It’s hard to imagine college football without Steve Spurrier. His funny comments, his emotional sideline rants and even his visor all made him unique.
In this world of political correctness, Spurrier stood out and survived. He was a head coach who didn’t care what people thought about what he had to say or how he said it. He was going to do those things anyway.
There were the old-time coaches, like Bear Bryant and Bobby Dodd. They ran their programs and didn’t care what people thought. But then we got away from those hard-edged coaches at some point. Maybe it was simply sometime in between when coaches wore suits on the sidelines to when they started wearing polo shirts and sneakers.
Spurrier was that old-school type, even wearing the sneakers. He took up for his team. When his teams were good, he said so. When they were bad, he said so. And when he got the chance to take a verbal shot at a rival, he did it without hesitation.
Spurrier made fun of Georgia’s annual suspensions that occasionally would leave the Bulldogs short-handed when they played South Carolina. He made fun of how Georgia always had great recruiting classes but rarely won the SEC East. Spurrier knew his fans would love him making fun of the other team, and they did.
When he was coaching at Florida, his jabs at Tennessee, and particularly former head coach Phil Fulmer, were legendary, but so were the games. The Florida-Tennessee games were must-see TV every year, and they usually lived up to their billing. Spurrier made the Gators, his Gators, easy to hate, since they were usually beating every team on their schedule.
But even if your team was one of his victims, and even if you hated him, you had to respect him. Spurrier was a great head coach. Sure, things surprisingly fell apart on him in Columbia the past few years. But he made South Carolina relevant for the first time in its program history. He made South Carolina a team you could no longer pencil in as a guaranteed victory every year. Spurrier gave the Gamecocks a swagger they had never had before.
Swagger is an appropriate word for Spurrier. You could call it cockiness, and he had that. But for a head coach to instill swagger in a program that never had really been relevant is his greatest gift to the Gamecocks. The next head coach will be able to build on that, knowing Spurrier proved coaches can win at South Carolina.
And coaches all over the Southeast owe him a debt of gratitude. Spurrier made that swagger acceptable to where others followed suit. He was one of those coaches you would have loved if he was your team’s coach, but if not, that swagger made you probably hate him.
You have to admire his decision to walk away. It is understandable that South Carolina fans would be upset that Spurrier didn’t just wait until the end of the season. But Spurrier knew he was done, and the inevitability of his departure was something he wanted to face sooner rather than later.
Spurrier did it his way, which is what he has been doing for the past 25 years as a major college head coach. Maybe, since he vowed he is not retiring, we’ll see him on the sidelines again. But either way, we likely will never see anyone quite like the Old Ball Coach.
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