COLUMBIA — Noted by the awkward facial expressions and slow, sounding-it-out drawl, it was obvious Wednesday that Steve Spurrier was still having some issues learning how to pronounce his new assistants' names.
But South Carolina's head coach has no qualms about the coaching track records of new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brian VanGorder, as well as new special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Ray Rychleski.
Tuesday, Spurrier brought on Rychleski to coach all four phases of the Gamecocks' special teams.
Rychleski, who got a two-year deal from Spurrier worth an undisclosed amount, had done the same for seven years at Maryland. In those seven years, he'd never had a punt blocked.
Conversely, South Carolina allowed three blocked punts in its final two games this fall.
Spurrier followed up that hire Wednesday by landing VanGorder, the current Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach and former Georgia defensive coordinator.
VanGorder, who plans to join USC after the Falcons' final two games, will sign a three-year deal worth an undisclosed amount. Spurrier had said previously he expected the school to offer between $300,000 to $400,000 for a coordinator.
Spurrier said Wednesday he spoke with four or five candidates — including Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster and former Citadel coach and Mississippi State defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson — during the week that the job was open.
All along, Spurrier said he wanted a "proven" coordinator. He feels sure he got one in VanGorder. "He's a quality guy with a lot of experience. I really think he's going to do a super job, I really do. He's the kind of guy I was looking for."
Spurrier's hopeful, particularly, that VanGorder will help shore up USC's run defense. Under Tyrone Nix this past season, the 6-6 Gamecocks wound up 109th in the nation, giving up 209.3 yards a game on the ground. Arkansas, by itself, had 541 rushing yards. "Hopefully, we'll be a faster-playing, more physical team and a team that plays our assignments a lot better," Spurrier said, alluding to the fact that he did not plan to retain Nix, who took the Ole Miss defensive coordinator job last week. "When something's not working all that great, change is hopefully very good."
When asked to break down his scheme, VanGorder classified his units as versatile enough to stop varying offensive plans.
"I think I'm a guy, from a scheme standpoint, that carries enough scheme to handle all those different situations," said VanGorder, a 48-year-old native of Michigan. "I think the mark on most of my defenses is that we're going to play fast. We're going to play aggressive. I expect great effort on every play. And I'm an emotional coach. I like my defense to play with emotion."
In his four years at Georgia, from 2001-04, VanGorder coached six first- and second-round picks in the NFL draft. In '03, he was named the national assistant coach of the year after his defense finished third in scoring defense, fourth in total defense and sixth in passing defense.
Spurrier and VanGorder spoke earlier in the week about the job and then again on Tuesday morning. After that conversation, Spurrier managed to hop aboard the school plane that was taking USC president Andrew Sorensen to Spartanburg — and then detour it down toward Gainesville, Ga., and the Falcons training facility in Flowery Branch, Ga.
"It was on the way," Spurrier said, smiling, "sort of."
Spurrier and VanGorder talked for an hour and a half and Spurrier said he left feeling confident about VanGorder as a candidate. A day later, he offered VanGorder the job.
One thing Spurrier said VanGorder had to "convince" him of was his desire to stay in place for more than a year.
Granted that Bobby Petrino's unexpected departure from the Falcons had something to do with this move, but this will be VanGorder's fourth job in four seasons.
He left Georgia in 2005 to become the Jacksonville Jaguars' linebackers coach. A year later, he accepted the job to become Georgia Southern's head coach — the only move he said he "might regret a little bit."
He left there after a year to then become Atlanta's linebackers coach.
With five children, VanGorder said finding stability is a key in life right now. The rare long-term deal for an assistant solidifies that, he said. "Certainly, the three-year contact is nice. I think that's a statement for everybody that I'm going to be at South Carolina for the long run," VanGorder said. "I certainly feel awful about having to move my wife and my kids around."
VanGorder said, in some ways, he shares the same attitude that Spurrier does about USC having the potential to achieve new levels of success in the near future.
"I think coach Spurrier, what he's done, has been really tremendous," VanGorder said. "I know there's a confidence level that's growing, a restructuring of culture and ideas. I think they're on the verge of doing that this year. Hopefully we can help that on our side of the ball."