Steve Spurrier is about to embark on history this season at South Carolina, where he will become the first coach in the acclaimed annals of the Southeastern Conference to spend a decade or more at two different SEC schools.
Not only that, but when his final ballplay has been drawn up in the dirt and Spurrier drives his golf cart into the sunset at Crescent Beach, he will go down as the greatest coach at two different universities — Florida and South Carolina.
The question is this: Where was he the greatest and what will be his most monumental coaching accomplishment — Gator creator or leader of the Gamecock flock?
It’s a close call, but if Spurrier wins a school-first SEC championship this year at Carolina as many are predicting, I believe it will go down as a greater coaching accomplishment than the six conference titles and one national championship he won at Florida.
When I asked Spurrier the question at SEC Media Days on Tuesday, he didn’t really answer it, but he did point out that building UF’s program was much easier than building South Carolina’s.
“The difference is that when I got to Florida in 1990, the team was already there,” Spurrier said. “There was no recruiting to be done for about two years. So the first two years we finished first in the SEC.”
Don’t get me wrong, Spurrier built a program at Florida that was one of most dynamic and dynastic in SEC history. The pyrotechnic Fun-and-Gun 1990s Gators revolutionized the previously prehistoric Ground-and-Pound SEC. His space-age offense baffled and bumfuzzled stone-age coaches like Auburn’s Pat Dye — dinosaurs whom Spurrier unmercifully herded into the SEC tar pit.
Longtime Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley says Spurrier’s legacy with the Gators is much greater because “South Carolina is a not a national story the way Florida was in the 1990s. The Gators were on the national landscape; South Carolina is not.”
This is true, but there’s a reason Florida was a national story — because the Gators were always considered a national program with a history of being a massive underachiever. Dating back to the 1960s, Alabama icon Bear Bryant called UF “a sleeping giant” because of the school’s resources, facilities, fan support and incredibly deep in-state recruiting pool.
Longtime Nashville Tennessean columnist David Climer disagrees with Dooley and says if Spurrier wins the SEC at South Carolina it will eclipse anything he ever did at Florida. I tend to agree. At Florida, Spurrier took over a sleeping giant; at South Carolina he inherited a dozing dwarf.
“Winning the SEC at South Carolina would be Spurrier’s greatest accomplishment for a lot of reasons — history, resources, recruiting,” Climer says. “The Gators had underachieved for years. Florida was waiting to win SEC and national titles. South Carolina was just waiting.”
Maybe now the eternal wait is finally over. Even though the Gamecocks lose defensive superstar Jadeveon Clowney and ruggedly reliable quarterback Connor Shaw from last year, they return 16 starters from a team coming off the highest national ranking (No. 4 in the AP poll) in school history. The Gamecocks have three straight 11-win seasons and have the longest home winning streak in the country at 18 games.
When illustrating how far the Gamecocks have come under Spurrier, I always like to tell about the time when I went up to interview him in Columbia after he took the South Carolina job back in 2005. As you walked into the coaching offices back then there was a gigantic framed poster proclaiming: “The University of South Carolina: 1995 Carquest Bowl Champions.” That’s right, B.S. — Before Spurrier — South Carolina actually bragged about once winning a now-defunct, third-tier bowl game.
“The fans up here are starving,” Spurrier told me then. “They’re looking for anything to be excited about. We have a chance to do things here that have never been done. I’d rather win one (SEC) title here than five more there (at Florida).”
If he does win the SEC championship this season, let the debate begin.
Let’s put it in poetic terms in our “Ode to The Head Ballcoach” ...
“There once was a man named Spurrier,
And very few coaches were greater,
So spread the word via courier,
Was he better as a Gamecock or Gator?”