South Carolina has one of the best and most recognizable head football coaches in the country in Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks are current members of what many consider to be the finest football conference in the nation, and that places them in the middle of the battlefield known as the "Arms Race" that is SEC football. Yet despite those two important factors, the program is still looking to achieve lasting success. In an attempt to understand what propels a program to the next level, we looked at three other programs that have overcome their past to enjoy success for an extended period of time.
Kansas State is a football program with an atrocious past. To give you an idea of their history, their all time record is 447 wins, 591 losses, and 41 ties. From 1985 through 1989 they won only four games with only two of those coming against Division 1-A schools. They even lost two games to Division 1-AA schools during this stretch, which included a 30 game winless streak that was interrupted only by a single tie.
1989 marked the beginning of Wildcat savior Bill Snyder's tenure, where he would eventually have extraordinary successes at K-State. In his first season, the team only won a single game followed by 5 wins, 7 wins, and 5 wins consecutively in his next three seasons. The Wildcats finished 9-2-1 in 1993, and for the next 7 seasons won no less than 9 games. In that same time period, Snyder had four 11 win seasons and a 10 win season. In 2001, the Cats finished 6-6 but recovered to have two more back-to-back 11 win seasons in 2002 and 2003. During his tenure, Snyder also took the Cats to two Fiesta Bowls and two Cotton Bowls, winning 1 of each. So, in his 17 seasons at K-State, Bill Snyder was able to win 136 games at a program that only had a little over 300 wins in its previous 93 seasons.
What changed in Manhattan? Was Bill Snyder that much better of a football coach than his predecessors? In his 17 seasons at K-State, Bill Snyder coached 76 players that spent some time in the NFL. The Wildcats have had 160 players in their history to play in the NFL. Quick math tells us that Snyder coached nearly half of them. There is no surprise that this team improved because better players results in more victories. So we know one cog in the Snyder machine was improving the quality of athletes that donned their beloved purple and silver.
That raises another question. How was he able to attract the better players to his school? Here's a possibility. From 1989 through 1992, their university embarked on a project to revamp their entire football complex. They added improved locker rooms, a 6,500 square foot weight room, state of the art classrooms equipped with the latest in video equipment, a training room, and a players' lounge. They also added what they refer to as a picturesque Big Eight Room. In 1993, they added a new press box, sky suites, and a full length indoor facility. In 1996, the school built a new Academic Learning Center. They also added a Jumbotron, new scoreboard, and a message board to their stadium, and in 1998 they expanded the stadium, adding 8,000 seats and 31 new sky boxes.
USC fans can see some of these things have already occurred at USC. They've seen expansion of Williams-Brice stadium over the last 30 years. The addition of the weight room and team meeting rooms have assisted in attracting talent to Carolina, but the school still lacks new locker rooms and an Academic Center. These are two amenities that other schools can flaunt to prospective players that USC cannot, and both are high priorities with Athletic Director Eric Hyman.
Another program that is famous for their turnaround in the last 20 years is Virginia Tech. At first glance you might consider Virginia Tech a successful program throughout their history. They have an all-time record of 648 wins, 421 losses, and 46 ties. Prior to 1992 (when the Hokies began their 15 year streak of bowl game appearances), Tech had only been to 6 bowl games. They did not win their first bowl game until 1986, and were 0-5 in bowl games entering that game. In 1983 Bill Dooley had the first 9 win season for the Hokies since 1905, and their first 10 win season ever in 1986. When he left the program for North Carolina that same year, Virginia Tech welcomed in the man that would change their program forever.
Frank Beamer took over the Head Coaching duties in 1987, and only had two winning seasons in his first 6 years. Both of those were with a 6-5 mark and no bowl appearance. From that point on, he won 8 or more games (save 1997 when he only won 7) until today. Since that time, which began in 1993, his Hokies have five 10 win seasons and four 11 win seasons. They have also had two 9 win seasons, three 8 win seasons and a single 7 win season. He has also led them to 6 bowl wins.
Facility upgrades at Virginia Tech were similar to the improvements made in Manhattan. Expansion and improvements have occurred regularly since 1980. In that year, the capacity was increased from 35,000 to over 52,000. A new lighting system was also installed allowing night games to be televised. In 1989, a new paint job added the maroon and orange stripes to the stadium (sound familiar?). 1994 saw the renovation of seven lower sections, including the replacement of concrete risers. They also added plaques of four players with retired numbers including that of Bruce Smith (that’s sounds familiar as well). In 1998, they completed the replacement of the stadium’s oldest wooden bleachers. In 2002, Tech added over 11,000 seats in the south end zone. The project mimicked the Cleveland Browns ‘Dawgpound,” enclosing that side of the field and making it louder and more intimidating for opponents. There are bleachers, back benches, and club seats in the new South End Zone. A new visitor’s locker room was built, which can be divided and used for other sports in the off-season. The entrance to the South End Zone was also upgraded. It was given a face lift, improving the aesthetics of the stadium. Walkways and landscaping were added, making it more inviting for fans and visitors. Prior to 2006, the stadium’s expansion and improvements were completed. Another 11,000 seats were added in a two-tier grandstand. The press box was removed and a new press box was added, which houses a press room, a press conference area, three radio rooms and a dark room. 23 luxury suites and club seating were part of the expansion. Fencing around the stadium was removed. The west side of the stadium was landscaped and walkways were added to match the south side of the stadium. Concessions were improved as well as the ticket office. Four private club areas and an Athletic Hall of Fame were also included in the project as well as a student academic services center. Finally, Hokie Stone, which adorns most of the academic buildings on campus, was added to the walls in each end zone.
And finally, take a look at the Oregon Ducks. Their porgram was horrific in the 70s and 80s. From 1971 to 1984, they only managed two winning seasons and never won more than six games in a single season. From 1985 to 1989 they did have two winning seasons, including an 8-4 season in 1989, the first time they reached the 8 win mark since 1963. In that time period, Oregon won 109, lost 165, and tied 8. 1989 was their first bowl appearance in 25 years and only their third bowl victory in school’s history. Including that appearance, the Ducks have been to 15 bowl games in 24 seasons winning six.
You might be curious as to who was coaching this team during their turnaround. It was someone with whom SEC fans are now familiar with, and someone who is having similar successes with one of USC’s eastern division foes. It was none other than Kentucky Head Coach Rich Brooks.
If you look at the two previous coaches, there is a commonality that neither was immediately successful. It took Brooks even longer then either Snyder or Beamer. He actually arrived in Oregon for the 1977 season and managed only four wins in his first two seasons. It took him 13 seasons to get his team into a bowl. He eventually led the Ducks to 4 bowl games and culminated his tenure on the Oregon sideline with a PAC-10 championship in 1994 and a Rose Bowl appearance where they lost to Penn St 38-20. That year, Brooks won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award as National Coach of the Year and moved on to the NFL to coach the St. Louis Rams and was replaced by Mike Bellotti at Oregon.
Mike Bellotti arrived in Eugene after spending the previous five years as the California State Wildcats (a.k.a. Chico St) head coach, a Division II school. Since taking the reign, Bellotti has only had one losing season when he went 5-6 in 2004. He has had three 9 win seasons, two 10 win seasons, and an 11 win season. His overall record at Oregon is 129-77-2. While at Chico State, his record was 23-25-2. At Oregon, his team has failed to go to a bowl game only twice, and are 5-6 in their eleven appearances.
Major renovations began in 1989, when Oregon added a three-story building to the north side of the stadium. The building included 381 seats and twelve luxury suites on the second and third tiers. On the first tier, concessions and new restrooms were completed. A new press box was added to the south side of the stadium. In 1991, a new athletics center was built on the west side, and in 1999, a sports center was added to the southwest side. In 1998, a new Opto-tech Megavision scoreboard was purchased at the cost of $4 million. A new main entrance was built with improvements to all entrances. This was done to facilitate entering and exiting of the stadium. The Master Plan also addressed circulation, parking, transit capacity, accessibility, and improved restrooms.
Recently, an $89.7 million project was completed. The project saw the capacity increased by 12,000, bringing it to 54,000. 32 sky boxes, three-story luxury suites, and new concession stands were also part of the project. New locker rooms were added, which include three 60 inch Plasma televisions with two equipped with Xboxes. Each locker has its own ventilation system.
Clearly this is not to suggest that the only way to build a successful program is by improving facilities. This is simply an attempt to point out the similarities in a few programs that have become more successful over the last 25 years. Each school has gone through significant facility upgrades with the intention of attracting better athletes to their school. The one thing this article does not take into account, however, is that these schools are not necessarily competing against SEC schools for recruits. The players they are recruiting may not visit as many schools with state-of-the-art facilities. However, a player visiting one SEC school will likely visit others allowing him to compare what each individual SEC school has to offer. This is where the competition begins.
It is no secret that Gamecock fans are proud their school is a member of the SEC. The SEC is the most competitive athletics conference in the country. It is a conference that boasts the last four national champions in the two revenue sports, football and basketball. The SEC is able to lure some of the finest football players in the country to its schools with the promise they will play at the highest level of amateur football available. The competition on the field begins off the field. Better facilities may not guarantee a winning program, but they are definitely a key ingredient.