ATLANTA — In Steve Spurrier’s mind, he exited life inside the SEC pressure cooker at the perfect time.
On Friday night, while supporting a charity benefit for “Curing Kids Cancer” at the College Football Hall of Fame, Spurrier (1966 Heisman Trophy winner; 10-year NFL career; 30 years in college/pro coaching) acknowledged the new look of the SEC East, now skewing toward a younger audience, with doses of honesty, humility and humor.
“I tell you, it’s a dog-eat-dog world,” lamented Spurrier of the highly competitive East division, which now includes UGA head coach Kirby Smart (supplanting Mark Richt), Missouri head coach Barry Odom (replacing Gary Pinkel) and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp (succeeding Spurrier).
Throw in the relentless work of Tennessee’s Butch Jones, Florida’s Jim McElwain (SEC East champs in Year 1), Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, and Spurrier hardly bears the look of a plausibly retired coach in regret mode.
“Those guys work a lot of hours,” quipped Spurrier, wearing a big smile.
Regarding Richt’s “mutual parting” with UGA back in December, Spurrier said he “wasn’t shocked,” adding the Bulldogs are always driving to compete with the likes of Alabama, LSU and other national powers.
“Time will tell,” said Spurrier, vaguely, when pressed about UGA’s chances of unprecedented success under Smart — formerly the defensive coordinator at Alabama (four national titles with Nick Saban).
Spurrier, always a memorable quote machine after games, was a little more contemplative about Muschamp’s arrival in Columbia.
Technically, this marks Muschamp’s first chance at directly succeeding the Head Ball Coach. But let’s be honest: It’s really the second time Muschamp (formerly the head coach at Florida) has had to operate under Spurrier’s immense shadow.
(With Florida, Spurrier compiled a 122-27-1 record and led the Gators to the 1996 national championship. At South Carolina, the coach had an 86-49 record, highlighted by three straight 11-win campaigns for 2011, 2012 and 2013.)
“It’s sort of interesting,” says Spurrier of the new Gamecocks hire. He then shared a story about inviting Muschamp to be South Carolina’s defensive coordinator prior to the 2015 season (after the Florida dismissal), but Muschamp graciously declined, saying, ‘I know everybody at Auburn; I’ve got to go there.’
Spurrier then paused for the irony: “And lo and behold, (Muschamp’s) the head coach at South Carolina one year later.”
As for the SEC East battle in 2016, Spurrier responded favorably to the notion of Tennessee (loaded with returnees, such as quarterback Joshua Dobbs and tailback Jalen Hurd) taking home the title.
“(The Volunteers) have a chance to go big … but you’ve still got to play the game.”