ATLANTA — The good people at Arby’s in Hoover, Ala. better have a viable Plan B for attracting social-media buzz this summer.
For Steve Spurrier, one of college football’s most successful and enigmatic coaches of the last 50 years, won’t be attending the SEC Media Days in July. In fact, he likely won’t be anywhere near a media podium, football field or fast-food restaurant around that time, as the 70-year old embarks on the many spoils of retirement.
“I can’t coach forever. There’s life after coaching,” said Spurrier on Friday night, while headlining a charity benefit for Curing Kids Cancer at the College Football Hall of Fame.
When the state of Alabama last saw Spurrier, he was whimsically posing for a post-Media Days photo at a Hoover-based Arby’s (below).
When the Gamecocks fans last saw Spurrier roaming the sidelines in early October, South Carolina was getting drubbed “at home” against LSU (45-24) — a game that had to be relocated from Columbia, S.C. to Baton Rouge, La., due to massive flooding along the East Coast.
(A few days later, the Head Ball Coach would resign from his post with the Gamecocks.)
And when Spurrier last saw his team (after the LSU defeat), he believed that bowing out early would put interim coach Shawn Elliott in a better position to succeed, infusing energy into a program, a game, a job, a livelihood that demands nothing but total effort and commitment from the top.
“It was time for me to go,” says Spurrier, matter-of-factly, when discussing his mid-October exit from the program.
In his heart, Spurrier knew his players deserved new leadership; and he was happy to step aside and let Elliott take command.
“Sometimes an interim coach can do a heck of lot better than the (established) coach,” said Spurrier.
Elliott managed to win his first game as South Carolina’s coach, knocking off Vandy in the interim debut. But the Gamecocks would crumble from there, dropping their final five games … by a combined margin of 26 points.
“The wins just didn’t come,” says Spurrier, taking blame for Elliott’s brief tenure. After the season, South Carolina eventually tapped Will Muschamp (formerly the head coach at Florida, defensive coordinator at Auburn) as the new leader for 2016.
Within days/weeks of leaving the Gamecocks program, Spurrier joined the ESPN College Gameday crew for stops at the University of Michigan and University of Nebraska — two campuses/stadiums the well-traveled coach (10-year NFL career in the 1960s/70s) had never visited.
(For what it’s worth, Michigan State, the eventual Big Ten champion, was the road team for both Spurrier games; and each outing produced memorable finishes. Exhibit A vs. Michigan … and Exhibit B vs. Nebraska.)
“(Michigan Stadium) and (Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium) are like cathedrals — two big ones for college football,” said Spurrier, still beaming from the experiences.
A natural follow-up question was then posed: Who has it better, Big Ten or SEC fans?
“The SEC, we’re still the best, but the other schools are still pretty close,” said Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner and head coach at Florida for 12 seasons and South Carolina for 10-plus years (2005-15).
(For Spurrier’s thoughts on the new SEC East, click here.)
Counting his time at Duke (1987-89) and Florida (1990-2001), Spurrier collected seven conference titles (one ACC, six SEC) and one national championship (1996 with the Gators). But it’s fair to wonder: Would that great success have occurred, if Spurrier hadn’t earned his first head-coaching opportunity with the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits (above)?
With the Bandits (1983-85), Spurrier tallied an impressive 35-19 record, which far exceeded his expectations for the grand USFL experiment.
“I think every (coach aspires) to be a head coach someday. … (In the early 1980s), I wanted to be the head coach at a small college, make $150,000 and say, ‘I can live on that, I’d be OK,” recalls Spurrier, who spent only five years as an assistant before overseeing the Bandits. “I’ve gotten some unbelievably good breaks … I’ve had a wonderful career. Very thankful and very blessed.”
Which brings us back to the famous Arby’s photo from last summer: While donning a pair of cool shades, Spurrier (228 college coaching victories) bore the look of a man who knew his days as a head coach were blissfully coming to an end.
Fast forward to the present: The coaching icon/media marvel — who once coined memorable zingers like “Free Shoes University” (when playfully condemning Florida State) or “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T” (when lampooning Tennessee’s annual bowl destination) — now bears the look of a man who’s tan, rested and excited about … never coaching another game.