COLUMBIA, S.C. Lou Holtz will retire as coach at South Carolina after the season, The Associated Press learned Thursday night, apparently paving the way for Steve Spurrier to replace him.
Holtz told his team before Thursday's practice that he was retiring, according to a source close to the program who spoke on condition of anonymity. All season, the 67-year-old Holtz said he was worn out and tired, and even said Spurrier would be a good choice to succeed him.
The Tennessean of Nashville reported Thursday that Spurrier had agreed to take over at South Carolina, if and when Holtz stepped down.
An announcement regarding Spurrier, who won a national championship at Florida, is expected next week, the newspaper said, citing an anonymous source close to the situation.
South Carolina athletic director Mike McGee would not confirm or deny whether Holtz had decided to retire or Spurrier had been approached to replace him.
Several calls to Spurrier's agent, Memphis-based Jimmy Sexton, were not returned.
After practice Thursday evening, Holtz drove his golf cart from the practice field to the stadium to speak with a group of fans gathered to wish the team well before it leaves for Clemson on Friday. The coach thanked them for their support. ''It's always meant a lot to me,'' he said.
When asked if he had told his players, Holtz jumped in the cart and sped back to his office.
Holtz is the eighth-winningest coach in Division I with 249 victories at six schools. He took each school William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina to bowls in his second season after inheriting losing teams.
This week, as the Gamecocks (6-4, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) prepared for Saturday's game with Clemson, Holtz addressed reports that South Carolina contacted Spurrier.
''I've talked to Steve,'' Holtz said. ''I don't want to go in that direction, but I have talked to him.
"We talked about how you cure a slice, his son, etc. Steve's a good friend of mine, as I said.
"All I want to talk about is Clemson, Clemson, Clemson. That's all. That's the only thing on my mind.''
There was much speculation that Spurrier would return to Florida next season, following the recent firing of Ron Zook. But Spurrier pulled out of the running, saying 12 years at one school was probably enough.
Spurrier and Holtz are friends. Spurrier helped Holtz's wife, Beth, obtain an appointment with Florida's NCAA faculty adviser Dr. Nicholas Cassisi for treatment for her throat cancer. When Beth Holtz was in the university's surgical center for several weeks, Spurrier's wife, Jerri, checked on her several times to see what she needed.
''He didn't have to do any of that,'' Holtz said in 1999. ''He's got a million other things on his mind. I was out of coaching.''
Spurrier, 59, went 20-13-1 in three seasons at Duke before taking over at Florida, his alma mater, in 1990. The Gators won six Southeastern Conference championships and the 1996 national title under Spurrier.
He posted 122 victories over the course of 12 seasons, tormented opponents with his offensive flair and witty one-liners, and left town with the best winning percentage in league history.
Spurrier abruptly left after the 2001 season, taking over the Washington Redskins. Spurrier resigned after two seasons with a 12-20 record.
South Carolina has qualified for a bowl game the third in Holtz's six seasons. It was expected that Holtz would lead the Gamecocks in the postseason before stepping aside. A victory would be his third bowl win at South Carolina when no other coach in the school's 112 seasons of football had more than one.
Holtz will leave far short of the goals he laid out in 1998 he told about 5,000 fans at they deserved at least one SEC and one national title in their four years at South Carolina but feels he's left the program in good enough shape for Spurrier to finish the job.
Holtz said Monday the program was flush in young vibrant players like quarterback Syvelle Newton, receiver Troy Williamson and tailback Demetris Summers.
In addition, Holtz said the players were disciplined, academically talented and committed to winning titles.
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