The Coach You Love To Hate
This weekend the Tennessee Vols travel to Columbia, South Carolina for a meeting with the Gamecocks of the University of South Carolina. The current head coach of USC has many nicknames — the Ol’ Ball Coach, Steve Superior, Coach Visor — but one that might appropriately describe Tennessee’s relationship with him is, “Prince of Darkness.” So, with the upcoming game, a few comments and reflections about the POD.
It is well known that Steve Spurrier played high school football at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee. At Science Hill HS, Spurrier was a high school All-American in football, and received all-state honors in football, basketball, and baseball (in fact, Spurrier’s baseball team won two straight state championships; and Spurrier never lost a game in three seasons of pitching). From there he received a scholarship to the University of Florida — after being spurned by the University of Tennessee, which at the time ran a single-wing offense that was ill suited to Spurrier’s talents on the offensive side of the game.
As a quarterback at the University of Florida, Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy in 1966. (And in 1996, when Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy himself, Spurrer had the unique distinction of becoming the first — and only, to date — Heisman Trophy winner to coach a Heisman Trophy winner.)
From there, Spurrier went on to play in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Afterwards he began his coaching career, preceeding his years at UF with assistant coaching jobs at UF, Georgia Tech, and Duke; followed by serving as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL; then returning to the college ranks as head coach of Duke, where between 1987 – 1989 he took the Dookies to back-to-back winning seasons, and in 1989 led Duke to a first-place finish in the ACC (where Duke hadn’t found itself since 1962).
Thence to Florida, where in 12 years he compiled an overall record of 122-27-1, and won a national championship after the 1996 season. Spurrier followed his tenure at UF with two mediocre years as head coach of the Washington Redskins; then once again to college coaching, succeeding Lou Holtz as head coach of USC and compiling an overall record (to date) of 40-30.
Before you start thinking that this article is some sort of Steve Spurrier hagiography, let me now turn to why (at least in my opinion) Spurrier has been demonized by many non-Florida (and especially UT) fans.
First, there is Spurrier’s domination as head coach of Florida over Phil Fulmer, with 8 wins and 4 losses against the Vols between 1990-2001.
Second, I have always found it somewhat curious that Steve Spurrier’s father was a man of the cloth — a Presbyterian minister, to be exact. I am guessing that Stevie missed a few Sunday School lessons along the way, especially those relating to the prophet Micah, who states in the Good Book, “And what does your Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God?” (Micah 6:8).
I can’t speak as to Steve Spurrier’s concepts of justice; but his actions as the head coach of Florida, for sure, cannot be reconciled with mercy or humility. As head coach at UF, Spurrier certainly ran it up on Tennessee on several occasions (1994, for example, when Florida won in Knoxville 31-0 while a couple of UF undergrads sat behind me the whole game chanting, “Gators got the ramma-jamma, Ooh-Ah! Ooh-Ah!”; or 1995, when UF poured it on 62-37 in a Jay Graham fumble-fest).
As for humility, Steve Spurrier will never be forgotten for his snarky quips about other teams and players: such as referring to Florida State University as “Free Shoes University”; or “You can’t spell Citrus without the UT”; or saying about Peyton Manning, “I know why Peyton came back for his senior year: he wanted to be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP!” What a guy.
And while the cheap shots may have lessened now that Spurrier is at USC, the memories from those day linger long.
But for all his character flaws, no one can deny that Spurrier can coach. I’m sure that he has intently watched the film from the UT-Alabama game, and noticed what Bama did to us with the many long passes to Julio Jones over our diminutive defensive backs. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that we are going to see lots of long Steven Garcia-to-Alshon Jeffrey passes this weekend, when Garcia isn’t handing the ball off to Marcus Lattimore.
But I am not completely discouraged about Tennessee’s chances this weekend. Spurrier’s Florida teams always seemed somewhat more vulnerable, at least to me, to teams that had strong running games — teams that could keep a Steve Spurrier passing attack off the field for long periods of time (well, so long at the running backs weren’t fumbling the ball away to Florida, as Jay Graham did in 1995).
So if Tennessee can get Tauren Poole unleashed this Saturday night; can contain Lattimore; can defend Jeffrey; and otherwise keep mistakes to a minimum; then there may be a chance for the Vols to stay in the game, and hope for good things to happen.
One last comment about Spurrier. I was sitting in Section SS in Neyland Stadium in 1998 when Tennessee beat Florida 20-17 in overtime, and I stayed in my seat afterwards to watch the thousands of fans storm Shields-Watkins Field after Florida missed its final field goal attempt. The field was torn to pieces by the happy fans; and the goal posts — with a television camera still strapped to the top of one post — were pulled down by the fans as well. Earlier in the game, at one point after Tennessee scored, Spurrier was shown on the Jumbotron throwing his visor violently to the ground in utter frustration.
Well, later that season at one of the home games there was a short video clip that was shown on the Jumbotron: it was a spoof of the credit card commercial that related how much certain items cost, and closed with some experience as “priceless”. Well, the video on the UT Jumbotron went something like this: “Replacing turf at Neyland Stadium — $50,000 [showing the fans swarming onto the field]. Reimbursing CBS for a camera — $105,000 [showing the goal posts being toppled]. Watching Steve Spurrier throw a hissy fit on national television — priceless [a loop of Spurrier throwing his visor down, over and over].” Every Vol fan in the stadium cheered loud and long after that!
So here’s hoping that Steve Superior will be throwing his visor down on the field in frustration many times this weekend. Go Vols!