South Carolina welcomed three new coaches onto the staff recently, and as they step foot on campus and begin working they will find out one thing very quickly; here in Gamecock Nation, greatness is expected.
It is difficult to argue against the fact that, not too long ago, mediocrity was the norm at South Carolina.
We never expected to blow teams out of the water – a win was a win.
We never expected to beat the top teams in the country – just keeping it close was respectable.
We never expected to beat Clemson every year – once every couple of years still kept the rivalry going.
And I am not just talking about football.
Steve Spurrier set out to change that when he accepted the position as head coach. He quickly stated that anything less than greatness is unacceptable. He calmly explained that giving 90% was never enough. He excitedly asked “Why Not Us?’
Many fans exclaimed that the culture had changed with just the hiring of Spurrier. They thought merely having such a legendary coach automatically altered the way the rest of the world viewed you.
They were wrong.
“Winning” attitudes like that are easy to obtain on a shallow level, but it takes something major to cause it to permeate throughout a culture. Anyone can go to work one day and say they expect greatness out of themselves in the morning; only to think maybe greatness can start tomorrow by lunch.
Trying to change a culture whose mindset is based in mediocrity is like trying to wash a car with dirty water. It might look better at first when you start spraying it, but give it time to dry and the dirt will still be there.
So what did it take for South Carolina to find its clean water and set itself down the path to greatness? Was it the commitment of a superstar running back named Lattimore? Was it our first SEC East Championship? Was it beating #1 Alabama?
It was Christian Walker’s home run to send the Gamecocks to the College World Series. It was Jackie Bradley Jr’s base hit when he was down to the last strike of the season. It was Whit Merrifield’s walk-off single to bring the school its first major National Championship.
It was South Carolina becoming the last team to win at Rosenblatt.
Winning a National Title in baseball allowed Gamecock Nation to find its clean water and begin its journey towards become a school known for athletic excellence, but it didn’t fix things all by itself.
Football season came soon after and saw the Gamecocks beat a No. 1 ranked team for the first time and go to the SEC Championship.
Those accomplishments – unfortunately - were followed up with a crushing defeat at the hands of Cam Newton and Auburn and a loss to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
South Carolina had found clean water, but just spraying something doesn’t get the dirt out that is etched deep within. That takes scrubbing, that takes muscle, that takes effort. Gamecock fans everywhere were in danger of slipping back into old habits.
Then came the heroics of Scott Wingo, the pitching of Matt Price and Michael Roth, and the game management of Ray Tanner. Then came exactly what South Carolina needed to push it over the hump as an entire school. Then came back-to-back National Championships.
You see, when the Gamecocks slammed through the College World Series for the second year in a row it showed that not only could it be done at South Carolina, but it could be done extremely well. It could be done with class and dignity, showcasing to the world this South Carolina’s baseball team had a roster full of unique individuals; each with their own discernable character traits that when joined together created a championship caliber team not once, but twice.
It was no fluke. From that day forward everyone knew South Carolina could win and win big.
Now everyone understands what Spurrier was trying to do when he got here in 2005. Now everyone knows why he was upset when we clapped after a close loss to Auburn in 2006. Now everyone knows what Spurrier has known for over a decade; what it takes to be a champion.
And it is all thanks to Ray Tanner and the back-to-back National Champion South Carolina Yardcocks.
Now, as we begin to watch the two-time defending National Champions prepare for another grinding season, one can’t help but get the feeling they aren’t done yet.
You guys smell that in the air? It’s almost time for Baseball.
“No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined.”
- Paul Gallico
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