Just another ball coach

UF players see Steve Spurrier as just another coach they have to beat

Updated: October 16, 2012, 9:37 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was only Monday, but Florida defensive tackle Omar Hunter said he could already feel a buzz around campus in anticipation of Saturday's home game against South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeff Blake/US PresswireMost Florida players know Steve Spurrier as South Carolina's coach, not as a Gators legend.
A good part of that excitement is centered on Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier. Any time the head ball coach comes back to Gainesville -- where he won the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback and built Florida into a national power in his 12 seasons as head coach -- there's always a little extra anticipation.

But that's mainly for the fans and media. To UF's players, South Carolina is just another SEC opponent and Spurrier is just another coach. They have an appreciation for what Spurrier did at Florida, but they have no connection with the man who won six SEC titles and the 1996 national championship.

"They like him around here," linebacker Jon Bostic said. "He's been here a while. He's won a championship here, too. So a lot of guys are probably excited for him to come back and want to get a win just as much as we do."

Spurrier did a lot more than win a championship. He won six SEC titles, including four in a row (1993-96), and revolutionized the way football was played in the conference. His Fun' N Gun offense, with its four- and five-receiver sets, set record after record and forced defenses to adjust the way they played. The defenses built to stop the running game couldn't keep up, and coaches had to scramble to find enough defensive backs.

"His 12 years as head coach here probably will never be repeated," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "You look at six SEC titles and the 1990 season [UF] had the best record in the SEC, [winning a] national championship, and really put Florida on the map as far as winning championships in football."

While that was happening, most of Florida's current players were learning multiplication tables and how to write in cursive.

"I think I was more worried about cartoons at that time," said QB Jeff Driskel, who was born in 1993 and was only 8 years old when Spurrier resigned. "But you see the film of him being a Gator coach and you see his visor and stuff like that. He's definitely a Gator great."

Kicker Caleb Sturgis, offensive linemen James Wilson and Sam Robey, and holder John Crofoot were all born in 1989 -- the year before Spurrier took over at Florida. The rest of the Gators were born during his tenure at Florida and most of them were less than 12 years old when Spurrier left after the 2001 season. The only connection they have with Spurrier is through the statue that stands between Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel outside Florida Field.

There are a few people inside the football program with links to Spurrier. Terry Jackson, the director of player and community relations, played for Spurrier from 1995-98. Chris Patrick, the assistant athletics director of sports health, has been a part of the program since 1970.

For all the players, though, Spurrier is the guy on the opposite sideline who sometimes throws his visor. Saturday's showdown with the Gamecocks is a huge game because the Gators are undefeated, No. 2 in the BCS standings and are trying to win an Eastern Division title. Not because Spurrier is coming back.

"Really, to tell you the truth, it's just another game for us," Bostic said. "It's another SEC opponent. We've got to play well to win this game. They're a team that can run the ball. They can throw the ball. They've got a good defense. We can't really look over them or look at this game different than any other game."

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter