Where does Steve Spurrier rank among the SEC’s all-time greats?
It wasn’t the ending most envisioned.
“Alright, let’s get this over with.”
These are the words Steve Spurrier uttered, according to a few reporters in Columbia, S.C., as he strode to the podium to announce his resignation as South Carolina’s coach. For a man who cut so many one-liners with his sharp tongue, the phrase felt out of place coming just before the Head Ball Coach’s last stand in front of the mic. But then again, most of Spurrier’s final season with the Gamecocks seemed unfitting when compared with the rest of his legendary career.
How do you evaluate a man whose accomplishments put him among the upper echelon of even football’s best figures? How do you even process that a legacy so expansive and influential has reached its self-imposed cutoff point? Spurrier made sure to emphasize this resignation was not his retirement, but it certainly seemed to carry an air of finality.
But where to start?
Spurrier first stepped onto a practice field as Florida’s quarterback in 1963 — a year when zip codes were new, the Super Bowl didn’t exist and Alabama governor George Wallace infamously promised “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” His winding journey began a world away, and it helped shape the present state of the SEC in a handful of ways.
Here are three that stand out most:
Advent of the air attack
Old-school SEC football was comparable to the smash-mouth style prevalent in the Big Ten. Spurrier’s style of play as quarterback matched his play-calling preferences as coach: Pass first and do it often. The scheme became known as the “Fun ‘n’ gun” offense, and it guided the Gators through a decade of dominance while forcing their opponents to alter defensive philosophies. Many of the fast-paced offenses of modern day football trace their roots to Spurrier. He was never afraid to gamble on fourth down or opt for unconventional tactics, either, such as surprising other teams by using a two-quarterback system.
One of Spurrier’s best games as an NFL player fittingly featured 48 passing attempts — that was simply how the Head Ball Coach did business.
The quote machine
Spurrier took plenty of shots at other schools and proved himself a master at riling up opposing fan bases. Plenty of his zingers are still remembered fondly (or hated) to this day.
A few favorites:
- “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T.”
- “You know what FSU stands for, don’t you? Free Shoes University.”
- “Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley. (LSU’s stadium) is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one? There’s two of them. That’s right. There’s two Death Valleys.”
For fans, who either loved him or hated him, Spurrier made his persona an entertaining and prominent part of any matchup. It remains an irremovable part of his legacy.
All Spurrier did was win
Winning was clearly evident during his playing days with the Gators, when he famously keyed fourth-quarter comeback drives and even kicked a game-winning field goal to seal a 30-27 victory over Auburn. Florida had a winning record in each of Spurrier’s three seasons as starter, and he won the Heisman Trophy as a senior.
And he certainly did so as a coach, whether that involved thwarting UGA or upsetting in-state rival Florida State. He guided Duke (Duke!) to an ACC championship in 1989 and led the Gators to their first national title in 1996. Below is the list of the SEC’s all-time leaders in coaching victories:
- John Vaught, Ole Miss (190 wins)
- Dan McGugin, Vandy (197)
- Vince Dooley, UGA (201)
- Spurrier, Florida/South Carolina (208)
- Paul “Bear” Bryant, Kentucky/Alabama (292)
Of those five legends, Spurrier coached the fewest seasons (22 plus six games this year). In that time, he also captured six SEC championships and seven SEC Coach of the Year awards. That record simply speaks for itself. Few others may ever compare.
CBS’ Dennis Dodd reported that Spurrier would be eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame’s 2017 class. If there was ever an appropriate goodbye to one of the SEC’s greatest figures of all time, it would involve Spurrier giving a jab-heavy induction speech.
Breaking: Steve Spurrier is immediately eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame. Would be 2017 class and 4th ever in as player/coach.
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) October 13, 2015
University of Florida QB Steve Spurrier drinking one of the 1st batches of Gatorade from a milk carton pic.twitter.com/xpDkddTmjy
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 30, 2015
Huge gathering for Steve Spurrier's retirement announcement. Spurrier walks in, mumbles, "All right, let's get this over with" as walks by
— Eric Boynton (@ericjboynton) October 13, 2015