Commentary

The trials of Steve and Stephen

Originally Published: September 7, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Former Florida quarterback Shane Matthews led the Gators to their first SEC championship, was a three-time All-SEC selection and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting as a junior in 1991.

What's another accomplishment that stands out in Matthews' mind as one of his finest?

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier & Stephen Garcia
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSteve Spurrier is known for his short leash with QBs, but Stephen Garcia has put that patience to the test during his time at South Carolina.

"A lot of people say I was the only quarterback Steve Spurrier never pulled because of poor play," said Matthews, who now hosts a sports-talk radio show in Gainesville, Fla.

Perhaps more than any other quarterback who ever played for Spurrier, Matthews understood how his coach ticked. Spurrier pulled Matthews from the second half of a 45-3 loss at Tennessee in 1990, but it wasn't for poor play. Spurrier yanked his quarterback because the score was getting out of hand. When the score got worse, Spurrier pulled Matthews to the side.

"He told me he'd never pull me again," Matthews said.

And Spurrier didn't, although Matthews now knows it wasn't because he always performed well.

"There wasn't another guy behind me," Matthews said.

As No. 12 South Carolina prepares for Saturday's SEC opener at Georgia, Spurrier is again playing a game of quarterback musical chairs. In a surprising move, Spurrier started Connor Shaw over returning starter Stephen Garcia in last week's opener against East Carolina in Charlotte, N.C.

Shaw, a sophomore from Flowery Branch, Ga., was largely ineffective against the Pirates, completing 3 of 9 passes for 21 yards. Garcia, a senior from Lutz, Fla., came off the bench in the second quarter, with the Gamecocks trailing 17-0. Garcia guided South Carolina to a 56-37 victory, completing 7 of 15 passes for 110 yards with one touchdown, while running five times for 56 yards with two scores.

Garcia, whose streak of 28 consecutive starts ended with last week's benching, will start against Georgia in a game that usually decides which team will battle for the SEC East title.

"[Shaw] is fine," Spurrier said Tuesday at a news conference in Columbia, S.C. "He saw what happened. We watched the tape and he could have done this and he could have done that. He understands Stephen played a lot better than he did and that's the way it was. Connor played a little bit better than Stephen in preseason. We opened it up and it worked its way out. We didn't say Connor would be [the starter] for the year."

History shows Spurrier's quarterbacks are never guaranteed starting even consecutive games. Throughout his ultra-successful tenure at Florida, where Spurrier won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as the Gators' quarterback and six SEC titles as their coach, he pulled and yanked quarterbacks like yo-yos.

Midway through the 1993 season, Spurrier benched Heisman candidate Terry Dean and started freshman Danny Wuerffel, who later won the Heisman and guided the Gators to the 1996 national championship.

Against undefeated Florida State in 1997, Spurrier rotated quarterbacks Noah Brindise and Doug Johnson on every play in the first half of the Gators' 32-29 upset victory. A few years later, Spurrier used the same unorthodox method with quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer, who now works as an ESPN college football analyst.

"Playing quarterback is the hardest position in sports," Matthews said. "He expects perfection out of you. Coaches yell and scream at you, but they're just doing their jobs. You can't let it bother you. Some guys can handle it and some guys can't."

Garcia has largely handled Spurrier's enormous expectations on the field. Garcia guided the Gamecocks to their first SEC East title last season, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 3,059 yards with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He completed 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards with three touchdowns in South Carolina's 35-21 upset of then-No. 1 Alabama last season, its first-ever victory over a top-ranked opponent.

[+] EnlargeStephen Garcia
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireGarcia came off the bench Saturday and led the Gamecocks to a comeback win over East Carolina.

But Garcia has had his share of off-field problems during his career. He was arrested twice during his first two months on the South Carolina campus in 2007, first for public drunkenness and then for keying a professor's car. Garcia was suspended from the team for a third time in 2008, and again this past spring for violating team rules before the Gamecocks' 26-17 loss to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Garcia's latest transgression happened in April, when he was disruptive and loud during a mandatory leadership seminar. Garcia was suspended from team activities for nearly four months before he was reinstated shortly before the start of preseason camp in August.

Garcia doesn't think he was benched for the ECU game as punishment for being suspended this summer.

"I don't think that was a punishment at all," Garcia said. "As [Spurrier] stated, and as I've said before, Connor played better than I did in the scrimmages and in the preseason camp. [Spurrier] said when he allowed me to come back that it would be an open competition and he played better than me."

Matthews said he has been a little surprised that Spurrier has been so patient with Garcia.

"It's a little surprising," Matthews said. "Garcia has been in some trouble and been suspended multiple times. Coach Spurrier is a coach who gave guys a lot of second chances at Florida and their careers turned out all right. I think the biggest thing about playing quarterback for him is you have to understand what he wants you to do. I still don't think he's found that guy at South Carolina. Garcia has done some good things, but he still does some bone-headed things."

More than anything else, Spurrier has asked Garcia to act like a quarterback. When Garcia showed up at last week's pregame meal with a clean-shaven face, it even seemed like a step in the right direction.

"We've been asking him to shave for five years," Spurrier said. "Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. I think a quarterback should be shaven, but that's just my opinion."

Garcia seemed surprised that his personal hygiene became a storyline, but he is beginning to understand the microscope he's under.

"I'm not the boss," Garcia said. "You've got to do what the boss asks you to do."

Any quarterback who ever played for Spurrier knew who his boss was.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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