By: BUDDY MARTIN
Steve Spurrier had something on his heart and mind that he wanted to get off. When that happens it generally means he’s going to find the right time and place so speak his mind. And that’s what he did recently while visiting in Columbia, S.C.
Spurrier needed to set the record straight with South Carolina fans. Thus a lengthy article appeared in The Athletic based on a two-hour interview with former Columbia State sportswriter Josh Kendall, entitled “Five Years Later Steve Spurrier wants to clear up a few things.”
Some things had been concerning Spurrier since he resigned as South Carolina Head Ball on Sept. 13, 2015.
Steve had tipped me off about the upcoming interview with a weekend phone call, saying I was mentioned in the interview as one of those who influenced his decision to stay on as Gamecock Coach. (Although I doubt I really had much of an impact on him.)
When I caught up with the HBC he had just driven from Columbia to Johnson City, Tenn. for the funeral of his high school basketball coach, Elvin Little.
Why this story, this confession? Was Spurrier not the coach who brought South Carolina its greatest era in history just a few years ago?
“What I wanted to get out was I didn’t leave because our record was 2-4,” Spurrier told me.
Among the reasons he left USC so abruptly, he said, was that he had lost control of the team and realized his players were no longer listening to him. He stayed a year too long, buoyed by a bowl win over Miami which evened out his lifetime record against the Hurricanes at 1-1, encouraged by the enthusiasm and zest of wife Jerri who loved her life as a coach’s wife in Columbia. And nudged by a friend (me) to be aware that he still had a shot at becoming the only college coach in history to win 100 games at two schools.
All of this came on the heels of the best three seasons in school history just two years prior. As Kendall noted: “From 2010-13, the Gamecocks won 40 games and an SEC East title. It was the most wins in a four-year period in school history, and it was the high-water mark of South Carolina football. The Gamecocks finished the 2013 season ranked No. 4.”
Two years later it began to fall apart. The losing was his Kryptonite. And the aftershock was painful.
“I don’t mind telling you: I hated those camera guys. When the game’s over and I got my butt kicked and they all want to get right in my face with that camera? Like, ‘Here’s Spurrier after we beat them.’ But still, it wasn’t that so much. I had done a poor job with the coaching and the team, a lot of mistakes. I want the fans to know I made a bunch of mistakes that year, and the only way for me to correct them was for me to leave. I couldn’t clean house and start over at age 70.”
The handwriting was on the wall for Steve. Kendall’s story went on to say:
“Spurrier called (A.D. Ray) Tanner that week and said, ‘I think it’s time. Let’s call the press conference.’ But Tanner urged Spurrier to reconsider, which gave other external forces time to go to work on him. ‘Of course, Jerri didn’t want that,’ Steve said. ‘She loved living here. She loved hugging the players. She loved everything about it. Of course, I had two sons on the staff (assistant coach Steve Spurrier Jr. and analyst Scottie Spurrier). They didn’t want to go for that. Then (Florida radio host and longtime friend) Buddy Martin, he called up and he says, ‘Steve, do you realize you have a chance to do something that has never been done in the history of college football, win 100 games at two schools?’ He said, ‘You’ve got 84, all you need is 16.’”
While I would like to claim that I had that much influence, the truth is that Jerri’s wishes had a much bigger impact and the fact that his sons were coaching on his staff was also a much bigger factor. Guess I can be charged with “poor advice.”
And why did the players stop listening? I asked him.
“It wasn’t their fault,” he said of the players. “The head coach has got to demand respect and for some, whatever, reason, they didn’t have much respect. So it was time for me to get out of there. When you’re finished, you’re finished.”
Little things like players not being forthright about performing their personal drills … a freshman disrespecting Spurrier by referring to him as “bro” …or him feeling the stress harshly enough that it began to affect his memory on remembering things like the number to his office door in the lockroom.
So why did he quit?
“Everybody wants to say, ‘Never quit,’” he told Kendall. “Quitting sometimes is good. You quit drinking too much, quit smoking, quit doing drugs, quit arguing and fighting with your spouse or friends, quit eating French fries every meal. There are a lot of things where quitting is the best.”
To this day he’s not sure why, but attendance to team chapel service began to fall off drastically. Whereas attendance was once about 90 percent – without it being mandatory – only about 10 players began showing up for it. The chaplain asked if was doing something wrong and Spurrier said, “no, let me see if I can say something.” The HBC reminded players that it was important to take 20-25 minutes a week to attend and hear the word preached, along with Steve and Jerri. But attendance did not increase.
That’s when Spurrier began to take it personally. He was beginning to lose his own self-respect, one day looking in the mirror and saying, “’you have become a sorry ball coach.’” It was time to hang it up.
“In my situation, I thought it was like that. In ‘Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun,’ it says, ‘When defeat is inevitable and there’s no way you can win, it’s better to retreat and come back and fight another day.’ Quitting to me has always meant in the middle of a game you have a chance to win and your players or coaches quit on it. That’s quitting. I felt like I was defeated. I needed to retreat, to get out, and maybe somebody (else) could provide a spark that I could not provide for that team. Maybe it was just such that nobody could have helped it much.”
So what did happen?
“I had Urban Meyer’s disease,” he said, meaning no disrespect to his friend’s health issue but admitting that the stress had begun to affect him both physically and mentally.
It was time to go, whether he had an expiration date or not. Apparently he did not, because “after some good rest and clear thinking,” he came back, taking over the head coaching job of the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football and coaching them to a pseudo title in an incomplete season. They finished 7-1, two games better than any other team.
“I was blessed to go out a winner,” he said. “I felt like I got some redemption for doing a sorry job here. I did a sorry job, and I was determined I wasn’t going to do a sorry job again. I am so thankful and appreciative. I could look in the mirror and say, ‘You turned out to be a pretty good ball coach.’ My daughter Amy said, ‘I think God created the Alliance so my dad would have a chance to go out a winner,’ and that might be a good way to look at it.”
And so as he likes to say, once again God smiled on him.
TB is back for ‘An Evening With Terry Bradshaw’
Terry Bradshaw wanted to know where his key to the city was and if Scot Brantley had anymore footballs that he intercepted and wanted him to sign. Otherwise, yes, he said he’d be back for “An Evening With Terry Bradshaw” April 8 at the Reilly Arts Center. I asked him if he would practice diligently in his post-Super Bowl interview with MVP Patrick Mahomes so he be on top of his game when he got to Ocala.
“Yes, I will,” said Bradshaw, “but do me a favor tell that Mayor (Kent Guinn) that I want my key to the city. I understand he’s (Guinn) running for Congress. If he can’t deliver tell him I’m going to his opposition and get my key from him.”
Terry was referring to the 2019 incident in which Mayor Guinn was scheduled to present the Steelers’ four-time Super Bowl winning Hall of Fame quarterback with a key to his city, but the key didn’t get done in time. “But I’m ready for Terry this time!” said the mayor.
We all got a kick out of Scot Brantley showing up with a football last year – the same ball he picked off as a Bucs linebacker as his first NFL interception – and insisting that Terry autograph it, which he did.
“And another thing!” said Bradshaw, feigning anger. “I don’t want any more people showing up there with footballs they say they intercepted from me and asking me to sign them. Otherwise we might have a line with 100 people!” (Bradshaw was picked off 210 times as a pro.)
The Ocala Quarterback Club is sponsoring the event with the help of Campus USA Credit Union and GatorBaitMedia.com. Tickets will go on sale next week and can be purchased then at reillyartscenter.com when they do.
Sorry Jim, we had the wrong #44 (with photos of Brown and Davis)
Yes, we know the difference between Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest NFL player of all time, and Ernie Davis, also a great running back at Syracuse. When we reached down for a photo of Brown – recently voted No. 1 by the NFL – there were numerous # 44s in the batch.
inadvertently we picked out the wrong one. So just to set the record
straight (after a few friends gladly pointed out our gaffe), Jim Brown is on the left, Ernie Davis on the right. Oddly enough Davis won the Heisman Trophy, but Brown did not.