GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Only two men have ever been the head football coach at both Florida and South Carolina.
The one who will be on the sidelines for the Gamecocks on Saturday and the one will be watching from somewhere inside The Swamp with an especially unique perspective.
While first-year South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who led Florida from 2011-14, has tried to downplay any significance of his return to Gainesville this weekend to face his former program, Steve Spurrier has declined most interview requests asking him to talk about his ties to the matchup.
Spurrier is the winningest head coach in both Florida and South Carolina history, having built the Gators into a national power from 1990-2001 before later returning to the college game in 2005 to rejuvenate a middling Gamecocks program. He guided South Carolina to the three winningest seasons in program history before later retiring midway through last season, eventually returning to Florida this summer as an ambassador and consultant.
While he declined through a team spokesman to speak on his connection to the matchup this weekend, Spurrier did appear on “The Buddy Martin Show” earlier this week and seemingly reluctantly touched on the matter.
“It’s pretty simple. When I was coaching South Carolina I said I pull for Florida every game except when they play South Carolina, and now that I work for the University of Florida I pull for South Carolina every game but one — when they play Florida. So pretty simple,” Spurrier said on the radio show.
After his two-season stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, Spurrier took over a South Carolina program in 2005 that hadn’t won more than six games in any of the previous three seasons.
He eventually got the Gamecocks rolling by his sixth season, going 9-5 in 2010 and winning the SEC East before reeling off three straight 11-2 finishes. The program dropped back down to 7-6 in 2014 and was just 2-4 when he stepped down last season.
South Carolina finished out that season with an interim coach before hiring Muschamp this offseason. After a slow start, he has the program riding a three-game winning streak and trending upward again.
Spurrier, meanwhile, has enjoyed his latest return to his alma mater, meeting regularly with Gators coach Jim McElwain to talk football, taking in practices during the week from a shady spot off to the side and traveling to all of the road games so far.
When asked about his relationship with Muschamp on the radio show, Spurrier was reluctant to get any more involved in the story line of this game.
“He’s a good guy, good coach. Jim McElwain is a good guy and a good coach, and you know, this week, let the coaches, let all those guys talk about the game,” he said. “I’m a guy that used to coach at both places. I really think I need to stay in the background and watch a bit. Of course, I’m pulling for the Gators, and man I’m hoping our new quarterback (Austin Appleby), the team can rally behind him, get behind him. We’ve got a chance for a good year. … We’ve got a lot to play for and I’m hoping our guys can get really fired up.”
McElwain said he and Spurrier have not talked much if at all about the Gamecocks’ personnel and the players Spurrier and his staff recruited there, but he can tell the Head Ball Coach still feels a connection to the program after spending more than 10 seasons in Columbia, S.C.
“When he comes in and we visit at 9 o’clock, you can tell this one is something that’s dear to him,” McElwain said. “He obviously cares a bunch about South Carolina and the players there and the relationships he’s had and how well he was treated there. He talks very fondly of his experience and it means a lot to him.”
McElwain added that he’s just happy Spurrier is wearing orange and blue again.
“I know he’s excited to see both teams play, and this is one of those games that’s going to be hard on him,” he said. “I think as time passes by, it becomes a little easier, but this is kind of that first time. But we’ve talked about it and, you know what, I’m just really excited he’s with us.”