“We need to not be such loudmouths” was Steve Spurrier’s advice to his team when asked what they’d have to do to get better in the future. That’s one of my favorite things about Spurrier, his honesty. Whether assessing his team’s play, or a players’ ability, Spurrier is honest, sometimes brutally so. “We’ll give another guy a chance,” is Spurrier’s often heard way of making a personnel substitution.
There are a lot of things Spurrier does better than anybody, but his ability to figure out who can play and who can’t is unparalleled. He can do it, and sometimes coldly make a change to upgrade his team. He brought that kind of honesty from the pros, from his days as a player in the NFL and a coach in the USFL. Get the best guys in there no matter what.
He’s revolutionized the way football is played in the Southeastern Conference. He’s influenced offensive attacks on college campuses around the country. He calls it “pitch and catch,” but it’s much more than that. It’s a clear understanding of where everybody will be when a play is called. Ever see Spurrier lean over to a backup quarterback on the sideline and point out just where the open receiver will be, only to see that backup quarterback in the game on the next play throwing a touchdown pass to that open receiver? Last year he even was reading defenses while Doug Johnson was standing at the line of scrimmage. Who else does that?
Steve said one of his highest compliments came from Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. “You coach your football team just like a basketball coach,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re involved.” He’s right. All the way down to the visor throwing, neck-vein popping sideline gyrations, Spurrier is involved. That’s why so many guys want to play for him. They want to know the guy on the sidelines is giving it as much as they are. No question Spurrier is doing that.
He’s one of the most competitive guys you’ll ever meet. So much so, he’ll grind, even if he’s losing, until he comes out a winner. Even if it’s in his own mind. But remember, this is somebody who has never met with anything but success in his whole life. Even the thing that didn’t go right for him, playing professional football, he admits was probably his own fault. Now that’s honest.
I was standing outside the stadium after a game once, and an elderly gentleman walked by and starting chatting about the game. I said, “boy, Steve was into it tonight.” “Always been that way,” replied Graham Spurrier, Steve’s dad. “Ever since he was a boy, hated to lose, wouldn’t accept it no matter what it was.”
I like that about Steve. I don’t like passive acceptance. I like the active pursuit of being the best. He’s straightforward with his players. No gray area here. When two players got into a scuffle in New Orleans before a Sugar Bowl game, they were on the plane home before the media even heard about it. He scared Fred Taylor so bad the third time the former Gator running back got into trouble, Taylor stayed clear of “the dark side” for the rest of his college career.
I’ve spent time with Spurrier away from football and you find out quickly he doesn’t like to waste time. He wants to get things done. He doesn’t want to sit around a talk about trivial stuff.
A couple of years ago at a regular Tuesday press conference, Spurrier was asked about a big purple and black thing on the back of his hand. “Aw, my son Scotty put that tattoo on me and I just left it there for him,” was Steve’s explanation. That’s not what most people want to think about Steve. They’d rather he be the “evil genius” all the time. The object of their hate.
And he doesn’t mind that. Takes the heat off his players. The venomous things heard on the radio in opposing SEC cities would make a sailor blush. Spurrier lets it roll off his back as part of the game. I’ll bet most of them wouldn’t believe it if they were told he gave his number out to a defensive player when he returned as the head coach of Florida. You know, the number he wore while winning the Heisman Trophy? The accomplishment he refused to have acknowledged next to Danny Wuerffel’s at The Swamp. That would surprise some people.
He’s perhaps the best kind of personality to have in a coach: one his fans love and his opponents hate. Many times because he’s not their coach. Who did CBS track down at halftime and following the Tennessee game? Not Phil Fulmer, they wanted to hear what Spurrier had to say, even though his team was getting pushed around and they were losing at halftime.
Not to say he’s right all the time. He’s straight up when talking about most opponents, but whines a bit when Florida State is mentioned. (By the way, he NEVER calls them Florida State. It’s either “FSU” or the “semi’s”) I thought it was really wrong to call that flea-flicker in Athens when they were already whacking Georgia. But you know what? Gator fans loved it! Wanted him to do it again!
I’ve spent some social time with Spurrier, played some golf with him as well and he’s the same: no nonsense and willing to engage in “needling” and gamesmanship with the best of them. In fact, he is the best of them.
I did notice a little less joy last year and I think he did too. That’s why he addressed it right away this season. No sitting around crying over spilled milk for Spurrier.
“We’re going to have some fun,” he said. “Find that medium between serious and casual and we’ll play better. Especially at home.”
Several NFL teams have thrown all kinds of money and power in his face, trying to lure him to the professional game. Some owners are astonished he hasn’t jumped at one of the offers. “I guess I’m just a college coach,” he told me after turning down the Bucs latest offer. Maybe so, but if the right situation came up, I think he’d take the Jacksonville Jaguars job. It seems like the right and only fit for him in the NFL.
College or pro, Steve Spurrier will remain one of the most dynamic personalities in all of sports, not because he wants to be, but because of who he is. I hope he never changes.