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Spurrier: "I've had enough" with newspaper columnist

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

An ongoing feud between University of South Carolina Head Football Coach Steve Spurrier and a sports columnist for a local newspaper has surfaced again and this time it appears the head ball coach has reached his wit's end threatening to "head to the beach" if the negative reporting continues.

On Thursday night's call-in show on 107.5 The Game, Spurrier hinted that changes could be happening at The State. That's where Ron Morris works -- a columnist who has chosen to lob criticism at the head ball coach more than a few times the past few years.

The feud first made the rounds nationally in October of 2011 when Spurrier publicly excluded Morris from one of his weekly press conferences. The reason, Spurrier explained, was that Morris, whom he never referred to by name, had stepped over the line when he wrote a "completely fabricated" story during the spring which suggested Spurrier "poached" Bruce Ellington from the basketball team.

Morris, in another article, was also critical of how Spurrier and the coaching staff handled the game plan when the Gamecocks lost to Auburn in 2011.

"The criticism he shows me is fine, I don't mind that," said Spurrier on October 14, 2011, as he was pacing back and forth in front of the media. "I'm just not okay with stories that aren't true."

Morris did not publicly respond, and continued to write both positively and negatively about Spurrier and the Gamecocks.

Morris' so-called latest fuel to the fire was a column he wrote questioning Spurrier's decision to start quarterback Connor Shaw against UAB. Shaw, who sat out the East Carolina game a week prior, was knocked out of the game when he re-aggravated a shoulder injury.

"My guess also is that, because of Spurrier's poor decision to play Shaw against UAB, USC will be dealing with the quarterback's sore shoulder for most of the remainder of the season," wrote Morris.

After the Gamecocks win over Missouri and Shaw's record-setting performance, Spurrier took to the microphone and gave his assessment of the game, but then refused to take reporter questions. He did the same on Sunday during his conference call with the media, hanging up after his statement.

The reason Spurrier seemingly punished all of the media on Saturday night and Sunday, according to SEC blog Saturday Down South, is because of Morris' continued criticism.

Then on Tuesday during Bill King's XM radio show, Morris, when speculating whether or not Spurrier would take questions during his weekly press conference later that day, said, "This is a real test for the administration. This is how things like Penn State happen when the administration won't step up and confront the football coach and he becomes all-powerful. When the football coach begins to dictate company policy, I think you're asking for trouble."

On Wednesday, Morris, who had recently written a piece for the paper's celebration of Spurrier's 200th win, responded to Spurrier's weekend move with a column of his own, explaining, "I'm just a sports columnist doing my job."

Morris also apologized for his comment linking USC to Penn State on Tuesday's radio show.

"My comment on radio that connected USC's public-relations issue with the Penn State scandal was only to suggest that college administrators have to be on high alert when it comes to coaches exerting too much influence over athletics department and university policy," wrote Morris. "That clearly was the case at Penn State. In hindsight, any link to what happened at Penn State was inappropriate, and I apologize."

Unprovoked during Thursday night's radio show, the head ball coach responded with a pretty strong statement of his own. He made it clear that he didn't have to put up with Morris' criticism and would rather "head to the beach."

He said he told his wife the other day that he had enough and he thinks things are going to change at the newspaper. Spurrier said that Ray Tanner and Harris Pastides are backing him, but did not outline the specific changes that may happen.

"A columnist is an opinion writer versus a beat writer who's writing fact," said radio host Brent Johnson. "But if you're going to have an opinion and make an accusation that involves the health of a player, then you better have something to back that up."

Here's a complete transcript of Spurrier's comments Thursday night:

About 12 minutes into the show, Spurrier stops taking questions and speaks.

"Let me say a little bit right now. Carole, Hold all the ads there a little bit."

"This has been an interesting week for the University of South Carolina, for me and so forth.
As all of us know, one of the local writers wrote another nasty article, last week actually. Very negative, critical toward me. slandered my name, my integrity. The guy's trying to tarnish and ruin my reputation as a coach. And that's okay. I don't dislike this guy. I really don't. 'Cause we all know who the guy is and that's the kind of person he is."

"I have a problem that we give a platform to voice his slander toward me. But, I think, I think, some change is coming. Todd (Todd Ellis is the host of Spurrier's weekly Carolina Calls radio show), I really do."

"And I told my wife the other day, after the last article, I said 'I've had it, I've had enough and I'm not going to take it anymore. I've had enough.'"

"All the Gamecocks say, 'coach don't pay any attention to him. He's insignificant,' which he is. He's not an important person."

"But, they're not having their name, and reputation slandered. So I'm the one and that's not my mode of operation to say 'don't say anything about it.'"

"So, I get a voice here. This is my voice here. He gets his voice in the newspaper, which he uses."

"I don't dislike this guy anymore. I think we need to make some changes and I think some positive changes are going to happen."
 
"I don't dislike our newspaper people. I really believe The State Newspaper, 98% of 'em, are good people. They're hard workin' and they got good jobs and I'm all for our newspaper, I really am and I hope they're successful."

"They've got a little problem over there that we know about, but they're working on it.
And our president, our athletic director, president Pastides, athletic director Tanner, they're all backing me in this."

"I think historically around here at South Carolina, we're in uncharted waters right now, we're winnin', we're winnin'. It used to be cool to try to bash and trash the head coach, from what I've learned."

"It used to be cool around here, but it's not cool anymore and I don't think that I have to put up with that."

"If Mike McGee (former USC athletics director), when he hired me, he would have said 'Steve, we're gonna give you a chance to run the football program at South Carolina, you hire your coaches, do your thing, but there's one thing you gotta put up with, the local media will try to trash you, they'll try to ruin your reputation, they'll try to portray you as a mean, evil, self-serving person.' And, I would have said, 'well you give that job to somebody else, I'll wait for the North Carolina job to open.' which was opening the next year. But, I'm glad it worked out."

"That is not part of being the head coach at any university, is to be the target of the newspaper to give a guy who obviously has an ax to grind. I'm not that mad at the guy. The guy is who he is, we all know who he is."

"But we need to make some changes and I really believe between President Pastides and the guy that runs the newspaper, that some good changes are coming forth and I encourage the people that canceled their subscriptions last year, when some of this crap started last year, to give the newspaper and our university a chance. I believe that our city is going to be better off."

"The City of Columbia and the University of South Carolina, our newspaper, we're all going to get along better, which is what it's all about and, hopefully, that can come from this week 'cause we've had some serious discussions about things , but basically I said I'm not taking anymore of the stuff that's coming out of our local paper.

"I'm not taking it anymore. If that's part of the job, I can head to the beach. That's not part of the job, so we're going to get it straightened out.    

Both have said their disagreements are not personal, but professionally it appears there's no chance the two will end this one anytime soon.

"I'd love to sit down with him and hash it out," Morris told King on Monday. Spurrier, though, made it clear Thursday night that he has more "important" and "significant" people to spend his time with.

Late Friday morning, the ABC television affiliate in Columbia ended its relationship with Morris, who appeared during its 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. General Manager Chris Bailey issued the following statement:

I made the decision yesterday, with the input from WOLO News Director Crysty Vaughan, to end our working relationship with Ron Morris. He had been providing a weekly "Mondays With Morris" segment for ABC Columbia News. Mr. Morris was not a full-time employee of the station, but a regular content provider. In light of the recent friction between Ron and other parties, I made the decision to eliminate his weekly segment in our news. This decision was mine alone. I've had no contact with anyone at the University of South Carolina, or any other parties in this matter. For our television station, Mr Morris' work was very different than his role at The State newspaper. His body of work at WOLO was not controversial, and rarely focused on Gamecock sports. It was more celebratory of the world of sports, and mostly light-hearted in nature.

Free speech is often a messy proposition, but vital in our society. I was only recently reminded of that when I traveled to part of the former Soviet Union and saw the broadcast towers formerly used to jam broadcasts from the west. Free speech, while it has expanded to many other areas of our lives, was originally put in place to protect media and writers from government censorship. It does not, however, protect the writer from consequences in the realm of public opinion or the marketplace. As a journalist, there have been times (not in Columbia) when I've stood up to pressures from the marketplace related to news content on my station. This was not one of those times, as the recent controversy had nothing to do with Ron Morris' weekly segment on WOLO.

However, I saw that WOLO might needlessly be drawn into a battle between the State Newspaper and the University, and I want to avoid that situation.

By the way, USC heads to Lexington, Kentucky to take on the Wildcats Saturday at 7 p.m. That game will be on ESPN2.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.

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