TAMPA, Fla. — It was 1992, the fourth year of Brad Lawings first tenure as a South Carolina assistant coach, and Gamecocks everywhere were rejoicing.
South Carolina was poised to join the Southeastern Conference, the perennial underdog was getting its shot to join the best collection of college football teams in the country, and fans and administrators alike could see brighter times ahead.
I remember everybody was hollering and jumping up and all excited and we were sitting there in the office going, We dont have those kinds of players, Lawing said.
Their record that first season, 5-6, reflected that, as it did the next and the next and the next and the next and the next and the next, a six-year span in which South Carolina won more than five games in a season twice and never won more than seven. On Thursday, Lawing met with media members after the Gamecocks first on-site practice for Tuesdays Outback Bowl with South Carolina at the doorstep of its second consecutive 11-win season.
Lawing is perhaps the only person to have a first-hand seat for the full spectrum of South Carolinas history from its long walk in the college football wilderness to its recent rise. The Gamecocks defensive line coach will soon finish his 17th season as a South Carolina assistant coach. Although complete assistant coaching records are not available, that is believed to be a record.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier was lauded earlier this season for becoming the schools all-time winningest head coach with 65 victories, but he is 40 Gamecock wins behind Lawing, who has been involved in 105 victories at the school, 19 percent of the total wins in school history.
Thats called longevity, Lawing said with a laugh Thursday.
Lawing coached at South Carolina from 1989 until 1998, when Brad Scott and his staff were dismissed. He then spent four years at Michigan State and three years at North Carolina before getting a chance to return to the Gamecocks in Spurriers second season in Columbia.
I didnt know him, but I had heard of him, Spurrier said. I talked with him at a Myrtle Beach coaching clinic and he said he wanted to get back to South Carolina so I hired him.
Thanks in large part to Lawings defensive line, the Gamecocks are fifth in the country in sacks this season with 3.3 per game.
His defensive line has played real well, Spurrier said. He pushes them. Then he loves them up a little bit when he needs to.
Lawing credited Spurriers attitude with helping turn the tide at South Carolina, where, he said, not only were athletes lacking but attitude was as well.
Coach Spurrier has brought a level of expectation. He expects to win and our players have taken on that same mentality, Lawing said. They are not happy with just a good effort.
In Lawings 10-year first tenure, the Gamecocks won 47 games. In this seven-year stretch, they have won 58.
I am where I want to be, he said. This is why I came back to South Carolina. I have enjoyed my 17 years here.
Not everyone would have enjoyed the entire tenure. For years, outsiders said South Carolina couldnt win at a high level. Lawing never believed them, but some of those years it was harder than others to argue the point.
There were some days you realized it was going to take a while, he said. I always expected to win. Weve got better players and theyve responded better to it. Its just a better opportunity to win now.
Practice sights, sounds