Spurrier still winning, still having fun

Originally Published: June 4, 2013
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

Steve SpurrierGerry Melendez/The State/MCT/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina has won 11 games in each of the last two seasons under Steve Spurrier.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- When you start rattling off those SEC football records most synonymous with being unbreakable, here's a good place to start: Bear Bryant's 159 SEC wins.

Of course, the guy who's second all time in SEC wins warrants his own spot atop the SEC football version of Mount Rushmore.

And he's still going strong.

Steve Spurrier enters the 2013 season with 122 SEC wins, and like Bryant, has built his SEC résumé at two different schools. Spurrier won 87 SEC games in 12 seasons at Florida and has won 35 more league games in eight seasons at South Carolina. (Bryant coached at Kentucky and, of course, Alabama.)

Spurrier, who turned 68 in April, offered one of his patented huffs when asked recently if he might coach long enough to make a run at the Bear. "Heck no," Spurrier said. "If I was going to do that, I would have stayed at Florida … go after those records."

If you do the math, he's probably right. Even if he coached six more years and averaged six league wins per year, he'd still be one win short.

Then again, if the Gamecocks keep winning at their current pace and the Head Ball Coach keeps on having this much fun, who knows how much longer he'll go?

He's already done more than anybody expected at South Carolina -- well, anybody other than him -- but this is precisely why Spurrier settled on South Carolina in the first place when he decided to get back into college coaching in 2005.

He loves competing and loves winning championships. But what he loves even more is transforming a program and elevating that program to unprecedented heights.

He's changed the way everybody thinks around here. Coach Spurrier's personality has become our personality. The only thing that surprises us is when we don't win.

--South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney

"He's changed the way everybody thinks around here," said Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks' star defensive end. "Coach Spurrier's personality has become our personality. The only thing that surprises us is when we don't win."

Before Spurrier arrived, South Carolina had won more than nine games in a season only once in school history. The Gamecocks have won 11 games each of their past two seasons.

Over the past three seasons, the Gamecocks are a combined 8-1 against East rivals Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. That's after going 5-34 in SEC games against the Gators, Bulldogs and Vols in the pre-Spurrier years.

"It was a lot of fun at Florida with all the SEC championships, and what we did at Duke was a lot of fun. They're all fun, but I don't think I've ever had more fun than these last couple of years," said Spurrier, whose Gamecocks have finished in the top 10 in the final polls each of the past two seasons and will also start the 2013 season ranked in the top 10.

What Spurrier has accomplished at South Carolina is even more compelling when you consider that he could very easily be at LSU right now or possibly even Alabama.

He was advised to sit tight prior to his taking the South Carolina job in November 2004. The Miami Dolphins had their sights set on Nick Saban, who ended up leaving LSU for the NFL after the 2004 season.

But even with a plum job like LSU likely coming open and the Tigers loaded with future NFL talent, Spurrier had already made up his mind. "I could have waited for a better job or a more prestigious job," he conceded. "But that's not me."

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP photoBefore Spurrier was winning SEC games as a head coach at Florida and now at South Carolina, he was a Heisman Trophy-winning QB for the Gators.

It was a similar story when Alabama reached out to Spurrier early in its hiring process following the firing of Mike Shula in November 2006, a whirlwind search that eventually led the Crimson Tide to Saban. At the time, Spurrier had been at South Carolina for only two seasons, and while appreciative of Alabama's interest, he wasn't about to duck out on the kind of challenge he's reveled in his entire life.

It's one of the reasons he went to Florida to play his college football, and it's one of the reasons he knew the South Carolina job was right for him when he decided to get back into coaching.

"Growing up, my dad loved baseball and coached Babe Ruth and Little League, but he never rooted for the Yankees because they were the big, rich team and seemed like they had all the best players, so I grew up not rooting for the Yankees," Spurrier said. "When it came time to go to college, Alabama with Bear Bryant was the big school, and I didn't want to go there.

"Of course, they had [QBs] Steve Sloan and Joe Namath there," Spurrier, a quarterback, added with a laugh. "But I wanted to go to a school that hadn't done much, which was Florida, and I wanted an opportunity to play as a sophomore."

As a player, he went on to become Florida's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966. And as the Gators' coach, he led them to their first SEC championship in 1991 and proceeded to win five more, including a national championship in 1996.

Now in the twilight of what's certain to be a Hall of Fame coaching career, Spurrier would love nothing more than to give the Gamecocks their first-ever SEC football title.

To many, that may pale in comparison to Alabama's historic run, which includes three of the last four national championships, but try telling that to Spurrier.

"Going somewhere and trying to do things that have never happened before is a lot more fun than going to Alabama and winning another national championship," Spurrier said. "It is for me, anyway.

"Now, I know people say, 'Ah, he can't win a national championship. He's just saying that.' Well, we'll see. What I do know is that what we've been able to do here has been fun, all the firsts we've done. It really is.

"I think we can do some more."

Chris Low | email

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