History Lesson: Vanderbilt (or first games for new head coaches)

In most normal circumstances, this would be an article discussing some of South Carolina's previous wins over the Vanderbilt Commodores.

However, as any Gamecock fan knows, these are not normal circumstances. Saturday's game against Vanderbilt will mark the first contest with interim head coach Shawn Elliott at the helm.

The Gamecocks are 20-4 all time against Vanderbilt, but just 3-3 in their last six games with new head coaches. Here's a look back at those three victories.

Record-Setting Skipper

The Gamecocks were coming off a 6-6 campaign in the final year of the Jim Carlen Era. The job was given to Richard Bell, an assistant coach under Carlen for seven seasons and South Carolina's former defensive coordinator. 

South Carolina opened the season at home against the Pacific Tigers out of the Big West Conference. The offense, which had focused on a grind-it-out mentality under Carlen, threw 27 passes. First-year offensive coordinator Dave Fagg watched sophomore Bill Bradshaw go 9-of-14 through the air in his first career start. Defensively, Harry Skipper returned a fumble an NCAA-record 100 yards for a touchdown to help the Gamecocks pull away as South Carolina dominated 41-6. 

The strong start would not last. After beginning the season 3-2, the Gamecocks lost five of their final six games, including a 33-3 loss to N.C. State and a 24-6 loss to Clemson. After a 4-7 season, Bell and athletics record Bob Marcum could not agree on what steps needed to be taken to move the program forward and Bell was fired. 

Sparky Over Steve

After the tragic death of Joe Morrison in early February of 1989, the Gamecocks had to scramble to find a new head coach. South Carolina ultimately settled on Appalachian State's Sparky Woods, who had guided the 1-AA Mountaineers to back-to-back Southern Conference titles in 1985 and 1986 while being named the conference's coach of the year in three consecutive seasons. 

Woods' first game on the sidelines in Columbia would come against Steve Spurrier and the Duke Blue Devils. Harold Green scored on the offense's second offensive play from scrimmage en route to a 160-yard performance. Gamecock kicker Collin Mackie kicked two field goals in the first half to break George Rogers' career scoring record at South Carolina as the Blue Devils fell to the Gamecocks by a score of 27-21. 

South Carolina got off to a 4-1-1 start with an upset win over Georgia and climbed into the top-25. However, senior quarterback Todd Ellis was lost for the season with a knee injury against N.C. State in late October. The Gamecocks wound up limping to a 6-4-1 record, which would be Woods' best season at South Carolina. 

The Intro of the HBC

Sixteen years after his first game on the sidelines in Columbia, Stephen Orr Spurrier was back. After the retirement of Lou Holtz following the 2004 season, the Gamecocks hired the former Duke and Florida head coach. 

Spurrier's first game at South Carolina would come on a Thursday night against Central Florida. The Gamecocks jumped out early on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Blake Mitchell to Noah Whiteside. Mitchell was 18-of-23 for 330 yards in his first career start, but the Gamecocks had to fight off a late rally from the Knights, ultimately taking a safety in the final minute to hang on to a 24-15 victory. 

The 2005 Gamecocks would start the year 2-3 and 0-3 in the SEC before winning five consecutive conference games, including victories over Tennessee and Florida. South Carolina wound up going 7-5 in Spurrier's first season at the helm and making its first bowl game since New Year's Day of 2002.