Good For You, Steve Spurrier
By BJ Bennett
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin. Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page
Spurrier is the bitter-beer-face making, visor-throwing cynic who gives all of us watching at home someone to relate to.
Some in the SEC are finger-pointing Steve Spurrier's way after his most recent controversial comments, this time regarding his top league rival Georgia and Alabama's Nick Saban. The head ball coach recently took a dig at the Bulldogs off-the-field problems, talking of how he would rather play UGA early in the season as they normally have two or three players suspended. He also teed off a little on Saban, explaining how if he wants to be one of the greatest coaches in college football he needs to have success somewhere that doesn't have a tradition of winning.
It's not like this is anything new. And furthermore, it's good to see Spurrier returning to his milk-spilling, pot-stirring ways.
Spurrier, at his best, is bold, confident and presumptuous. This is the same guy who gave new meaning to rival's FSU initials, provided us with a memorable Tennessee-specific spelling lesson and once shook his head at the tragedy of the loss of all of Auburn's coloring books following a library fire on campus. Spurrier is the bitter-beer-face making, visor-throwing cynic who gives all of us watching at home someone to relate to. He's the oldest coach in the SEC, but oftentimes acts the youngest. And why not?
As a quarterback at Florida in the mid 1960s, Spurrier was a two-time All-American and the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner. As a coach he, he won a national championship with the Gators in 1996. He won six SEC titles in Gainesville, including five from 1991-1996. For all of the national attention Urban Meyer brought to UF, Spurrier's school winning percentage (81.6 to 81.2) was actually higher. The ego was cultivated, the reputation grew during his time in the Sunshine State.
That said, the foundation for his attitude, one of winning regardless of circumstance, was laid before he came to the SEC.
Some may not remember his time in Durham, but Steve Spurrier is the winningest coach in the modern era of Duke football. He spent three seasons with the Blue Devils, going 15-7-1 his last two years and claiming the program's first ACC championship since 1962 in 1989. Spurrier won over 60% of his games at Duke. The coach before him, Steve Sloan, won 29%; the coach after him, Barry Wilson, won 30%. The Blue Devils have had one winning season since Spurrier left for Florida in 1989. At a veritable football wasteland, Spurrier's confidence and swagger temporarily changed the culture.
His current efforts at South Carolina appear to more permanent in nature.
In 1998 and 1999, the Gamecocks combined to win one total game. After going winless in his debut, college football legend Lou Holtz went to work and took Carolina to just their second and third New Year's Day bowl wins in school history. Holtz excited the fan base and elevated the status quo, but even he had as many losing seasons as he did winning seasons during his tenure. Holtz was 33-37 in six years.
Through seven seasons, Spurrier has yet to have a losing year at USC. The Gamecocks have won 20 games the past two seasons, including a school-record 11 in 2011. The Gamecocks earned that distinction with a Capital One Bowl triumph over Nebraska. Back in 2010, Spurrier took his team to the SEC Championship Game -- a feat many thought would never happen. Carolina may be the favorite to return this winter. Of those with more than two years in the books, Spurrier is the winningest coach in South Carolina football history.
"This is for all fans of South Carolina -- always," Spurrier said during the Capital One Bowl postgame ceremony, later adding, "the record speaks for itself as the best team ever."
While his imitable style may rub some people the wrong way, it appears to be appealing to a good number of ultra-competitive players. Spurrier recruited many All-Americans to Florida and has helped the Gamecocks sign a nationally-ranked recruiting class in each of his years as head coach. Included in those recent hauls have been five-star recruits Chris Culliver, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney. South Carolina has been able to successfully go head-to-head with more tradition-rich conference foes over many elite recruits.
Spurrier's reputation with those he leads, however, isn't just limited to what the general public hears and see.
"Steve Spurrier was a players' coach. He understood the work ethic and approach to the game it took to be successful. He had a great sense of humor and always found a way to keep football in the right perspective," explained former first-team All-American Florida tight end Ben Troupe. "Contrary to popular belief, he never talked about winning. What he did say was if we don't go out and play the way we are capable of playing then we wouldn't be successful but if we played up to our full potential then we would have a chance. Coach Spurrier basically put us all on the starting line and shot the gun and told us not to worry about winning the race but simply to run as fast and as hard as we can. To him, that is true success and he was the best with the truth. He was an innovator and a mastermind, but he also was the best at getting the best out of his coaches and players."
Certain aspects Spurrier's approach leaves him open for criticism and he has had his moments. At Florida, especially, his "schematic continuity" was viewed by some as running up the score. Other have cited poor sportsmanship at times. Those criticisms certainly have merit. But Spurrier's antics, when kept in the context of commentary, are refreshing in a time of overbearing coachspeak. He says what he thinks and, likely, says more than he thinks sometimes just to rile up a reaction. The vast majority of his quips are harmless (in his recent Chris Low interview, Spurrier later called Saban "the best coach in the SEC") and stoke the rivalry flames that, within reason, make college football fun.
Spurrier is a vintage performer when winning. And he's doing that. For opponents who may find him obnoxious, the best way to quiet him is to beat him. His arrogance, kept in perspective considering recent league coaching storylines, appears to be his genuine gridiron getup. He's a unique personality, a big one at that, and he gives the conference balance. Not to mention a villain. The good guys, who we obviously appreciate and respect of course, will get their chance to meet the evil genius in the trenches starting this fall.
It's good to see Spurrier at it once again. The seven-time SEC and two-time ACC Coach of the Year is good for college football, even if the game sometimes hesitates to admit it.