Back in 1963, not many hot-shot high school athletes from Johnson City, Tenn. escaped the grasp of the Tennessee Vols. But even at an early age, Steve Spurrier was breaking the mold.
As we all know, the 72-year-old Hall of Fame QB and coach ended up choosing to play his college football at Florida, but many have often wondered why he left the Vols behind for Gainesville.
On Thursday, Spurrier indulged those who have not heard his story. The Head Ball Coach spun a gem of a yarn on his decision making process as a recruit when asked why he rebuffed the Vols during an appearance on Kentucky Sports Radio, which we have transcribed for your consumption:
“I think I ended up at Florida because I played basketball,” Spurrier began. “Back when I came out [of high school] in ’63 there was no signing day. There wasn’t February the 5th, 6th or whatever. Players could sign whenever their high school season was over or wait until March or April or whenever, I guess. And I visited a bunch of places. Back then it was unlimited visits, so I went to a Duke-North Carolina game visiting Duke one year and visited Kentucky. I went up there for a basketball game…
“Anyway, I was basically going to go to Ole Miss,” Spurrier continued. “They were really the best passing team in the SEC in those days, and obviously as a quarterback you want to throw the ball somewhere.”
“Tennessee was actually just getting out of the old single wing,” he explained. “And they were sort of in disarray. [Former Tennessee coach] Bowden Wyatt was sort of let go or resigned, and they had an interim coach. They hired [Doug] Dickey the next year.”
“So I didn’t sign with anybody [after football season] and I thought ‘I’ll just finish basketball season and sign somewhere in late March or something like that.’ Florida started recruiting me in January, really. They weren’t really recruiting me that much. I visited down here [Gainesville] for the spring game on one of those 74 or 75 degree days, and it was 32 or 33 up in Johnson City. I said, ‘Man, I think I can take this sunshine a little better than that cold.’
“That was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life,” he said. “Because I met my wife, Jerri, here at Florida and we’ve been married over 50 years now. So many great things have happened.”
For anyone who watch the Gators while Spurrier was a player or a coach, much of this story is pretty understandable. His love for slingin’ the ball around the yard is well-documented, and if the Vols weren’t willing to do it, that’s an easy choice.
But with Ole Miss as the leader in the clubhouse and Florida late to the party, Gators fans should feel very fortunate that the Florida weather cooperated for that spring game.
Otherwise, the entire history of the SEC may have been altered with Spurrier winning the Heisman in Oxford and building a dynasty as the head coach at Ole Miss.