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Don't Bet Against Spurrier
The Rivalry
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Paul Finebaum: Don't bet against Spurrier; he's still got game
by: Paul Finebaum
26 May 2009
It seems that the easiest thing in college football these days is to write off the Ole Ball Coach. If you want in on the action, the line forms out the door and extends around the block.
Obviously, Steve Spurrier's four years at South Carolina have been disappointing. At times, it has even been agonizing to watch. And worst of all, his spectacular legacy at Florida has been somewhat dimmed by the bright shining glow over Urban Meyer's head and the fact that the Gators will be the preseason favorite to win a third national title in four years.

Things have gotten so bad for Spurrier that this week a columnist in Montgomery, Josh Moon, wrote of Spurrier: "It's time for Spurrier to move on. He's not going to win big at USC, and even USC fans know it."

And Greg Oliver, a sports columnist in South Carolina at the Daily Journal, wrote: "Steve Spurrier isn't aging gracefully, not (considering) his coaching prowess that was once innovative or his attitude that is akin to that of a bitter old man."

Others haven't been as bold or as loud but still have whispered similar thoughts about a man once considered the greatest college coach in the game.

As the long-time president of the Steve Spurrier Fan Club in Alabama, these recent assaults on Spurrier have been like taking the Manhattan phone book to the solar plexus. Watching Spurrier grimace during four mostly uneventful years at South Carolina, losing more than he has won in the SEC (15-17), have left him wide open for the critics and cynics.

I didn't really like Spurrier's move to South Carolina. It's reputation as college football's Bermuda Triangle is well documented (see Lou Holtz).

A little bit of patience (like two weeks) and Spurrier likely would have replaced Nick Saban at LSU. If Les Miles could go 34-6 and win a national title in his first three years, what do you think a real football coach like Spurrier could have done?

So when I caught up with Spurrier recently in Birmingham where he was participating in a charity golf event, I must admit to feeling some anxiety. Would the greatest coach in the SEC since Paul Bryant be the same old Spurrier? Or would the losses overwhelm him, making him grumpy and dour, no longer the wise-cracking media darling of the '90s?

In a radio interview we did, he quickly made national news by poking fun at Meyer.

"They've still got that rumor going down there, Paul, that if he has about one more big year he might be the Notre Dame coach," Spurrier said. "I know you've heard that rumor."

A day later, Spurrier's gigging of Meyer was leading ESPN's cavalcade of afternoon chat (scream) shows and SportsCenter. It was vintage Spurrier, making a mountain out of a molehill with his tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Of course, he would call Meyer and apologize (which only gave the story one more day in the media). While many have criticized Spurrier for stoking the flame, it told me the 64-year-old coach still has some game left in him.

As for talk of retirement, both during the interview and later that night at dinner with Spurrier and his wife of 42 years Jerri (who had just come in from an eight-mile run) I saw and heard a coach who was resolute to straighten things out in Columbia.

During the free-wheeling dinner, which included former American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, Spurrier detailed some of the problems over the past few years, but seemed supremely confident the 2009 Gamecocks could have a big year.

I never heard excuses or any of the typical "woe is me." I don't think there is a football coach alive who hates losing more than Spurrier. And you could read in his body language that clearly the 28-22 record in four years does not sit well, especially when you remember he was 122-27-1 in 12 seasons at Florida.

Still, he seemed energetic and youthful and there was that steely Spurrier resolve.

In other words, don't bet against Spurrier.

He reminded me a little bit of the aging Jack Nicklaus in 1986. Upon reading a newspaper article on the eve of the Masters that his career was washed up, Nicklaus went out and became the oldest winner of the green jacket at 46.

Could Spurrier beat back the experts again?

South Carolina's schedule this season is tricky, with road games at North Carolina State and Georgia to start the season. However, two of his most difficult games at the end — against Florida and Clemson — are at home.

And yes, he will reconnect with Nick Saban on the field (Oct. 17 in Tuscaloosa) for the first time since 2001. Spurrier fondly remembers his two encounters with Saban at LSU — a 41-9 beatdown in 2000 at the Swamp and a similar road whipping at Tiger Stadium 44-15 the following year.

But that was a long time ago. Spurrier was the man back then in Gainesville and Saban was building his rep in Baton Rouge.

Today, Saban is trying to keep up with another Florida coach while Spurrier is being roundly written off.

I would just say to my friends in the media to do so at your own risk. Until recently, I was beginning to wonder about Spurrier's career at South Carolina. Maybe it was time to dust off his football obituary. However, I recently saw a man still desperately thirsting to win and still as determined as ever.

It won't be easy at a place like South Carolina. But something tells me we haven't heard the last of Steven Orr Spurrier as a great football coach.


Contact Paul Finebaum at:

His column appears Tuesdays in the Press-Register.