It seemed curious, for Steve Spurrier to pick mid-season to gripe at a local newspaper columnist for a story written in the spring.
Then the real news hit.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia, a week after losing his starting job, has been dismissed from the South Carolina football team. Two sources have confirmed to GamecockCentral.com that Garcia flunked a "substance abuse" test which was administered last week, which violated the terms of his re-instatement and ended his tenure.
"Being a student-athlete at the University of South Carolina is a privilege, not a right," athletics director Eric Hyman said in a statement, which echoed the same statement he sent out after Garcia was suspended for a fifth time in the spring, "and we remind all of our student-athletes that there are consequences for their actions. For Stephen to return to and remain with the football squad this fall, we agreed on several established guidelines. Unfortunately, he has not been able to abide by those guidelines and has therefore forfeited his position on the roster. We wish him the best of luck as he moves forward in life."
Garcia's dismissal came only an hour after a bizarre press conference, where Spurrier walked in and announced that he would no longer speak to the media as long as one un-named reporter - since revealed to be The State columnist Ron Morris - was in the room. Spurrier granted TV reporters one interview, then took other reporters to his office conference room for another.
Spurrier seemed to be tipping his hand at the Garcia news then. When asked if Garcia would still be the backup to starter Connor Shaw, Spurrier replied, "We'll see how all of that works out this week." When asked about how hard Shaw had prepared for the role, earned after Garcia threw nine interceptions against four touchdowns in the season's first five games, Spurrier pointed out Shaw's work ethic and studious nature to the game.
"You're not going to hear about him downtown in the bars, I don't think," Spurrier said.
Alcohol played a part in four of Garcia's five suspensions, the last where, with alcohol on his breath, he became belligerent and used profanity at an SEC-mandated seminar. That caused Spurrier, Hyman and USC President Harris Pastides to suspend Garcia indefinitely, giving him a list of requirements to complete before he was able to return.
One of those was to graduate, which Garcia did in May with a degree in sociology. Another was reported to be passing an alcohol rehabilitation program, although Garcia denied that and said he just had to meet with a school counselor. Garcia also flatly said, "No," when asked if he had a problem with alcohol.
His last chance was used up this week. Garcia was on the sidelines for USC's 54-3 win over Kentucky and practiced on Monday night, but the news apparently came down so suddenly that not many knew about it right away. One source confirmed that Garcia's locker was still set up in the USC locker room.
The official release from USC came 30 minutes later.
"We are all saddened that this has occurred," Spurrier said in the release. "We all feel like we've given Stephen numerous opportunities to be a student-athlete here at South Carolina. Obviously, he has chosen not to follow the guidelines of his reinstatement contract. We wish him the best."
Garcia came into the season with an outside shot at setting the school's career records in pass attempts, pass completions, completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passing yardage. Shaw started the season-opener as he was deemed to have a better fall practice, but Garcia entered the game in the second quarter and almost immediately ran for a touchdown.
The Gamecocks overcame a 17-0 deficit to beat East Carolina 56-37, but Garcia's numbers quickly dipped. While USC won its next three games, Garcia showed a troubling inconsistency, unable to complete a long pass and throwing nine interceptions. He was benched after 16-13 loss to Auburn where he only completed 9-of-23 passes for 160 yards with two picks and one touchdown.
Garcia finished his career with 7,597 passing yards, a 57.7 completion percentage, 47 touchdowns and 41 interceptions. He was 20-14 as a starter and beat No. 4 Ole Miss, No. 22 Georgia, No. 1 Alabama and twice defeated Clemson during his career.
Shaw started last week and 26-of-39 passes for 311 yards, no interceptions and four touchdowns, which won him SEC Player of the Week honors. He was already announced as the starter for Saturday's game at Mississippi State.
As for his backup, USC is down to only two quarterbacks with game time behind Shaw. Andrew Clifford, like Garcia a native of Tampa, Fla., (Garcia is from the Tampa suburb of Lutz), played first after Shaw last week and threw for his first career touchdown. His career statistics are 3-for-4 for 33 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson also played last week and ran for a touchdown, the first in his career. He has played just a handful of snaps in two games. Behind Thompson are Seth Strickland, the team's holder, and freshman Tanner McEvoy, who is a potential redshirt candidate.
The backups to Shaw and the team's attitude toward the dismissal remain to be seen. The Gamecocks have never been quiet about their love of Garcia, even as he was going through his suspensions. But USC was united in its support of Shaw last week, saying that it was time for Garcia to work out what was bothering him and seeing what Shaw could do.
Spurrier, after chastising Morris, continued to illustrate details about why he chose to single out the columnist after the original no-talk announcement. He is not scheduled to speak publicly until his radio call-in show on Thursday, and then the game on Saturday. He will not hold his usual weekly press conference next week due to the Gamecocks being on their bye week.