COLUMBIA, S.C. - Steve Spurrier brought in new leaders to fire up South Carolina's defense and special teams. And the Gamecocks' head ball coach put himself on notice to improve, too.
Spurrier hired Atlanta Falcons linebacker coach Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator Wednesday, one day after adding Maryland special teams wiz Ray Rychleski for South Carolina's special teams.
VanGorder takes over for Tyrone Nix, who left for Ole Miss earlier this month. Rychleski replaces Fred Chatham, who was not retained by Spurrier. The changes come after a once-exhilarating season turned sour, South Carolina's 6-1 start dissolving into a five-game losing streak at the end amid breakdowns on defense and special teams.
"Blowing your assignment just can't be acceptable. We just do those things way too often," Spurrier said. VanGorder "is used to coaching very good defense. ... I got to believe we'll play better."
"And we got to play better on offense, too. We're not pinning our woes on defense and special teams," said Spurrier, South Carolina's play-caller. "Our offense made some yards, made a few touchdowns. (But) sometimes in the crucial times we didn't get it done. We got to coach better on offense."
South Carolina's collapse was stunning, particularly after Spurrier talked up his team as potential challengers in the Southeastern Conference. The five-game losing streak is the longest of the coach's college career.
Spurrier met with VanGorder on Tuesday and the two agreed on a three-year contract. Spurrier did not want to provide VanGorder's salary, although he's said during the search whomever he hired would earn more than Nix's package of $195,000.
Rychleski, who coached with the Terps the past seven seasons, agreed to a two-year deal.
Spurrier said he had to act fast on VanGorder, whose old NFL boss Bobby Petrino had talked about a position on his own new staff at Arkansas.
VanGorder, 48, has had experience in the Southeastern Conference. He spent the 2001-04 seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs, teams featuring stars like defensive end Davey Pollack, a Shiloh grad. VanGorder was the Bulldogs' coordinator in 2002 when Pollack miraculously sacked South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins in the end zone and held onto the football for a Georgia touchdown and a 13-7 victory.
Georgia's defense was ranked among the top 10 nationally in several categories while VanGorder coached there.
Spurrier spoke with "four or five" candidates, including longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, before choosing VanGorder.
"I just think he's a real, good sharp guy who can really lead our defense," Spurrier said. "And he'll be in charge."
That's how Spurrier likes it, especially when it yields results.
South Carolina's defense was a big reason for its 6-1 start and surprising rise to No. 6. Things fell apart down the stretch, with the ugliest moments at the end. The Gamecocks, who finished last in Southeastern Conference in rushing defense, gave up 541 yards on the ground - including 321 to Razorbacks star Darren McFadden - in a 48-36 defeat.
A week later, Florida's Tim Tebow increased his Heisman Trophy-winning resume with a hand in all seven Gator TDs in a 51-31. Spurrier was so distressed, he took the unusual step - at least for him - of working with the defense to correct things during South Carolina's off week.
While Gamecock defenders tightened up, they could not stop Clemson's game-winning drive, allowing a first down after the Tigers faced third-and-18, in a 23-21 victory.
Spurrier didn't want Nix to leave. But "he knew it wasn't working all that well," Spurrier said.
Spurrier said he got assurances from VanGorder - who had worked four different jobs the past four years - that he was ready to end his reputation as a coaching nomad. "I think at this point stability is very, very important to me and my family," he said. "The three-year contract is nice and I think that's a statement for everybody. My intentions are to be at South Carolina and to be there a long time."
He'll sneak in some time during his NFL job to watch film on the Gamecocks' defense. One priority is calling injured South Carolina star linebacker Jasper Brinkley about playing one more college season. "I think I'll do that right away," VanGorder said.
VanGorder says he's an intense, emotional coach and wants that out of his players.
The new job, though, puts VanGorder at odds for one game with his son, Molloy, a walk-on freshman with the Georgia Bulldogs. "I know he knows that I'm excited to work with coach Spurrier," VanGorder said. "But he said today he's a Bulldog and it's going to be strange because the first time in his life, one week of the year he's going to have pull against his dad."
The Gamecocks play Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 13.
As for Chatham, who spent the past two years at South Carolina, Spurrier thinks he may have a chance to hook back at Duke, where Chatham served as an assistant from 1989-2005, with new coach David Cutcliffe.
Special teams play also faded at the end. The Gamecocks had three punts blocked in their final two games. Rychleski's Maryland unit has not had a punt blocked in seven seasons.
"Our other coaches did a good job" on special teams, Spurrier said. "But for some reason, whatever we were telling (the players) wasn't working good enough."