Lou Holtz told his South Carolina staff and players Thursday that he is retiring after this season, clearing the way for Steve Spurrier to take over as Gamecocks head coach and complete the handoff between two of college football's biggest names.
Holtz will make an official announcement Monday, with Spurrier to be introduced as early as Tuesday, according to sources close to the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Holtz will coach the Gamecocks in their to-be-determined bowl game, the sources said.
Holtz, 67, will then turn the program over to Spurrier, his close friend and former Southeastern Conference colleague. Spurrier, 59, has agreed to a multiyear deal worth between $1.7 million and $1.8 million per year, which would make him the SEC's third highest-paid coach behind LSU's Nick Saban ($2.6 million) and Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer ($1.8 million), a source said.
South Carolina canceled Holtz's customary post-practice media briefing Thursday.
Stopping to speak to a group of fans outside Williams-Brice Stadium, Holtz said: "This is not about Lou Holtz. This is about South Carolina."
Holtz then drove off in his golf cart without answering reporters' questions. School officials instructed players and coaches not to speak to reporters as they walked from the practice field to the locker room.
"We're just trying to stay focused on Clemson. There have been rumors circling for days," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said.
South Carolina Athletics Director Mike McGee referred all questions about Holtz and Spurrier to sports information director Kerry Tharp, who said Holtz would not be available for comment until after Saturday's game at Clemson.
"It is and has always been coach Holtz's call on this situation," Tharp said. "Let's allow him to make it on his terms and in his time frame."
Spurrier, the former Florida and Washington Redskins coach, has not returned repeated phone messages left at his northern Virginia home.
Holtz said repeatedly that he is tired and has lost weight as he neared the end of his 33rd season as a college head coach. Holtz, 33-36 in six seasons at S.C., has a contract worth about $900,000 a year that does not include a buyout clause, giving him the ability to walk away with only five days notice.
Florida won six SEC titles and the 1996 national championship in 12 years under Spurrier, who left his alma mater to become the Washington Redskins coach before the 2002 season. After posting consecutive losing seasons, Spurrier walked away from the NFL and a contract worth $5 million a year.
He sat out this season to play golf and watch his son play high school football. When Florida announced in October it was firing Ron Zook at the end of the season, Spurrier initially expressed an interest in returning to Gainesville. Later, he withdrew his name from consideration.
He told reporters that he wanted to return to college coaching somewhere in the Southeast.
"It'll be a plus for college football, no doubt about it," said Graham Spurrier, his older brother who lives in the family's hometown of Johnson City, Tenn. Graham Spurrier tried unsuccessfully to reach his brother Thursday.
"It'll be interesting when he plays Florida every year. He's got to have mixed emotions (about facing Florida), but that's part of it.
"It's going to be a fun ride."
Spurrier started making phone calls several weeks ago to begin assembling a staff. Two coaches almost certain to be included on Spurrier's staff are Arizona tight ends coach Steve Spurrier Jr. and East Carolina offensive coordinator Noah Brindise, the former Florida quarterback.
Other possible candidates include Oklahoma defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, Houston Texans defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, and Florida receivers coach Dwayne Dixon.
If Spurrier does not retain any of Holtz's assistants, the school would be responsible for as much as $1.33 million in buyouts, including a guaranteed $620,000 to assistant head coach Skip Holtz. The younger Holtz was long believed to be the next USC coach until his father demoted him following a 5-7 season in 2003.
Holtz and Spurrier are close friends who spent two days golfing together last spring at Augusta National, where Holtz is a member. Several years ago Spurrier helped Beth Holtz, Holtz's wife, get admitted to Shands HealthCare, a renowned cancer hospital affiliated with the University of Florida.
Like Holtz, Spurrier will receive playing privileges at Augusta National and is expected to join Holtz on the membership rolls within two to three years, according to a source. Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson, a Columbia resident and former USC football player, would not comment on that scenario.
During Wednesday's SEC teleconference, Holtz said mounting speculation about his future and possible successor reminded him of his final week at Notre Dame in 1996.
Holtz announced his retirement in November that year with two games remaining. After beating Rutgers, 62-0, Notre Dame dropped a 27-20 decision to Southern Cal in Holtz's finale. Bob Davie, Holtz's defensive coordinator, was named his successor later that month.
"My last game at Notre Dame -- and I'm not saying this is my last game -- but it's somewhat similar in the distractions," he said. "Bob Davie was going to replace me. And we had a terrible week's practice."
With 249 career wins entering this weekend, Holtz will retire at No. 8 on the Division I-A all-time victories list. He won a national championship at Notre Dame in 1988, but could never deliver the SEC championship he promised fans when he arrived at USC before the 1999 season.
After an 0-11 finish in his first season in Columbia, Holtz guided the Gamecocks to 17 wins and back-to-back Outback Bowl victories following the 2000 and '01 seasons, the best two-year stretch in school history.
Now he'll leave it to Spurrier to take the program to the next level.
"If and when I ever leave," Holtz said recently, "if you can get a guy like Steve Spurrier, how do you say no?"