Steve Spurrier Is Done and We’re Poorer For It

The Atlanta Constitution once described the gunslinging Florida quarterback with the following passage:

“Blindfolded, with his back to the wall, with his hands tied behind him, Steve Spurrier would be a two-point favorite at his own execution.”

South Carolina’s struggles this season have been no secret, but the news of Steve Spurrier’s immediate retirement was still unexpected by pretty much everyone. In a way, the decision is vintage Spurrier. He felt he wasn’t doing the job and made the move he felt was best and isn’t about to start caring what people think about it. This isn’t even the first time he’s taken such drastic action. He walked away from $15 million in the NFL because he felt that his Washington team needed new leadership.

The most compelling reason to do this now is Spurrier’s point that, “If the players know you’re not going to be their coach after such and such time, you just don’t have any accountability.”

It’s unpleasant that things have fallen off at the end, but that doesn’t remotely take away from one of the greatest coaching careers in college football history.

It started with his days as a great come-from-behind All-American quarterback at Florida, where he won the Heisman in 1966 and in something that would become a running theme, he helped perennial loser Florida win games, including an Orange Bowl.

Spurrier sips on one of the first batches of Gatorade as head coach Ray Graves looks on.
Spurrier sips on one of the first batches of Gatorade as UF head coach Ray Graves looks on.

He’s actually the reason the Heisman Trophy trust gives out two trophies. After he won, he gave his to Florida for future fans to enjoy. The student body and fans chipped in and got him his own trophy to keep — cue the panicked expressions of modern NCAA compliance folks — and the Heisman trust decided that was a good idea.

He went on to post a 35-19 record in three seasons with the Tampa Bay Bandits in the fledgling USFL before the league went under, then it was off to the ACC and lowly Duke.

Spurrier proceeded to work his magic on the Blue Devils and reminded everyone that you can win football games in Durham decades before David Cutcliffe was doing the same thing. In three seasons, he was named ACC Coach of the Year twice and led Duke to a share of the 1989 ACC Championship, the program’s only conference title since 1962.

We all know about the incredible run Spurrier had at his alma mater, but in case you’ve forgotten…

  • Won the 1997 national championship
  • Won six SEC championships in 12 seasons
  • Selected as SEC Coach of the Year five times
  • Coined the nickname “The Swamp” for Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
  • First Heisman winner to coach another in Danny Wuerffel
  • Gators were ranked 202 of 203 possible weeks in his tenure
  • Ranked number one in the polls 29 times
  • Posted a record of 122–27–1 including 87-12 in SEC games

Spurrier’s foray into the NFL wasn’t terribly successful, but that’s at least in part because it was Washington and Daniel Snyder is an incompetent meddler who ruins everything he touches. Going 12-20 in D.C. under Snyder’s reign is like winning the SEC at Vanderbilt.

He returned to college to do some really strong work at South Carolina, and even at the end he was cracking jokes and having fun. It’s sports and it often annoys me that coaches take things so seriously. Yes they’re highly paid people and the pressure is immense, but Spurrier always showed us that it didn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy life too. Case in point, see the below clip from this preseason.

Based on the actual results from this team, maybe there was a hint of truth underneath that routine, but no coaches have that kind of rapport with the media. He’s joking about the silliness of the entire coach/reporter dynamic and everyone is having a blast.

There are far too many classic quips from Spurrier to name them all. I’ll always laugh when I recall his constant tweaking of Phil Fulmer and Tennessee (can’t spell Citrus without “UT”). That may have culminated with, “I know why Peyton came back for his senior year: he wanted to be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP!”

Spurrier’s personality combined with his genuine coaching acumen is a rare blend, one that’s becoming all the more rare. The great coaches now usually behave like robots, and the ones who run their mouths often can’t back it up.

But then they aren’t Heisman-winnin’, fast-talkin’, trophy-liftin’, wise-crackin’, occasionally shirtless hall-of-famers.

Those are one of a kind.

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