BUDDY'S BLOG: God’s Gift to a Writer -- Steve Spurrier and the GOLDEN AGE of Gator football.

Updated: May 29


It wasn’t just the trophies and the wins. It was an Emancipation. The confidence of an earned swagger, the fun-poking taunts and the slight arrogance of achievement -- all liberating to a culture where joy had been quarantined for generations.

There’s almost nothing I don’t know about Steve Spurrier. That’s why when the editor of GatorBait was assigning stories about various decades of Gator football history I happily volunteered to write the one about the head coach of Florida from 1990 to 2001. An assignment from me to me, by me. Who else should write this story but the guy who has covered everything Spurrier has done since he set foot on campus as a wet-behind-the-ears freshman in 1963?

Check that: I doubt Spurrier was ever “wet behind the ears.” He seemed already savvy from day I met him as a non-playing freshman at the old Gator Bowl in 1963 when he was being introduced around prior to the Florida-Georgia game. You knew he was going to be somebody special. He was wearing a spiffy suit and a carrying a black umbrella with a broad grin and big curious eyes that were drinking it all in. Freshmen were not eligible to play, but he was sizing up the joint. And he was poised.

For over a half century it has been my honor and pleasure to have somebody so interesting to write about and talk about, which is why I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about him as a player and coach – plus parts or all of several books.

Steve Spurrier is God’s gift to a writer.

I know a thousand Spurrier stories -- at least 50 good ones, maybe 5-6 great ones -- but I was on a radio show in Arkansas last week when they asked me my favorite story about him and I gagged. So I told them a lame tale of how I thought I’d lost all his personal photos while writing his autobiography Head Ball Coach but it turns out he had put them back in his file. Duh. Who really cares about that but me?

I said to myself, “Maybe I don’t know him as well as I thought,” so just in case, I phoned Spurrier the other day and asked him: “What’s the thing you’re proudest of your 12 years at Florida (aside from the obvious)?”

“Consistency,” he shot back right away. “We were able to win championships and even some years when we didn’t win the title we still finished high up in the Top Ten or Top Five. I was talking to Bobby Stoops the other day and he only got one SEC title when he was here (1996-98), but two other two seasons he finished fourth and fifth in the nation.”

And therein lies the gift: Steve Spurrier’s teams were almost always in the hunt. And he set the gold standard in Florida Football. Until he arrived, Florida had never won 10 games in a season. During his 12 years in Gainesville the Gators AVERAGED 10 wins. Spurrier didn’t want to just beat them, he wanted to vanquish them, Atilla The Hun and Tsung Tzu style.

That’s why when I began reflecting on all his huge accomplishments I decided that the Spurrier Era needed a new nickname: The Golden Age.

Not the Golden Era – that one is taken by the Gator teams under Coach Bear Wolf that lost 13 straight games in the 1940s.

Spurrier not only won, he made it honorable and legit to be a Gator fan and everybody was invited to take part in the fun. There was probably a lot more Fun than Gun in it during 1990 to 2001, because nobody loved beating the bejabbers out of his rivals more than the Head Ball Coach. Fortunate were those of us who were around for most of those 12 years to relish the fun of dominating the SEC for six titles and a national championship.

It wasn’t just the trophies and the wins. It was an Emancipation. The confidence of an earned swagger, the fun-poking taunts and the slight arrogance of achievement -- all liberating to a culture where joy had been quarantined for generations.

Also wanting drill down on a couple of other things and not assuming I knew them, I asked Spurrier to elaborate on his visor-tossing sideline demeanor which became his trademark move. He semi-denies that he made a habit of slamming his hat on the ground regularly, but did acknowledge doing it here and there – remembering the first time he did it and why.

“It was 1990 and we were playing Furman,” he said, “and I was mad about a receiver running the wrong route.” So it wasn’t a grandstand play or all feigned anger. Perhaps the flung visor was also a teaching tool? Well, maybe, and maybe not. Frankly most Gator fans loved it.

Conversely, Spurrier brought up his headwear for the 1989 Duke upset over Clemson, the win which he said vaulted him into the front-running position as Gator coach and which was recently replayed on the ACC YouTube channel.

“I wore a baseball cap and probably I never took it off,” Spurrier said of his demeanor as he proudly recalled Duke’s 21-17 shocker over No. 7 Clemson in Durham. He certainly had cap-tossing opportunities, Blue Devils quarterback Billy Ray had five interceptions against Danny Ford’s Tigers on that rainy day.

One could make a case for that win over Clemson being almost as big as any in his career because without it “I probably don’t get the Florida job.” Duke was 1-3 at the time and the UF brass started calling and asking for some assurance that Spurrier wasn’t going to lay an egg. “I finally told them, ‘I can’t worry about that right now – I’m trying to coach my team.’”

And coach it he did – Duke got its first win over Clemson since they began pumping air into footballs and then won a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference by hammering North Carolina for the third straight season, 41-0, before being chosen to play Texas Tech in the All-American Bowl. A few days later he was Florida’s head ball coach.

To this day I contend that AD Bill Arnsparger did everything in his power NOT to hire Spurrier to succeed Galen Hall in 1990. Steve might dispute that. Sometimes I wonder if he really knows what other people saw and heard about some of Arnsparger’s arbitrary antics. But living in Jacksonville at the time and having various interludes with the Florida AD, plus knowing some of the key Gator alumni quite well, I contend that is true.

There is a reason when the plane flew to Durham, N.C. and closed the deal with Spurrier as coach that there were three other people with Arnsparger on that flight. And one of them was interim president Bob Bryan, who sealed deal.


However, those kind of images painted Spurrier as a beach boy-golf playing-fun loving-wisecracking coach which hurt his coaching advancement and delayed his ascension to head coach of a Power Five school.

Wanna play “What If”? What if Arnsparger had been successful in finding and hiring some “bright young assistant coach” that he kept talking about in his search – and he told me about just a month over lunch before Spurrier was offered?

That’s why when I began reflecting on all his huge accomplishments I decided that the Spurrier Era needed a new nickname: The Golden Age

As long as we were on the subject in our casual conversation – not an interview – Spurrier pointed out two other misconceptions:

1) Just about all those controversial quotes of his (“Free Shoes,” “UT in Citrus,” etc.) were done in the offseason as part of poking fun at boosters club meetings.

2) And would people like Paul Finebaum please quit saying he played golf year round. “I only played in the off season, not during the season,” he said with a bit of contentious.

3) And yes it’s true he’s always loved the beach and lives on it when he’s not in Gainesville.

However, those kind of images painted Spurrier as a beach boy-golf playing-fun loving-wisecracking coach which hurt his coaching advancement and delayed his ascension to head coach of a Power Five school.


Once Spurrier arrived as coach, The Golden Age of Florida football began. (File photo UAA)

In April this year Spurrier turned 75 and I considered writing a column about him on his birthday. I didn’t because there didn’t seem to be anything new or fresh. And besides, I could hear my critics saying, “What? ANOTHER column about Steve Spurrier?”

I felt like I know Steve as well as anybody in the media, and yet when I read Pat Dooley’s fine tribute to Spurrier in the Gainesville Sun on “75 Reasons Fans and the Media Love the Head Ball Coach,” I winced and said under my breath: “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that?” I took my hat off to Dooley.

In particular, of the “75 reasons,” I liked these:

11. Finding Shane Matthews way down on the depth chart.

31. The swagger everyone in Gainesville adopted.

40. How he stood up for Wuerffel after the FSU game.

59. How he won’t let anyone forget the 1990 team.

58. Half-a-hundred at Georgia.

I can’t really top those. However mine are more personal as I reflect back on my experiences. l remember the night in 1987 just after the USFL folded. By chance I met Spurrier in the lobby of a Mobile, Ala. hotel where unemployed coaches always hung out during the Senior Bowl – he was one of them. We knocked back a few beers and I wound up driving him back to his hotel, but before he got out of the car we talked about his future.

The Gators hadn’t won more than seven games since 1982, but Galen Hall had stacked up the talent and was good to go in Gainesville for seasons to come. Spurrier said something about as to how he just wasn’t meant to coach the Gators and “maybe it’s best.”

…Having no idea that less than three years he’d be in Gainesville.

And in less than 10 years he’d be in Gainesville standing in the middle of a field (that would someday bear his name) … choking back tears as he watched his 1996 national championship team take a victory lap … and as Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel uncharacteristically did his version of the Lambeau Leap … Spurrier choking back tears as he said to me, “There goes Danny, up in the stands …There he goes!”

It was especially great to be a Florida Gator during The Golden Age. If they were never going to win another title, on that day, at that moment, everything was right in the Gator fans’ universe.

Somehow, those days of enjoying all that fun has gotten diminished or lost over the decades. It reminded me that The Golden Age should be cherished forever by The Gator Nation. For a moment it returned me to a happier time.

.... But he was also a thinker and his brillance came through. Nobody had more fun, won more or left a bigger footprint than the man they call "The Head Ball Coach." (File photo UAA)


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