Hungry again, Spurrier set to get cooking

Steve Spurrier: After two humbling seasons with the Redskins and a year off, the Ol' Ball Coach is eager for a new start at South Carolina.

College Football

September 01, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Football helmets and game balls from the various stops in Steve Spurrier's career adorn the shelf behind the desk in his office at Williams-Brice Stadium. They are mementos of a mostly glittering past, from the San Francisco 49ers to the Tampa Bay Bandits, from Duke to Florida.

Maybe he just ran out of space in decorating his new digs, or maybe, like a bad round of golf, Spurrier simply wants to put his two-year debacle as an NFL coach behind him. There is no Redskins helmet or game balls from his 12-20 stay in Washington in 2002 and '03.

At 60, Spurrier seems eager for what many see as possibly the biggest challenge of his career. It begins tonight, when the Gamecocks open the 2005 season at home against Central Florida before a sellout crowd of more than 80,000 and a national television audience.

The blue and orange Spurrier wore during those 12 seasons in Gainesville, Fla., have been replaced by garnet and black. The Fun 'N' Gun offense the Gators ran will be called the Cock 'N' Fire. And the Ol' Ball Coach appears to have undergone a radical personality change, as well.

Steve Superior, a name he has been derisively called for much of his adult life, is on hiatus.

Asked what he got out of his failed stint in Washington, Spurrier said, "The only thing I think I got was a little humility to the fact that you have a greater appreciation for all coaches. Sometimes you can coach your heart out, hard as you can, and the other guy just may have a better team and better players."

That won't change drastically this season.

South Carolina likely will rotate two or three untested quarterbacks, starting sophomore Blake Mitchell. Three freshman tailbacks are at the top of the depth chart. The offensive and defensive lines are so light by Southeastern Conference standards that it looks as if they've been on the Jenny Craig diet.

Spurrier's predecessor, Lou Holtz, left the program in turmoil after his six-season tenure. A dozen players have been arrested since January. In July, after a lengthy investigation, the NCAA and school officials agreed that Holtz and his staff committed 10 infractions, five of them considered major.

Expectations game

Spurrier knows that the expectations of the fans will be high, considering what he did by winning an Atlantic Coast Conference championship after three years at Duke and immediately winning the first of seven SEC titles at Florida shortly after arriving in Gainesville in 1990.

But he gets a sense that the fans are knowledgeable enough to realize that the Gamecocks won't have the same immediate turnaround that the Gators did, since the talent and experience of the respective teams are hardly comparable and the SEC is much tougher from top to bottom than it was back then.

"I truly believe they're not expecting too much right away," Spurrier said of fans who have gobbled up nearly 63,000 season tickets, shattering the school record. "They know we're building. You don't go out and trade or get free agents. They understand ... it may take a little time."

Tommy Suggs, the quarterback of the 1969 team that won the ACC championship, the school's only football title, said this week that the buzz around town is bigger than he has ever witnessed in the more than three decades he has lived here.

"Everybody was ecstatic when Lou got here. It's to a different level now with Steve Spurrier," said Suggs, the analyst on the team's radio broadcasts for 32 years. "Not only do they really believe he will take us to the next level, but it'll be fun watching 'em play. They want him to score 50 points. They want him to throw his visor. They want him to be cocky."

As for the newfound humility, Suggs said, "Some people have told him, `We don't want that from you. We want you to get back to the way you were at Florida.'"

The apparent personality shift has taken many here by surprise.

"I didn't know Steve Spurrier before he got here, only by what was written about him and the perception of him," Suggs said. "He's not the person that I thought he was. I don't see the arrogance and all that everybody talks about."

Said Mitchell: "At first you're kind of in awe of him, but once you get to know him, he's a great guy and a great coach."

Not that the coach with the highest winning percentage in SEC history has suddenly gone soft. Spurrier put his new team on notice last spring by rescinding the scholarships of several homegrown players whom he didn't think could help the Gamecocks, angering the state high school coaches' association.

Nor he is any less a perfectionist, whose temper flashes when players use sloppy technique are famous. He'll still show his disgust by firing his trademark visor off his head - or the floppy bucket-head golf hat he wore during preseason practice - and he'll still get in the faces of his quarterback.

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