COLUMBIA -- Somewhat of a surprise, even to the recipient, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier on Wednesday was named the SEC's coach of the year. The vote came from Spurrier's peers in the league.
"This comes as a surprise to me, but I want to thank the voters," Spurrier said, referring to his colleagues. "Obviously, I have a lot of good friends who are SEC coaches. The real credit, though, goes to the players, coaches, support staff and fans here at South Carolina."
Prevailing logic would have seemed to point toward Auburn's Gene Chizik, coach of the 13-0 team playing for the national championship. But the SEC's coaches felt differently.
Chizik, who already won the media's version of the honor Monday, beat Spurrier's Gamecocks twice, including 56-17 in last weekend's SEC championship game in Atlanta.
The coaches -- enough of them, anyway -- chose to honor Spurrier leading the 9-4 Gamecocks to their first SEC Eastern Division title. South Carolina clinched the title, of all places, in the Swamp, where Spurrier worked the sidelines from 1990-2001.
Asked repeatedly that week about the distinction of claiming the division at Florida, where his name is in the school's Ring of Honor, Spurrier shrugged and said the accomplishments were about South Carolina and not himself. Spurrier said the same about being back in the SEC championship game for the first time in a decade -- and with his second team in the league.
Even if the title game didn't go so well, South Carolina was still breaking new ground by playing in it.
The Gamecocks will return to the Georgia Dome later in the month to play Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Spurrier has already talked this week about his desire to return to the building, so the Gamecocks can learn how to play there.
With a nucleus that includes freshman running back Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery, Spurrier figures to have a serious contender to return in 2011.
Claims to that end were only bolstered Wednesday with the news that Urban Meyer will step aside at Florida. Meyer flirted with the idea a year ago, but seemed much more resolute in his decision during an early evening news conference.
Meyer arrived at Florida in 2005, the same year Spurrier began coaching at USC. In six seasons, Meyer, 46, guided the Gators to two national titles.
"I'm saddened that he is stepping down, but after stepping down for a few days last year, it's somewhat understandable that he felt that this was best for him and his family," Spurrier said, through USC. "I believe he will coach again someday, but if he doesn't, he will go down as one of the best coaches in college football history."
With Meyer gone, the Gators will scramble to find a replacement. Former Gators assistant and current Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has to be atop Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's short list, but the transition surely cements South Carolina's status as the East favorite next season.
In 2010, South Carolina beat every East team with the exception of Kentucky -- and the Wildcats needed a furious rally from a 28-10 deficit to get past the Gamecocks. Other than that nightmare, South Carolina lost three games to the SEC's two BCS representatives, Arkansas and Auburn (twice).
Spurrier has now won nine conference coach of the year honors -- two at Duke (1988, 1989), five at Florida (1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996) and now two at South Carolina (2005, 2010).
With a win in the bowl, USC can tie its school record for wins in a season, set in 1984.
Lattimore, adding to his postseason award haul that's only sure to grow, was named the SEC coaches' freshman of the year.
Lattimore rushed for 1,198 yards and 17 touchdowns, becoming the first Gamecock to top 1,000 yards since Derek Watson in 2000. With 19 total touchdowns, Lattimore is just one off the SEC freshman record.