Spurrier changed face of SEC, and then he walked out the back door
There is a scene in the movie, “Remember The Titans,” when new coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) walks through his team’s stretching drills, spitting fire as he preaches: “Everything we’re going to do is changing! We’re going to change the way we run! We’re going to change the way we eat! We’re going to change the way we block! We’re going to change the way we tackle! We’re going to change the way we win!”
Steve Spurrier did that. He changed everything. The way SEC teams played. The way coaches acted. The way they recruited. The way everybody on campus at Florida and South Carolina and, for five minutes, Duke thought about their football program. He changed the way Georgia fans thought about their annual drive to Jacksonville – and their drive home.
It follows that when Spurrier decided that he had enough of losing, he would exit his way. So after six mostly miserable performances this season and four straight SEC losses, he quit.
He didn’t ease into retirement and wait until the end of the season like almost everybody else. Just just walked out the door. At halftime.
“OK, let’s get moving. I’ve had enough here,” Spurrier said as he brought a press conference to a close Tuesday.
And for everybody else: South Carolina plays Vanderbilt this week.
Spurrier isn’t stepping down because of a health issue. He’s quitting because he’s losing. It’s a fine lesson for youths, don’t you think?
Let me suggest a book for him to read during his down time: “It’s Always Too Soon to Quit: The Steve Spurrier Story.” It was published in 1968. You can buy it on Amazon for $5. Look under fiction.
I imagined Spurrier going out with an SEC East Division title, followed by an upset over Alabama, and then dusting off an old quote: “I don’t think we ever signed a kid from the state of Alabama. Of course, we found out later that the scholarships they were giving out at Alabama were worth a whole lot more than ours.”
Instead, he took the Bobby Petrino route, only without the Dear John notes taped to players’ lockers and a midnight press conference and hog calls in Arkansas.
“I planned on going out on the shoulder pads in the Georgia Dome after winning the SEC,” Spurrier said. He came to realize at about halftime of a Week 4 struggle against Central Florida that wasn’t going to happen and started thinking about retirement then.
Which is fine. If Spurrier had an epiphany that game or after a 52-20 loss to Georgia or a 45-24 loss to LSU and thought, “You know? I’m too old for this,” it’s understandable. He’s 70. His legacy is secure. But announce your retirement effective at the end of the season, don’t walk out on players and coaches and administrators and fans. Because frankly, that makes you look like an invertebrate.
Harris Pastides, the South Carolina school president, said he asked Spurrier twice to stay through the end of the season. Spurrier declined, saying it was time to go. Then he spun some mutant rationalizations about how it would be better for all involved. His petulance shouldn’t be so easily dismissed again.
The great Bill Walsh came out of retirement after winning Super Bowls in San Francisco, returning to coach Stanford in 1992. He was 60. Walsh’s first season was sheer bliss. His team went 10-3. But in the next two years Stanford finished 4-7 and 3-7-1 and Walsh knew it was time to step away.
So he retired. After the season.
“I felt this was an appropriate time to move to another phase of my life,” Walsh said.
Those words came three days after the final loss to Cal, not a lopsided defeat to Notre Dame in October.
How sad. How pathetic. Spurrier gave us so many great, even if aggravating, moments. He won an ACC championship at Duke. In his final season there, he had the team pose for a photo in front of the scoreboard following a 41-0 win at North Carolina. Classic.
He won six SEC championships and a national title at Florida. His “Fun ‘n’ Gun” attack changed the face of a conference filled with three-yards-and-a-cloud-of dust offenses. He yearned to try his offense in the NFL. But after two years of spectacular failure at Washington, he quit. At least he waited until after the season.
He went back to college: South Carolina, a relative sink hole for recruiting in the SEC. But he lit fires, got everybody to believe and landed enough stars to win games and an East Division title, though not a conference title.
“He gave us our swagger, our pride and our Sandstorm enthusiasm,” Pastides said.
That’s what Spurrier did. He threw visors and headsets and screamed at his quarterbacks, but he could coach like few others. Only Bear Bryant won more games in the SEC.
Spurrier’s relationship with the media was a strange mix of orchestrated intimidation and entertainment. He attempted to ban a columnist who dared to question His Highness from news conferences. But writers lapped up his jabs at opponents.
Georgia: “Why is it that during recruiting season they sign all the great players, but when it comes time to play the game, we have all the great players? I don’t understand that.”
Tennessee: “You can’t spell Citrus (Bowl) without U-T.”
Auburn (on a library fire destroying 20 books): “The real tragedy was that 15 hadn’t been colored yet.”
So much fun, so much success. He could have chosen a better way to exit. Instead, he ducked out the back door.Recent ramblings • Health would be Spurrier’s only good excuse for retiring in middle of season • Florida quarterback suspended for PEDs — and claims of, ‘I didn’t know’ ring hollow • Overreaction Monday: Chubb’s loss isn’t Georgia’s only problem • There goes Chubb, there goes a loss, there goes Georgia’s season • Short takes: After loss, Georgia is trailing even Kentucky in SEC East • It’s too late to save season but Sefolosha deserved to hear words, ‘Not guilty’ • Weekend Predictions: No fantasy, Chihuahuas will rebound (I think) • Braves may have a plan but it will be a while before masses buy in • Here’s your Depressed Braves Fan viewing guide to the postseason • Overeaction Monday: Now is not time to make decision on Richt • Falcons 4-0, Freeman 7 TDs — who didn’t see that coming? • Short takes: An easy Falcons win, and this is a team to take seriously • Richt and Georgia fall off stage again when it matters most • Short takes: Georgia’s reality check — there’s a problem at quarterback • Georgia needs win over Alabama to alter perceptions • Weekend Predictions: Nothing sinister here – Dogs over Bama • Georgia hired Jeremy Pruitt for games like this • Nationals are a more attractive mess than the Braves • Overreaction Monday: Georgia may be 4-0 but season starts now • Georgia now can prepare for opponent that matters most: Alabama • Short takes on Georgia’s win over Southern • Weekend Predictions: Lilly takes the lead and likes Falcons • Falcons’ fourth-quarter fizzles absent so far under Dan Quinn • Braves have been more adept at building off field than on it • Overreaction Monday: Are things as they seem with Falcons, Dogs, Jackets? • Georgia chases away Spurrier demons with dominating performance • Short takes: Lambert says, ‘I just had to go through a rough patch’ • Georgia can’t blow game, Tech can’t blow chance • Tech over Irish, Georgia over South Carolina (but not by 17) • Tech has something Georgia would like — comfort at quarterback position • An impressive opening by Dan Quinn’s new Falcons • Short takes: Gruden praises Falcons’ defense after win • Georgia looks like a shaky 2-0 with its passing game • Short takes: Another Georgia win but QB issues continue • Weekend Predictions: I can’t block this Falcons’ upset from my brain