When he decided to leave, he just left. After fifteen years as a college Head Coach and twelve at the University of Florida, Steve Spurrier just decided he’d had enough. And true to form when he made up his mind to leave, he left. He didn’t hedge, he didn’t negotiate, he just left. He didn’t quit, but rather made it very clear he’s moving on.
Before we go any further, I should say I really like Steve Spurrier and always have. I’ve liked everything about him as a football coach (except for that flea-flicker against Georgia in Athens at the end of the game) and as a person since the day I met him (1984). I’d be pleased to see my son play for him, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay.
Spurrier leaving shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. In fact, the shock should be that he stayed this long. He’s always looking for that next mountain to climb, that next big challenge. If you’re a football coach, one of the thirty-two jobs in the NFL is the biggest challenge there is.
Meeting success at just about everything he’s every tried, Spurrier was successful at Florida in more than just winning football games. He changed everything about the perception of the University from the inside and out. He sold tickets; he sold merchandise, his style of play put the Gators at the top of the standings and in prime time on television. Florida fans stopped cheering, “Wait ’till next year,” and took great pride in the Orange and Blue.
Spurrier never gave any quarter nor did he ask for it. “If he can’t play, we’ll give the other guy a chance,” is a now famous line from the years of success, sometimes through experimentation, as the Head Ball Coach figured out a way to win.
Shane Matthews was a fifth string player before being named player of the year in the SEC. Danny Wuerffel was sent to the bench in favor of Terry Dean one rainy day in Jacksonville. Noah Brindise alternated plays with Doug Johnson as the “Evil Genius” looked for an edge. What other coach would have made those moves?
Tennessee fans hated Spurrier. Same with FSU. But both secretly admitted they’d love him if he were their Head Ball Coach.
Why now? First, Steve is not a guy who’s going to be coaching when he’s 70 years old. Although a youthful 56, Spurrier’s back problems kept him off the golf course and out of a physical training routine more than he liked in 2001. Perhaps he realized that if he was going to make a move, time was running out. He’s got things to do with his life, and coaching forever isn’t one of them.
Second, coaching isn’t a forever job anymore anyway. The player/coach relationship has changed. The expectation of winning, and winning now is greater than ever before. He’ll coach in the NFL for five, six, perhaps seven years and then he’s getting out. But he’ll be great at it.
Some have suggested he won’t be able to translate his success in college to the professional ranks. That’s baloney. In fact, his success in college was based on a professional approach. A keen eye for who can play and who can’t, a very critical analysis of the opposition, and an even more critical assessment of his own team’s strengths and weaknesses are what brought wins in bunches to Gainesville.
He did it all with flair, and a bit of showmanship. He came up with “Free Shoes University.” He once said you can’t spell Citrus without “UT.” He had a theme every week, especially for the big games. He usually saved some kind of prediction for the upcoming season for the Jacksonville Gator Club at the end of his summer tour. He squeezed Miami’s National Championship out of the lead story by quitting the day after they beat Nebraska! Maybe that’s coincidence based on the one-week window he had in his contract every year, but a Gator through and through, he got in a parting shot at an instate rival.
Spurrier is a private guy who has always kept his own counsel. His late father, Rev. Graham Spurrier once told me he’s always been that way. From when he was a kid. Made up his mind and never backed away. Always competitive, played hard ’till dark and then some when his parents finally made him come inside. As a football coach, Steve has always deflected personal praise saying it was his job to “coach ’em up.” Maybe they’ll put his jersey next to Wuerffel’s on the wall in the end zone now that he’s not there to veto the idea.
Where’s he going? Who knows? Year after year when his name was linked to an NFL job, Steve would brush it off saying, “it would be hard for me to do that. I’m just trying to keep the job I have.”
He won’t coach a cold weather team, Washington being as far north as he’ll go. Carolina’s a good fit with his ties to the state. Tampa Bay’s a natural as an instate team with all the Gators, Seminoles and ‘Canes on the team, but he’s turned them down once before. Jacksonville is the best choice, but Wayne Weaver says he’s giving Tom Coughlin an extension and it’s being reported that Weaver isn’t keen on working with Spurrier. That sounds ridiculous to me, and whiffing on a chance at Spurrier is a day any owner will regret. San Diego seems far away unless he’s ready for a total change.
Steve will want a final say in personnel matters, but will want a real football evaluator working for him. Like a General Manager responsible for the cap and the money and helping find players who reports to the Head Coach.
Wherever he goes, they’ll win, they’ll have fun, and it’ll never be dull. Kind of like the last twelve years in Gainesville. To use an old saying, Gator fans shouldn’t be sad he’s leaving, but rather should be happy that it happened at all.