One future Hall of Famer is supporting another. Athletic director Ray Tanner, who has been in similar shoes as Steve Spurrier during his coaching career, believes that anyone criticizing his football coach’s handling of Connor Shaw is being “extremely unfair.”
Steve Spurrier has taken some heat for his handling of Connor Shaw but athletic director Ray Tanner is fully supportive of his head coach
Spurrier has been scrutinized by some, albeit very few, for the way he has handled Shaw’s playing time over the course of the 2012 season. Shaw, a junior with an 8-1 record entering the year in his starts, injured his throwing shoulder in the season opener against Vanderbilt.
Shaw was diagnosed with a “deep bruise” in his shoulder, which was an injury that both the quarterback and his coach said could not worsen. Both said the injury came down to pain tolerance.
After sitting out the second week of the season, a 48-10 win over East Carolina under backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, Shaw returned to his starting role against UAB. Spurrier said that Shaw wasn’t sharp in the first half and the quarterback admitted the longer the game went on, the more uncomfortable his shoulder became.
Shaw took a big hit and came down on his injured shoulder near the end of the first half and did not return to the game. Spurrier and Shaw both agreed that he could have returned later but was kept on the sideline in the rout of the Blazers.
Spurrier announced last Tuesday in the days preceding the Eastern Division game with Missouri that Shaw practiced the night before, looked fine, and would start in that Saturday’s nationally televised game on CBS.
At no point throughout the season did Shaw practice or play when he was not cleared medically to do so. Doctors and trainers agreed that Shaw’s injury, which was later discovered to be a small fracture in his shoulder blade, could not be made worse.
Spurrier and, more importantly, Shaw have been comfortable with the diagnosis made by the school’s medical staff. Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and national champion head coach, saw fit to put his starter back in against the Blazers and then the Tigers.
“Any comments that were critical, to me, were extremely unfair,” Tanner told TheBigSpur.com. “You’re talking about a coach who is arguably one of the best football coaches of all time.”
Despite claims of being “fine,” there is little doubt that Shaw has been in some discomfort since initially sustaining the injury late in the second half against the Commodores. He went in and out of the game on August 30, sat out in game two, and left again just before halftime of game three.
If some pain and some discomfort kept football players off of the field, few games would be played on Saturdays.
“Coaches do not engage with athletes as far as participating unless they’re cleared by our training staff and our doctors,” Tanner said. “Was Connor banged up some? Of course he was, but he was cleared to play.”
With Shaw cleared and eager to play against Missouri, Spurrier then had a decision to make. Would he go with the injured-but-ready, experienced quarterback who wasn’t playing his best football or go with the hot hand, Thompson, who spurred the offense to great heights against ECU and UAB?
The man with the credentials - and the big paycheck - makes those decisions. Spurrier elected to go with Shaw, who completed 20-of-21 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns.
“Coaching decisions are sometimes very difficult,” Tanner, a two-time championship-winning head coach, said. “I’m speaking from my experience, not on behalf of coach Spurrier, but if you have a starter coming off of injury, you want to make sure he stays somewhat relevant and present, gets his reps in, and participates. You don’t want to sit too long. There’s a fine line in there sometimes. Hindsight is one of those things where you’re always accurate, but I never thought twice about it.”
While Tanner was supportive of Spurrier, he also said he is “absolutely” comfortable with the process in which Shaw was cleared by the South Carolina medical staff.
Team physician and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Guy and head football athletic trainer Clint Haggard cleared Shaw and conveyed to the coaches and family that he could not further injure his shoulder.
Amongst Guy’s lists of specialties, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, is the shoulder. In addition to his role with the Gamecocks, he has also worked with Alabama, Auburn, and the Washington Redskins. His credentials to accurately diagnosis the injury seem unquestionable.
“You can rest assured that the well-being and good health of our athletes - football and otherwise - is of paramount importance,” Tanner said. “That will never be compromised and I know that it hasn’t been compromised. They do everything they can to get them back on the field, but they’re not going to compromise their health.”
Spurrier has always had a great track record when it comes to dealing with players and their injuries. He has repeatedly said publicly that Shaw would not play if he was in too much pain.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin, who missed the Arizona State game with an injured elbow, refused to take a cortisone shot prior to the outing. Spurrier was supportive of that decision and has, in the past and in the present, sided with what the player thought was in his best interest.
“I believe it’s a personal decision,” Spurrier said when asked about the Franklin situation. “Really, us coaches, we don’t determine who plays. The trainers and doctors clear the player to play. As coaches, ‘We say can he play and does he want to play?’ and then you go from there.”
Fractured shoulder and all, Shaw was cleared by a noted specialist to play football. He wanted to play. Spurrier made the decision to go with his junior, who moved to 10-1 as a starter this year, and the decision was met with skepticism by some.
Shaw, however, went out and performed well enough to complete 20 passes in a row, tied for the second-most in conference history. He silenced his critics with his play against Missouri and validated his coach’s decision to give him the start.
Looking back, Spurrier may have made a couple of different goal line calls to start the second quarter against the Tigers but he certainly made the right calls when it came to his handling of Shaw.
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