(Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics)
This wasn't the first time I had taken over a college program in need of help. I've had six situations in my life where I inherited a team with a losing program and took them to a bowl game by the second season at the latest. The key to each was the same...I had to get our players to change their self image. To view themselves as winners, and to encourage their teammates to do the same.
That matters as much as any blocking or tackling technique.
The other key was to not play the victim card. When you believe that your failures are caused by someone else, rather than your own choices, it's easy to place the blame on others. In our case, our poor play started with each individual, including myself.
We started the 2000 season with a win over New Mexico State, and then upset No. 10 Georgia the following week. After a win over Eastern Michigan we were suddenly 3-0 as we played Mississippi State. We were trailing 19-10 in the fourth quarter of that game, but kicked a field goal to pull within 19-13. Then after stopping the Bulldogs, we drove all the way down to the MSU 25-yard line. Things looked like they were going alright until our offense stalled on the first two downs, and then on 3rd and 10 our star quarterback Phil Petty was injured.
We brought in our walk-on quarterback, Erik Kimrey, to throw a fade pass down the left sideline, and his throw was perfect. Jermale Kelly caught it and ran the final few yards for the game-winning touchdown, and when the rankings came out the next week, South Carolina was ranked for the first time in seven years.
We lost the following week to Alabama, only to rebound with wins over Kentucky, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt. It was only October 21 and we had already won 7 more games than the previous season - tied for the most by any team in NCAA history.
(Photo courtesy of Robert Clark)
We would eventually beat Ohio State in the Outback Bowl to break the NCAA record, but the season still left something to be desired. We lost our final three games of the regular season against Tennessee, Florida, and Clemson, and if we were going to be better the next season, we needed to come closer as a unit.