Hoover, Ala.— I don’t really believe the next sentence even though I know it to be entirely accurate: Just a few months ago Steve Spurrier turned 65 years old.
How is that even possible?
He doesn’t look 65. Thanks to a pretty rugged exercise regimen, he’s fitter than most men half his age. He doesn’t sound 65. Shoot, when Spurrier is 95 he won’t SOUND 65.
Example: Somebody asked Spurrier if players got into trouble a lot more than they used to or was the media just reporting on it more?
“I think (player arrests) are common now because players are getting arrested for everything that in the old days they did not get arrested for. I can sort of remember back in our day, if you were out and something happened they would say: Can you get home? We’ll drive you home. They did not go into the tank that night. But nowadays, as we all know, you go straight to jail if you’ve broke the law. There’s no room for error. Times are a little different than they were 25, 30 years ago.”
It was vintage Spurrier and explains why, after all this time, he is still a favorite at SEC Media Days.
Now does he get off as many zingers as he used to at Florida? Nope.
“I don’t think I’ve won enough games lately to have any outlandish quotes,” said Spurrier, who is 35-28 (18-22 SEC) in his first five seasons at South Carolina. “If you win a bunch of games, it’s pretty easy to give all the answers up here.”
But the man still wins. He has taken the Gamecocks to bowl games four out of five seasons. The fact is that in the 100-plus year football history of the school, no other coach has won 35 games in a consecutive five-year period.
He may have been a little less bombastic than the old Spurrier on Thursday but he was, as always, painfully candid: He is far from satisfied where the South Carolina program is as he heads into year six.
“We hope to be a team that can compete for the SEC (championship) year in and year out,” he said. “That’s what you hope to be. We haven’t gotten there yet.”
But there is a sense that if Spurrier is going to finally make a breakthrough at South Carolina, the next two years represent that window of opportunity. Spurrier knows that it is going to be very difficult to out recruit Georgia, Florida and Tennessee on a consistent basis.
“The glamour schools are going to recruit all the top guys,” said Spurrier. “But what you got to hope and believe is that your (top) 40, 45 players can play with their 40 or 45 that are going to play that day. Then you got to hope and believe you can out-play them or make a play and eliminate mistakes, this, that and the other.”
Spurrier has been able to get some of those top drawer recruits in his last couple of classes. In the 2009 class wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Stephon Gilmore could play for anybody. In this class everybody in the world wanted running back Marcus Lattimore. Defensive end Kelcy Quarles was a Parade All-American.
“We’ve got excellent players,” Spurrier said. “I think we’ve got the best group of athletes since we’ve been there. I know they have the best attitudes. Their work habits and so forth have been excellent. Now we need to get past seven wins. We need to win big at South Carolina.”
But the facts are that Spurrier was 5-3 in the SEC his first season at South Carolina, beating both Tennessee and Florida. He was 4-4 in 2008 and 3-5 the other three seasons. The Gamecocks have played in one New Year’s Day Bowl (Outback) with a 7-5 team, losing to Iowa.
And one has to wonder how much longer Spurrier, a man who enjoys winning but simply despises losing, wants to do this without winning big. He admits he had a gap in recruiting a few years ago but that the last three classes have been much better. He also had to weed out some bad attitudes in the program.
So he’s turned recruiting around, found his star defensive coordinator in Ellis Johnson, and will once more completely take over the play calling duties in practice and in the games this season. Spurrier talks like a man convinced he still has one good coaching run left in him.
“I’m always asked: How much longer are you going to coach? I always have the same answer: Four or five years,” Spurrier said. “I said that when I was 50. Four or five years.
“As we know, those years go fast. I’m pumped up about our team. I like our team.”
Consider where Spurrier now stands in the history of SEC football. His six SEC championships (his 1990 Florida team, he will remind you, finished first since the SEC but was not given the championship due to NCAA violations of the previous staff) are tied with Vince Dooley of Georgia and John Vaught of Ole for second on the all-time list. Paul W. Bryant won 14 championships, 1 at Kentucky and 13 at Alabama. Nobody is going to catch him.
But there still are some important goals left. With his second SEC victory this season, Spurrier will have 107 conference wins in his career. He will pass Dooley and Vaught on the all-time list and trail only Bryant, who won 159 SEC games.
He has 177 career wins in college football. Would he stick around long enough to win 23 games (probably four years) to reach the magic 200? Spurrier is already in the College Football Hall of Fame as a player. Getting to 200, with six SEC titles, one ACC championship (at Duke no less) and one national championship would probably put him into the Hall as a coach as well. There are only three other men who have done that: Bowden Wyatt, Bobby Dodd, and Amos “Alonzo” Stagg.
But you get the sense that Spurrier would give up all of those incredible numbers for a chance to win another conference championship. That is where his focus has always been. Win the SEC championship and everything else will take care of itself.
If Spurrier is going to make a run this season, there is little doubt that it will have to begin on Sept. 11 when South Carolina hosts Georgia in Columbia. I can’t tell you how huge that game is for both programs.
Spurrier wouldn’t bite on the importance of the Georgia game. He wanted to talk about the Sept. 2 opener with Southern Mississippi on a Thursday night.
The Head Ball Coach may have been a little subdued compared to previous years. But you just get the sense that he is not done—that there is still something left in the tank. I think we’ll find out on Sept. 11.
Please follow me on Twitter:
Programming note: Our CSS Show, “Talkin’ Football” will wrap up our SEC Media Days coverage tonight at 6 p.m. Please check us out.