Every November, college football fans in South Carolina look forward to the USC-Clemson game, in which the University of South Carolina takes on Clemson University. The Gamecocks and Tigers have been battling each other for more than a century now, and last Saturday, USC pulled off its third win in a row.
But the real battle took a couple of days to materialize.
First, a little background. USC is coached by Steve Spurrier. Clemson’s head coach is Dabo Swinney.
Spurrier has said before that USC is not LSU or Alabama.
During the USC-Clemson game, Gamecocks play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis said, “As Coach Spurrier says, we may not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain’t Clemson, folks.”
The quote, the only first half of which actually came from Spurrier — it was Ellis himself who added the Clemson part — was picked up by the @GamecockFB Twitter account. It then became news as people interpreted that the entire quote came from Spurrier.
Swinney, just two days away from the ACC Championship, was asked about the quote.
“I heard that. That kind of thing gets back to you,” he told a reporter. “I don’t know if he said it or not, but I guess he did because there hasn’t been a rebuttal. If he said that, I am disappointed because I was taught to win or lose with class. That is kind of a childish thing to put out there, to be honest with you. I think our program speaks for itself. I guess I would have to say I agree with him. He is right. They are not Clemson and they aren’t ever going to be Clemson, to be honest with you.”
If he had stopped right there, Swinney would have been just over the line of that class he spoke about. But he didn’t stop there.
In fact, he took nearly five minutes responding to the quote. Among his remarks:
“No three-game winning streak is going to change that.”
“You are looking at the best era in the history of South Carolina football right now. They just had their second 10-win season. They won a championship in 1969 and the 2010 SEC East. And this rivalry — there is a lot of rivalries [sic] out there but this is more of a domination and that’s a fact. My kids’ grandkids won’t live long enough to see this really become a rivalry.”
“I have respect for their program, but South Carolina is not Clemson. There are a lot of differences. This is a place that has won a national title, 17 conference championships and two division titles. Heck, we have won more bowl games than they have ever been to.”
“Coach Spurrier has been there for seven years, but after five years, I think he had 35 wins and got a new contract and all that kind of stuff. After five years at Clemson, if I have only got 35 wins there is going to be a new coach here and you know what, there should be because it is a different standard. He is exactly right: they ain’t Alabama, they ain’t LSU and they certainly are not Clemson. That is why Carolina is in Chapel Hill, USC is in California, and the university in this state always has been and always will be Clemson. It’s right here in Clemson, South Carolina. You can print that. Tweet that.”
That’s his idea of losing with class?
But hang on: we’re just warming up! When news broke that the quotation had come from Ellis and not Spurrier, Swinney refused to back down:
“I know if my (sports information director) put something out that I said and if it was nationally perceived that I said it (and didn’t), I promise you, I would correct it. I would make sure that it was made known — especially something that is derogatory that I wouldn’t want my name attached to — I would make sure that it was clear. Or I’d pick up the phone, and I’d call and say, ‘Hey, there’s something out there that people are saying I said, and I didn’t say it.’ That’s really all there is to it. I said that last night. I don’t know if he said it or not, but there certainly hasn’t been any rebuttal. That’s it on that.”
So he’s now mad that Spurrier didn’t pick up the phone and call him to let him know that he didn‘t really say what was attributed to him?
The funny thing is, that little telephone works both ways. As soon as Swinney “heard that,” he could have picked up the phone and called Spurrier, rather than just assuming it had been said. Or, he could have just let it go.
He did neither. And when the quote turned out not to have come from Spurrier after all, his refusal to accept any blame for his part of the tirade lost him all credibility when it comes to “losing with class.”
Now there’s even a claim that a staffer at a Greenville newspaper says Swinney had the question planted so that he could delivered his “prepared response.” I don’t know if that’s true, but when you read that post, and when you think about it, he did have a lot to say for someone who had no warning that such a question was coming.
Should Spurrier have picked up the phone and made sure Swinney knew what was and wasn’t said? Maybe, but one would expect that both men would have more important things to worry about. And if Swinney wants to act like he’s the one with all the class, then he should have been the first one to pick up that phone and talk to Spurrier rather than talk about him to the media.
Trash talk is trash talk, Dabo, no matter how you think you were brought up. Your remarks were far worse, far more over the top than anything you thought Spurrier said.
Where’s that class now, coach?