“Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
“We’re part of the Alabama show this week.”
Ask an Alabama fan of a certain age and with a contrarian sensibility whether South Carolina is more worrisome than the recently defeated Florida Gators and the answer might surprise you. Never you mind that Florida has been perennially fielding teams comprised of the top high school talent in the country and has been a serious national title contender for half a decade. Such is the reserve in the bank for the Gamecocks’ coach, Steve Spurrier.
For the uninitiated, such respect probably seems unwarranted. After all, they know Spurrier as a wash-out in the NFL and architect of a lower-tier bowl team that can’t break through its own division. They’ve seen the highlights of his tenure at Florida—but big whoop. To them, Florida should always be that good (the Zook era being a confirmation by negation in this line of reasoning).
For others, the sight of Spurrier on the South Carolina sideline is akin to seeing a mob boss behind bars. Sure, he’s not at his full powers, but he’s a phone call away from his last big hit.
Forget this at your peril.
John Wooden remarked upon his retirement that if UCLA would let him recruit players, run practices, and skip the games, he’d coach forever. Developing players, getting them to achieve better than the clues of their initial ability, was the true competition. The wins were but a result of that process. Our own Great Leader has echoed such ideals.
But Steve Spurrier is different: Steve Spurrier wants to win.
But much of the respect he has now has little to do with his overall coaching record (which, were he to win tomorrow, would be second only to Bryant in the SEC) or his championships (one national, six SEC, two ACC—at Duke!), but with how he impressed his own identity onto the most competitive conference in college football.
Last year against Alabama, the Gamecocks threw the corner fade to the end zone on three consecutive plays. Spurrier had seen Marquis Johnson exposed against Florida the previous year and wanted to test the waters. Johnson broke up the play each time. Most coaches would have called the play once and, if it didn’t work, move on to Plan B.
But this is Steve Spurrier; there is no Plan B.
In this, believe it or not, Steve Spurrier is a lot like Les Miles (hear me out on this): it’s just that Spurrier’s Plan A is usually much better. Steve Spurrier, like Yahweh, is the same today, yesterday, and forever. He was the same Steve Spurrier on the third pass attempt that he was on first down.
The same Steve Spurrier who, as a player, sent Florida’s placekicker back to the sideline and kicked a game-deciding forty-yard field goal his own damn self.
The same Steve Spurrier who credited his in-state rival’s recruiting success to their being “Free Shoes University.”
The same Steve Spurrier who mocked runner-up Tennessee with zingers like “you can’t spell citrus without UT” and “Peyton Manning came back for his senior season so he could be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP.”
The same Steve Spurrier who, when asked if his team had a chance to beat the Georgia Bulldogs, responded, “Is Ray Goof still coaching them?”
The same Steve Spurrier who flew into a rage when Tom Osbourne told Nebraska to take a knee instead of running another option play that his Gators couldn't stop.
The same Steve Spurrier who, after watching the UT/LSU disaster last week, said that even dummies can win.
The same Steve Spurrier who insists that his “Ol’ Ball Coach” nickname be changed to “Head Ball Coach” because he’s, well, vain.
Yes, that Steve Spurrier. The same guy at Duke who, when fed up with his quarterback being unable to run the offense, took the field in shorts and sneakers and led the scrimmage himself just to prove he could.
Steve Spurrier competes. He only coaches because he can no longer play, and one has to think that the short leash he keeps on his quarterbacks is rooted in a belief he could do better than who he’s seeing on the field.
The scary thing is he might be right.