Steve Spurrier: The Head Ball Coach Quits, Again

    Steve Spurrier has quit on yet another team. The Head Ball Coach decided to hang it up on Monday and officially announced his retirement on Tuesday.

    October 13, 2015

    He was expecting Chris Berman – or maybe even Howard Cosell. But he got me.

    It was December of 1998, the Sunday afternoon of Heisman Weekend and, as a young associate producer, I was shipped to the Downtown Athletic Club to conduct testimonial interviews with past Hesiman Trophy winners to be added to our SportsCentury library of interviews for the series. Among the men I sat down with for extended periods that day were Earl Campbell, Glenn Davis, Howard “Hopalong” Cassidy, and the very first Heisman Trophy recipient, Jay Berwanger. Berwanger, God bless him, fell asleep a few times during the talk.
    But the headliner that day was none other than The Head Ball Coach.

    Steve Spurruer arrived at least a half hour late. He was wearing baggy shorts, an extremely ugly shirt that looked like one of his mid-1990s game aprons, and flip flops. He stormed in and said, “Awright – let’s get this over with – who’s asking me the questions?”

    My response did not impress him.

    “You??”

    Eyebrows raised, shoulders shrugged. Followed by a, “Okay, kid – let’s go…”

    The goal was to get The Head Ball Coach to talk about historic moments, players, coaches, games, and teams from the century that was about to conclude. He had been made aware of this in the week prior and agreed to sit down with us. But with no Cosell in sight and not very many questions about his own greatness, his interest in the interview quickly waned.

    Twenty minutes in to what was scheduled to be an hour sit down, he got up and left. He didn’t exactly storm out of the interview – but he certainly didn’t ask if it’d be okay if we cut the session short. It remains a treasured professional experience – which says more about my professional experience than anything else.

    He was at the top of his game, the national championship he earned for his beloved alma mater still bright and shiny. And, Cosell never showed up. So he bolted.

    And now he’s bolting again – this time, for good.

    The Head Ball Coach will go down as a great coach – perhaps one of the greatest of his era. But as the Paul Finebaums begin to fete the man as the greatest of all time, it’s worth recognizing an undeniable truth: Spurrier isn’t even the greatest to have coached at his alma mater.

    Spurrier will always be remembered as a colorful, smart, cocky, swashbuckling guy who did it his way. And that’s a helluva legacy right there. He did, indeed, win that national championship. But so did his punching bag, Phil Fulmer. So did Bobby Ross. And no matter what Paul Finebaum wants to say about it, so did Jim Tressel, Lloyd Carr, Woody Hayes (multiple), and even Duffy Daugherty. What separates Spurrier isn’t his coaching accomplishments – even though they are very impressive and worthy of respect. It will be his colorful personality and the way in which he brought so much fun to the game that will end up being his legacy. To say that he’s among the greatest coaches of all time, though, is to miss the swamp boat.

    Today’s Twitterverse doesn’t even know that there was a time, prior to Spurrier’s arrival at Florida, when the Gators were a middling program that never could really get it right. And even when they did get it right, they had to live with the fact that they were on probation, thereby, negating the actual success. When Spurrier arrived, he was known as a guy who won some at Duke. Prior to that, he was best remembered for coaching the Tampa Bay Bandits and sulking on the bench while with the 49ers. But practically from the moment he set foot back on his beloved campus in Gainesville, he re-charged that football program and introduced a whole new way of approaching the game within the SEC. The conference hasn’t looked back.

    Aside from winning the whole shebang, he did things that, to him, probably meant even more. He famously said of Phil Fulmer’s Vols, “You can’t spell Citrus without UT.” He treated Georgia like actual dogs, not Dawgs. And that’s not to suggest he was cruel to them – he simply coddled them, toyed with them, got them to roll around and play dead, and tossed soft insults at them that could have been interpreted as foolish and playful barbs. But, it’s possible that dominating Georgia for all those years meant more to him to any trophy he ever won.

    And then, as things were starting to get a little moldy, he left Gainesville. Greener pastures were up ahead. Daniel Snyder was another wonk he decided to give some noogies to and charm into thinking he was the right guy at the right time.

    He wasn’t.

    And Spurrier’s record with the Redskins counts, whether Finebaum and Co want to admit it or not. And, with apologies to the Finebaumers, so does his record with the Tampa Bay Bandits, whatever it might have been. The Tampa Bay Bandits game-program-cover featuring Burt Reynolds was nifty and clever – and sort of creepy. But any “success” that The Head Ball Coach had while leading the Bandits needs to be looked at through the eyes of Donald Trump.

    Spurrier at South Carolina is an interesting examination. His final record will look pretty good on paper. But, despite some impressive 11-win seasons, he really wasn’t able to ever get it done in the way the Gamecocks had hoped he would. They expected that he would actually win.

    A lot.

    Probably with some national championships in there every few years. Because he’s The Head Ball Coach. But winning at Florida is not quite as hard as it is at other places. Florida Football – even during the many decades when the team was comparable to Iowa or Oklahoma State – has always had talent and resources and all sorts of other advantages at its finger tips. Spurrier smartly leveraged those resources and turned them all into wins and wins and wins. Urban Meyer did even more with those resources. True, Spurrier laid some groundwork. But when one takes a look at what Urban Meyer did at Florida, it could lead one to wonder whether or not Spurrier reached his full potential while at Florida.

    The Head Ball Coach has earned the right to kick his feet up underneath the shady tree with a nice, tall glass of sweet tea. He doesn’t have to hold impromptu press conferences to announce that the Atlanta press is out to get his Gamecocks since the Atlanta press wants Georgia to get him. He doesn’t have to worry about practices interrupting his morning rounds on the golf course any more. He can walk off into the sunset with his family knowing that he did it his way and he did it very well.

    But the Finebaumers are going to have to come to grips with the fact that a guy who isn’t even the best coach in the history of his own school cannot be mentioned as one of the best coaches of all time. Colorful, fun, and very successful – of course. And he kicked the hell out of those Dawgs. But one of the best ever? It’s a long list and The Head Ball Coach might even be listed near Vince Dooley. Ouch.

    So, Head Ball Coach, best wishes in your retirement. College football is better and more fun because of you. And I forgive you for walking out of that scintillating interview I tried to conduct with you many years ago. I know that’s a load off for you. Will the Gamecocks be as forgiving when they stop and think about how you’ve chosen to step aside right, smack in the middle of the season? You couldn’t hang on for another six weeks? Like The Head Ball Coach himself, this final decision leaves us asking some questions about The Head Ball Coach and how he really should be remembered.

    MORE: 13 Best Steve Spurrier Quotes

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