COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A year after Steve Spurrier hinted Columbia's only daily newspaper may change the way it covers University of South Carolina football, media reporter Jim Romenesko has outlined how the Head Ball Coach and the University of South Carolina apparently forced the publication to ban columnist Ron Morris from writing about the Gamecocks.
According to Romenesko, who cites newspaper and university sources, The State's publisher removed Morris from covering USC football and made the columnist sign a piece of paper stating he would not write or talk about USC again.
"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 Romenesko. "Effectively, he's being forced out at the behest of the football coach, with the publisher not standing up for him."
According to Romenesko's sources, The State's publisher initially wanted to fire Morris, but the paper's executive editor talked him out of it because there were "no legitimate grounds for dismissal."
As for Spurrier, Romenesko was able to speak with him about the move.
"Ron Morris just wrote stuff that wasn't true about me and I reacted," Spurrier told me over the phone last Thursday. "I was fine with him the first five or six years here, and then he would write stuff that wasn't true."
Did he complain to The State's publisher? Romenesko asked.
"I complained to the world about him. I complained to Gamecock Nation on my radio show. But don't put that on me" that Morris can no longer write about Gamecocks football. "He is responsible for that."
Morris is still employed with The State, spending most of his time these days writing about Clemson.
The feud first made the rounds nationally in October 2011 when Spurrier publicly excluded Morris from one of his weekly press conferences. The reason, Spurrier explained, was that Morris, whom he never referred to by name, had stepped over the line when he wrote a "completely fabricated" story during the spring which suggested Spurrier "poached" Bruce Ellington from the basketball team.
Morris, in another article, was also critical of how Spurrier and the coaching staff handled the game plan when the Gamecocks lost to Auburn in 2011.
"The criticism he shows me is fine, I don't mind that," said Spurrier on Oct. 14, 2011, as he was pacing back and forth in front of the media. "I'm just not okay with stories that aren't true."
A little over a year later, Morris was still writing about the Gamecocks.
"My guess also is that, because of Spurrier's poor decision to play Shaw against UAB, USC will be dealing with the quarterback's sore shoulder for most of the remainder of the season," wrote Morris.
After a win over Missouri and Shaw's record-setting performance, Spurrier took to the microphone and gave his assessment of the game, but then refused to take reporter questions. He did the same on Sunday during his conference call with the media, hanging up after his statement.
The reason Spurrier seemingly punished all of the media on Saturday night and Sunday, according to SEC blog Saturday Down South, was because of Morris' continued criticism.
Then two days later during Bill King's XM radio show, Morris, when speculating whether or not Spurrier would take questions during his weekly press conference later that day, said, "This is a real test for the 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."
The next day, Morris, who had recently written a piece for the paper's celebration of Spurrier's 200th win, responded to Spurrier's weekend move with a column of his own, explaining, "I'm just a sports columnist doing my job." The column, according to Romenesko's sources, was a move ordered by the publisher.
Morris would also apologize for his comment comparing USC to Penn State's molestation scandal on Tuesday's radio show.
"My comment on radio that connected USC's public-relations issue with the Penn State scandal was only to suggest that college administrators have to be on high alert when it comes to coaches exerting too much influence over athletics department and university policy," wrote Morris. "That clearly was the case at Penn State. In hindsight, any link to what happened at Penn State was inappropriate, and I apologize."
Unprovoked during his radio show later that week Spurrier responded with a pretty strong statement of his own. He made it clear that he didn't have to put up with Morris' criticism and would rather "head to the beach."
He also said he told his wife in the days prior he had enough and he thinks things are going to change at the newspaper. Spurrier said Ray Tanner and Harris Pastides were backing him, but did not outline at that time the specific changes that might happen.
We now know.