Update: The State now says Ron Morris is allowed to write about USC football. Read the memo.
In 2011, University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier refused to talk to reporters while Ron Morris of The State — McClatchy’s paper in Columbia, SC — was in the room. The coach complained that the sports columnist was a “negative guy.”
Spurrier did the same thing a year later. “I don’t need any questions today,” he told reporters last Sept. 22, then left. The coach, according to one sports site, quickly exited because he feared Morris was planting questions with other reporters after being told by his own paper that he should keep quiet.
Spurrier (left) and Morris
The 68-year-old football coach won’t have a repeat performance this year, though, because The State has told Morris he can no longer write about University of South Carolina Gamecocks football. (He’s been writing a lot about Clemson lately.)
“The publisher of the paper has removed Ron from any coverage of the football program, which down there is akin to the Washington Post not letting Dan Balz write about government,” one of Morris’s former colleagues told me. “Effectively, he’s being forced out at the behest of the football coach, with the publisher not standing up for him.”
Morris declined to talk to me, but others familiar with the situation — including former University of South Carolina and State staffers — described how The State’s publisher, Henry Haitz III, made his veteran columnist agree in writing that he would never again write about Gamecocks football or talk about the USC program on TV and radio shows.
“It was a journalism restraining order,” said one of Morris’s ex-colleagues.
A sports reporter from another newspaper – he suggested I write this piece – told me: “It’s pretty common knowledge around the area that this happened, and a lot of media types, myself included, are pretty upset at the kowtowing by the publisher there.”
Spurrier’s 2011 tirade
Spurrier announced on Oct. 13, 2011, that he wouldn’t conduct his weekly press conference as long as Morris was in the room. He was upset about something Morris wrote seven months earlier. “This has been weighing on my, on my chest, and I’m getting it off my chest right here today,” Spurrier said. (Morris wrote in March that Spurrier convinced a South Carolina basketball player to quit the team and join the football program.)
After that incident, Morris was told by his bosses not to ask questions at future press conferences.
Spurrier’s 2012 complaints about Morris
On Sept. 19, 2012, Morris wrote a column questioning Spurrier’s “poor decision” to play quarterback Connor Shaw against University of Alabama-Birmingham. That, of course, angered the coach again.
Around the same time, Morris was asked on an XM Radio sports show whether Spurrier would take questions at an upcoming press conference. The columnist replied: “I think it’s a real test of the [University of South Carolina] 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.”/CONTINUES Read More