent on South Carolina’s ability to play better defense. The Gamecocks gave up more than 30 points per game last season, which ranked 12th out of 14 SEC teams.
Though Spurrier said the quarterback job is a three-man race, the favorite appears to be Connor Mitch. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound sophomore threw just six passes last season as a backup behind Dylan Thompson.
Mitch — or whoever wins the job — will be helped by the return of junior Pharoh Cooper, who caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards last season.
“We’re going to do a whole lot better than people think we’re going to do,” Cooper said. “That’s our mentality. We know we’re a good team. We’re young right now, but we’re working hard to get back to that 10- or 11-win season, which is what we’re expected to do at South Carolina.”