By Pat Jordan
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is based on original interviews and the author's research, including past stories and two books, The Steve Spurrier Story, by Bill Chastain, and Quotable Spurrier, by Gene Frenette. The author acknowledges a debt of thanks to those authors. Steve Spurrier declined to be interviewed for this story. Part I appeared on Wednesday.
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When Steve Spurrier took over at Florida in 1990, the Gators had never won an SEC championship, or more than nine games in a season. In Spurrier's second year, the Gators won 10 games and their first SEC title. Between 1990 and 2001, Florida won six SEC championships, and a national championship in 1996. The Gators did it with Fun 'n' Gun offenses, quarterbacked by a number of modestly talented but smart players such as Shane Matthews, Terry Dean and Danny Wuerffel. Wuerffel once said that Spurrier could "make up a play in six seconds" and knew more about offensive football than anyone in the NFL. The secret to Spurrier's offense was not that it was complex, but that it was exquisite in its simplicity. Wuerffel said that Spurrier really had no offense; he just adjusted to the weaknesses of other teams each week, while hiding the Gators' weaknesses. The offense relied less on a quarterback's arm than on his ability to make the right decisions quickly.
In his early years as head coach, Spurrier still had vestiges of that laidback Football Hero he'd been as a college player. Before a game, his pep talks in the locker room were basically, let's have some fun today and throw it around a little bit. Neither his practices nor games were tightly scripted. Spurrier liked to wing it, splattering hunches across the field like an abstract painter, rather than a classically trained Andrew Wyeth. A rival coach once said that Spurrier has "a great feel" for the red zone. Spurrier always had a "no sweat" attitude toward the game, a kind of football faith in destiny. When a player worried aloud that the Gators wouldn't have a good offensive tackle next season, Spurrier said, "Aw, somebody will show up." Even his sideline antics during a game -- which were so manic that a Gators fan once wrote to him that he should calm down or else he might have a stroke -- were more like parody than the real thing. Spurrier would scream and run along the sidelines following a play, yank a player by the sweatshirt, scream in his face, fling his visor to the turf, all with the comical fury of a cartoon character.
Reporters loved his press conferences, in which he acted the stand-up comic. When Spurrier heard that a dorm fire at Auburn had burned some books, he said, "The real tragedy was that 15 hadn't been colored yet." When some Florida State players were revealed to have gotten free shoes from a Tallahassee store owner, Spurrier began referring to FSU as "Free Shoes University." Then he'd add that the reason FSU always had great recruiting classes was because life was easier at "Free Shoes University," which he could tell because of all the fancy cars in the players' parking lot. "I'm not saying anybody broke any rules," Spurrier said. "I'm just saying there was a feeling of, well, those kids [at FSU] are driving awfully nice cars. How's it happen?"
Spurrier loved being the Head Ball Coach at his alma mater, reliving his Football Hero playing days. It was Spurrier who suggested the students refer to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as "The Swamp," because "that's where Gators live. A swamp is hot and sticky and can be dangerous. Only Gators get out alive." (Well, yes, they do, because Gators are prehistoric monsters that never evolved.)
Yet even as he enjoyed great success at Florida, with a 122-27-1 record, Spurrier's sarcastic folksiness turned bitter. He began to see anyone who even faintly criticized him as an enemy to be vanquished, and his wisecracks turned vindictive and mean-spirited. He became a bully. It wasn't enough for him to beat his opponents; he had to humiliate them, too. Often he refused to shake hands with opposing coaches after games. He tried to embarrass them, like when he started implying that Ray Goff of Georgia was a lousy coach, calling him "Ray Goof." He said the Bulldogs always sign the best recruits, but when it comes to the games, Florida has the best team. He proved it by beating the Bulldogs 52-17, in 1995 in Athens, including two TD passes in the fourth quarter, because, Spurrier said, "no one had ever scored 50 up here" at the Bulldogs' home stadium.
The real reason Spurrier humiliated Goff went back almost 30 years, to Spurrier's senior year as a player at Florida in 1966. Spurrier had already locked up his Heisman Trophy, and his Gators were 7-0, when the Bulldogs whipped them 27-10, intercepting three of Spurrier's passes. Spurrier never forgets a slight, real or imagined -- like he said, he's an Old Testament kind of guy. He also ran up the score whenever he could against Kentucky, the team coached by Bill Curry, who had fired a young Spurrier as his quarterbacks coach while at Georgia Tech.
"Embarrassment is part of the game to him," former coach Pepper Rodgers once said. Even his friends hated to play golf or tennis with him, because "he'll dink you" to death, said one. "There are some people that it's fun to compete against," former Auburn coach Terry Bowden once said." Steve's not one of them." Dennis Erickson, the former Miami coach, said, "Steve's a great coach … but he just can't shut up." Goff so hated Spurrier that in a moment of weakness, he told a sportswriter, "I'd like to run into him some night down a dark alley." Which was precisely the kind of attitude Spurrier wanted to foster in his coaching opponents. He thought it made them susceptible to his gamesmanship. It made them weak, angry, made them lose their focus. After all, he had read Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Machiavelli's The Prince and Clausewitz's On War.
"Some coaches can be friends with coaches they go up against all the time, but I'm not that way," he said, defending his aggressive gamesmanship. Criticism from rival coaches was like mother's milk to Spurrier, because "we need some enemies out there to help keep us alert." His wife Jerri said, "It helps us when Steve is hated by the other team."
Spurrier even feuded with his own quarterbacks, although he denied it. He said, "One thing I'll never do is be critical of a quarterback … you don't need the coach making you feel worse." Yet Spurrier drove highly touted QB Brock Berlin out of Gainesville to Miami, and he openly humiliated Terry Dean by calling him a "cancer on the team" at a time when he was being mentioned as a Heisman candidate. Dean, who came off as a better man than Spurrier even at 21, said, "I've got no problem with Spurrier. When [his plays] don't work, you're not doing your job. It's your fault, and I don't disagree [with that]." When Spurrier was criticized in the media for his treatment of Dean and other players, he held a tearful press conference and accused the media of "being out to get him." Which was perfectly understandable to Dean, who said of Spurrier, "I don't look at him as overly arrogant, maybe egomaniacal."
Spurrier's relationship with the media also deteriorated. "When Steve first got here," says Gainesville Sun sportswriter Robbie Andreu, "he was outgoing, engaging, honest. He'd call me at home and say, 'Do you need some quotes?' He'd have the writers over his house for cookouts." But the more successful Spurrier became, the more he saw the sports media as his public relations arm rather than as objective reporters. Reporters were supposed to be the true believers of the Head Ball Coach and his Gators. When they weren't, when they questioned his orthodoxy, he treated them like apostates with his righteous wrath.
"Many coaches have it in their overall plan to get along nice and easy with the media, no matter what it takes," Spurrier was quoted as saying. "But that's not my way." In 1995, Andreu wrote a story about the upcoming Auburn-Florida game, in which he gave the game's coaching edge to Auburn's Bowden. Spurrier went ballistic. He called Andreu's boss and told him, "I can't believe you let anyone as dumb and stupid as Robbie Andreu cover our games."
"Spurrier has a memory like an elephant," Andreu said. "He never forgets. And he hasn't grown up." Andreu also recalled Spurrier's feud with Orlando Sentinel sportswriter Larry Guest: "They had a huge blowup. At a press conference, he called Larry 'a sad, little, fat man.' He hasn't talked to Larry in years."
Guest, retired now, says, "When Steve first came to Florida, we played golf regularly. I got him into this country club he wanted to play at one day. After our playing, we went into the pro shop so Steve could buy a shirt. He held up the shirt to the kid behind the counter and said, 'What's the price?' The kid gave him a price, and Steve said, 'What's the price for the Head Ball Coach?' The kid gave him the same price. Steve was angry now. He said, 'What's the price for the Head Ball Coach of the Gators?' The kid apologized and said he couldn't do anything without his manager's permission. Steve threw the shirt at the kid. I was embarrassed."
"Steve is always at his worst as a human being when things are going good for him," Guest said. "He quickly began to believe that he was entitled."
Guest's big blowup with Spurrier came in on cat's paws, so softly that Guest was stunned. "I wrote a little throwaway line in my notes column," Guest said. It was nothing, really, not even much of a criticism of Spurrier. But it so infuriated Spurrier that he sent a letter to Florida's booster club, telling them that they should boycott the Orlando Sentinel until Guest was fired. "When even the boosters ignored Spurrier's wrath, he tried to get me fired at the Sentinel by going to my boss," Guest continued. "My boss just laughed at him. So Spurrier wouldn't talk to me. If I asked him a question at a press conference, he'd ignore me and call on another writer, who would ask him the same question. This infuriated Spurrier. So I began to refer to him as Darth Visor, which made him even more angry. All the writers who covered him experienced [his wrath] at some time. He sent a lot of us profanity-laced letters. We used to share them."
"Spurrier never talked to me for 17 years," Guest said. "When someone tried to arrange a peace conference between us, Spurrier never showed up. When I finally retired from the paper, Spurrier spread the rumor that he'd got me fired. He was a head case. He had no confidence in himself." Even so, Guest -- still the objective reporter -- had to admit, "He was an offensive genius in football. And I have to give him this: He always ran a clean program." Guest said Spurrier felt his program reflected on him, because he was "the only one who mattered. His players were just disposable parts."
Spurrier once had said, "It's fun coaching at Florida. All the gold in Fort Knox couldn't get me to go to the NFL." But of course he actually did quit the Gators after the 2001 season, going to the NFL 10 days later. Guest says it all had to do with Spurrier's deteriorating relationship with Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who once had been "infatuated" with Spurrier but had had his fill by 2001.
"Bobby's FSU team used to beat Spurrier's Gators like a drum," said Guest. "Finally, Spurrier started preaching that Bobby was cheating, and he ran a dirty program." When one of Spurrier's running backs was injured in a pile-up against FSU -- the "Battle of Wounded Knee" -- Spurrier claimed the injury had been deliberate. "It's the way they run the show up there," he said.
Florida State athletic director Dave Hart replied, "It probably would be good if somebody'd just spank [Spurrier] and put him to bed and hope that he wakes up all grown up." Furious, Spurrier went to a group of what Guest calls "Florida fat cats" and told them he wanted to file a lawsuit against FSU. Those fat cats told Spurrier not to embarrass the school and just to leave it be. Then Spurrier pitched a fit and said, 'If you're not gonna back me, I'll get out.' He called his agent and told him to find him an NFL job.
Ten days later, Spurrier left the Gators and signed a five-year, $25 million contract to be the head coach of the Washington Redskins. In response, Bowden said, "I'll miss [Spurrier], but I'm glad he's gone. I'm gone from his life now. He's their problem now, not mine."
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Steve Spurrier took over the Redskins flush from his successes at Florida, and his first preseason press conferences were exercises in grandiosity. He told Redskins owner Dan Snyder that the first game ball he'd present to him would be after his first win over the Dallas Cowboys. "Hopefully, they'll be our Georgia," Spurrier said. Cowboys coach Dave Campo later responded, "I'm sure that's what he'd like us to be. I don't think he wants us to be like Miami or Florida State."
In Spurrier's mind, the NFL was just an extension of the SEC, and his Florida successes simply would extend to Washington. He said there were only three teams to beat in the Redskins' division, compared to the larger SEC. He brought several of his Florida coaches with him to the NFL, including his son, Steve Jr. -- and even his two former Florida quarterbacks, Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. An old friend, Pepper Rodgers, told him, "There are no Vanderbilts in the NFL." But Spurrier felt, how hard could it be to win in this pro league? All his team had to do was "try to score as much as we can and see how we did. We pitched it around in the USFL. We pitched it around at Duke. We pitched it around at Florida. I came here to see if we can pitch it around in the NFL. I don't see why we can't."
The Redskins weren't very good "pitchin' it around" in that first year, finishing 7-9. Spurrier had been hired by Snyder to put people in the seats with his dazzling aerial show, but the Fun 'n' Gun failed miserably. Spurrier disliked rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey, so he instead alternated between Matthews and Wuerffel, neither of whom was equipped to handle the speed and complexity of the NFL game. To make matters worse, Spurrier misused his Pro Bowl running back, Stephen Davis, who complained he wasn't getting the ball enough. The Redskins' game became so predictable, all those unsuccessful passes, that Davis' running atrophied. Spurrier's opponents just blitzed on every play, and Spurrier wasn't equipped to make the split-second changes that a more experienced NFL coach would make. NFL defenses were too complex, too tricky and too fast for the Head Ball Coach. On a radio show in 2011, one of his offensive linemen, Ross Tucker, said Spurrier "would literally be on the sidelines screaming out to [his quarterback] to change the play. So [he'd] change the play, then the defense would shift, and Spurrier would be like, no, no, no, no, and there's either a timeout or a delay of game. Dude, it was straight high school. It was honestly hilarious. It was absolutely brutal."
After the season, a sportswriter asked Spurrier what he had to be optimistic about the next year. Spurrier said, "I can't think of anything right now." He was right; the 2003 Redskins were a disaster, finishing 5-11. They lost their last two home games by a combined 58-7 score. At one point during that season, Spurrier actually quit on his own team, turning over offensive play calling to an assistant coach on a lark.
Then Spurrier did what he always did when he didn't get his way. He began tossing around blame for his failures at everyone but himself. It was Snyder's fault -- he interfered too much, making too many football decisions, which undermined Spurrier. "The players knew it … and if you're not in charge of the guys, they don't listen to you," Spurrier said. "And you can't cut 'em and get rid of 'em [so] they're never gonna listen to you … I wasn't in charge." Spurrier couldn't understand his failure with the Redskins. He said, "I was coaching like I used to coach -- throw the ball in the end zone … they'd pick it off."
"There always seemed to be an excuse," tackle Jon Jansen said. "It's just a whole lot of bulls---." Of course, Spurrier also had an excuse for why his players couldn't stand him. They were a "collection of individuals," not a team like Florida. Florida players had that good old college spirit. But it wasn't as simple as that. NFL players expected more precision from their coach, not just an admonition to throw it around a bit, les see what happens. They expected a man's discipline; to be motivated by hard work and order, not glory for the old school colors.
Years later, Tucker recounted that at their first training camp under Spurrier, the coach told them, "You know, men, I played 12 years in the NFL and went to 12 of these here training camps, and I can't remember one darn good thing I ever got out of it. But you know what, Mr. Snyder wants us to be here, so let's try and get something done." Tucker realized just how ill-prepared the Redskins were in a preseason game against Pittsburgh. "We actually only have two pass protections," Tucker recalled, "and the Steelers are laughing at us … and Shane Matthews and Danny [Wuerffel] are getting blown up." Tucker said Spurrier was so disorganized, he didn't even know when the team bus left for their first game of the season.
"He was by far the worst coach I ever had," said Tucker. When Tucker got cut by Spurrier and picked up by the Cowboys, Spurrier told him before he left, "Cowboys, huh? Don't be telling 'em any of my secrets." Tucker thought to himself, "Number one, your secrets are pathetic, and number two, as soon as I get there tomorrow, I'm actually going to tell them every single thing I can remember about your pathetic offense."
Even Spurrier's resignation was undisciplined. He quit on Dec. 30, 2003, with three years and $15 million left on his contract, which he forfeited. But after the Redskins announced that he'd resigned, Spurrier denied it to The Washington Post. Then, later, he resigned again. His contract prohibited him from coaching in the NFL for the three years remaining on the deal, although since he was already being called one of the worst NFL coaches ever, there was little chance any NFL team would touch him.
He returned to his home in Virginia to work on his golf game and his gin rummy while waiting for a coaching offer. None came, so he called Florida and said he wanted his old job back. By that point, the consensus at Florida was that Spurrier was too much of a headache, no matter how many games he'd once won for the Gators, so they demurred. "When you're not successful with your last venture, you learn some humility," Spurrier told Sports Illustrated in 2005. "Looking back, I understand why it happened, and I got no one to blame but myself."
Jerri was stunned, not by her husband's being out of a job, but by his admission "that he is humbled. To know a kinder, gentler Spurrier? But I saw it." Still, life was gloomy around the Spurrier house because "He didn't know what to do," said Jerri. Scott, his teenaged adopted son, said, "It wasn't a fun time, I can tell you that much." Spurrier occupied himself by playing golf regularly with the Redskins' dentist, Charles Nardiello. But eventually even the dentist had to remind him, "Coach, I can't play every day. I gotta work." Besides, said Jerri, Spurrier "wasn't getting any better at golf. And the kitchen was getting awful small."
Spurrier had always said Jerri was "the perfect coach's wife." She often went to his practices and glad-handed fans and the players' families. She baked cookies for the players and hugged them as if they were her own children. She even hugged the sportswriters whom her husband clashed with. One sportswriter told me it embarrassed him. He told her it wasn't right, he had to maintain an objective distance as a journalist. "But it was her way of softening some of the things he did to the press," he said. "She was his enabler." When Spurrier gave one of his players a bad time, Jerri went and hugged the boy's mother, who told the sportswriter, "That's the huggingest bitch I ever met."
With her husband out of a job, Jerri seemed lost, too. She had loved being the coach's wife. "I dread the day that we're not doing this," she told The Post and Courier last spring, "because it's my life." She liked to joke that one of the advantages of being a coach's wife was that "you never had to clean the house, you just moved." She liked the moving, a new city, a new team, new action. Mostly she loved the action of the games, the fans, the fact that life as Spurrier's wife was "like hanging on to the back of a train." Now the train was stopped, silent and still in the railroad yard, rusting.
The only positive outcome of all this stillness was that his family said Spurrier, at 58, was making more of an effort to be a father. "For so many years," Jerri said, "we never demanded that [affection] from him. We always kind of let him do what he does." His oldest daughter, Lisa, once said of her father, "He'll say things, even if you're sensitive about it. The older I got, the more I understood him. It's probably both his best and worst quality." Her slightly younger sister Amy said, "Lisa and I had an unwritten rule when we were kids that we weren't going to do anything my dad could coach us in." But then, after her father's NFL fiasco, Amy said, "He was more sensitive to us. He says 'I love you.' We didn't do a lot of that when we were kids."
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Larry Guest has said Spurrier was always at his worst when he was winning. Now that he was a loser, Spurrier seemed at his best. And then the Gamecocks came calling.
South Carolina was a perfect team for Spurrier. Like Florida when he took over there, the Gamecocks were at the bottom of the SEC every year. Lou Holtz had just retired as their coach, after a 16-19 record in his last three years. This was the kind of situation Spurrier loved and was best at -- turning around a losing college team that no one expected much from. He couldn't lose. And Spurrier was a perfect fit for the Gamecocks, too -- a charismatic and possibly volatile coach, with a reputation for winning in college in a way that excited fans. Gamecocks fans had never experienced a Fun 'n' Gun team before, except when Spurrier's Gators had come to call. Gamecocks fans thought he could inject some life into a mordant program. Kick a little ass, shake things up, maybe even produce a winner. So South Carolina signed Spurrier to a seven-year contract, starting with a $1.25 million salary.
When the Gamecocks' new coach was trotted out for the media at a press conference in November 2004, it was a kinder, gentler Spurrier who stood in front of the microphone. A Spurrier with "less swagger," noted The New York Times, "without the same cocky self-assurance he displayed in 12 seasons as coach at Florida." Spurrier admitted this was true, saying he had learned his lesson about arrogance. "I learned a lot more humility," he said. "Maybe I was a little arrogant, maybe I ran my mouth more than I should."
The following summer, the "kinder, gentler" Spurrier canceled six scholarships that the departed Holtz had given to high school players. The state of South Carolina's high school coaches were furious, saying Spurrier had done something "unethical" in rescinding those scholarships. Beyond that, it had embarrassed them. How could any South Carolina high school player trust coaches who had shepherded players to the Gamecocks, only to have Spurrier void their scholarships? Spurrier soothed those coaches in his own inimitable style, saying, "I can't work for high school coaches." But, in a sense, they were working for him.
The Head Ball Coach was forgiven after his first season, when the Gamecocks went 7-5, tied for second in the SEC East, and Spurrier was voted the SEC's coach of the year. Over the next four years, Spurrier struggled to improve on that first season, winning 28 games and losing 23. There were grumblings in Columbia that maybe the Head Ball Coach had lost his fire and become an old man. The Fun 'n' Gun was virtually non-existent in Columbia, where the Gamecocks eked out victories by baseball scores. Spurrier was flexible enough to let his defense carry the team, because he didn't have his type of Fun 'n' Gun quarterback.
Then, in 2010, the Gamecocks went 9-5 and won the SEC East for the first time in their history. When a sportswriter asked Jerri Spurrier what happened, she said, "Marcus Lattimore happened." Well … yes, but before Marcus Lattimore happened, Stephen Garcia happened.
Garcia was a hotshot quarterback out of Florida who had passed for more than 8,000 yards and 83 touchdowns in high school -- and who also had run for 1,345 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was an extremely dangerous quarterback for an opponent to defend, or for his own coach to control. Garcia resembled Brett Favre in his play: creative, inventive and at his most dangerous and vulnerable when trapped. He always looked out of shape, a little portly, slovenly, a slacker quarterback. He had a scruffy beard and lank hair falling to his shoulders, and like Favre, he was a wild man both on and off the field, with very real talent both as a football player and as an immature screw-up. He arrived on campus in the spring of 2007 but was immediately suspended for his first spring practice, after he was arrested once for "public intoxication" and a second time for keying a professor's car. Before he ever appeared in a game for the Gamecocks, he was suspended again for "underage drinking," as well as for setting off a fire alarm and discharging a fire extinguisher, because, he told police, he thought his stove was on fire.
Garcia first got into a game as a redshirt freshman in 2008, when he started three games. The following year, as a starter, Garcia had the kind of rollercoaster ride of games that would define his career. He seemed to panic in crisis situations close to the goal line, either tossing an interception into triple coverage or running around the backfield with the ball, like a chicken with its head cut off, before finally fumbling. But there were other times when he showed his brilliance, and he finished the season with four games of 300-plus passing yards, a total of 2,862 yards passing, 17 TDs and 10 interceptions, in addition to 186 yards rushing and four rushing TDs.
Garcia's efforts didn't translate into a great season, only occasionally great games. The Gamecocks finished 7-6, 3-5 in the SEC East, in 2009, but Garcia did lead them to wins over No. 5 Mississippi and archrival Clemson. Still, his erratic behavior on the field and off was driving Spurrier to distraction. In practice, the coach harped on Garcia to be more disciplined, intelligent and mature, on the field and off, and he publicly questioned Garcia's commitment to playing football. "I don't know if he's re-committed," said Spurrier, "or de-committed. It's wait and see."
Spurrier's criticism hurt Garcia, and even the local press thought it was unfair. Ron Morris, a sportswriter for The State in Columbia, wrote a story in April 2010 in which he claimed that Garcia was "a good kid" who needed "less criticism, more confidence building." He accused Spurrier of "browbeating" Garcia, adding, "Spurrier's continued public derision of Garcia has grown tiresome." No wonder Garcia lacked confidence, wrote Morris, since he is "constantly being told by his coach that he has few redeeming qualities as a quarterback." Spurrier's response to Morris' criticism was to refuse to speak to the writer and to cancel team press conferences.
Then, in 2010, Marcus Lattimore happened. Lattimore was the perfect compliment to Garcia's passing game, an All-America high school running back who electrified college football the moment he stepped onto the field for the Gamecocks. Lattimore most resembled Adrian Peterson as a running back, despite his lack of height (5-foot-11). Like Peterson, he was quick and deceptive, yet a bruising runner. He could dance away from tacklers, carry them on his back or trample them on his way to the goal line. As a person, Lattimore was the anti-Garcia. Polite, well-behaved, respectful, hardworking and docile to his coach, like most South Carolina youths are raised to be. Spurrier never had to scream at Lattimore from the sidelines, as he so often did at Garcia after one of his bonehead plays.
Together, Lattimore and Garcia elevated the Gamecocks' game, taking a middle-of-the-pack SEC team and producing an SEC East winner in 2010. With Garcia passing for 3,059 yards and 20 TDs (and 14 interceptions), and Lattimore ripping off game rushing totals like 182, 184 and 212, the Gamecocks beat No. 1 Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Clemson. They were brought back to earth in the SEC championship game, when they were trounced by the eventual national champions, Auburn, 56-17. They then lost to Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. Those last two losses were a reminder to Spurrier that his Gamecocks were still just knocking on the door of national prominence.
The following spring of his senior year, Garcia was suspended for having broken team rules prior to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Then he was suspended again for making a nuisance of himself at, of all things, an SEC seminar designed to teach players how to make "good life choices." He then played five of the worst games of his career, before the school finally dismissed him for yet another alcohol-related offense. Incomprehensibly, Garcia claimed he was "shocked and flabbergasted." Spurrier said, "We wish him the best," and turned the team over to backup quarterback Connor Shaw.
Shaw inherited a team that had lost not only its starting quarterback, but also its All-America rusher, Lattimore, who tore up his left knee early in the season. But Shaw was Spurrier's kind of quarterback -- smart, cautious, disciplined -- even if he didn't have Garcia's explosive talent. Shaw guided the Gamecocks to their best season in years, 11-2, which may have been Spurrier's best coaching season, too. Shaw produced another 11-2 season for Spurrier in 2012, again without Lattimore, who tore up his right knee early in the season. With a superstar in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks were now projected as a possible SEC champion in 2013, and maybe even a national champion.
* * *
With his renewed success, the kinder, gentler Spurrier departed, and the arrogant Head Ball Coach returned. He began sniping at some of his rival coaches. In April 2012, Spurrier targeted Georgia's Mark Richt, telling ESPN, "I sort of always liked playing them that second game [of the season], because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended." Richt didn't take the bait, laughing at Spurrier's comment and saying, "How 'bout that. I think that's funny. That sounds like Steve." (The Gamecocks had beaten the Bulldogs three years running until this September, when the Bulldogs whipped them 41-30. During that game, two of Spurrier's assistant coaches got into a pushing, chest-bumping squabble on the sidelines and had to be separated by coaches and players.)
Spurrier set his sights on Clemson's young coach, Dabo Swinney, more than once. In October 2012, when Lattimore tore up his knee for a second season in a row, Swinney offered up his sympathy, saying, "It just breaks my heart. … This is a great guy that, to me, represents all the good things that college football should be about … I will lift him up in my prayers." Spurrier repaid Swinney's kind words by saying, "A lot of quotes came across the nation. I read one today from the head coach of our upstate school. You know, that school that used to beat us a lot but doesn't beat us anymore. Usually, when that coach up there talks about South Carolina, it's a bunch of garbage and b.s., usually. But I have to agree with him on what he said."
Dumbfounded, Swinney could only shake his head and reply, "I'm embarrassed for him." Even Nick Saban couldn't escape Spurrier's jabs. Spurrier said of the Alabama coach, "If he wants to be the greatest coach in college football … he has to go someplace besides Alabama, 'cause they've always won at Alabama."
Spurrier was on a roll, and loyal fans were fair game, too. When Spurrier played golf with a group of Gamecocks boosters one day, one of those fans, a portly banker, said to him, "Coach, I owe you an apology. I've been complaining for years how we never beat Clemson. Now you've beaten them four years in a row." Spurrier looked at the pudgy banker and said, "What makes you think I give a s--- what your fat ass thinks?"
But Spurrier mostly saved his venomous behavior for the media, and especially for Ron Morris. Ever since Morris criticized the coach's handling of Garcia in 2010, Spurrier had seen him as a cancer that needed removing. In 2011, Spurrier started a press conference by calling out Morris, and he got the opening he was looking for in 2012, when Morris complained on the radio about the inordinate power that Spurrier wielded over the team, the school and the media. He added, "This is how things like Penn State happen." It was an unfortunate analogy, comparing Spurrier's boorishness to Joe Paterno's arguably criminal behavior at Penn State, where former coach Jerry Sandusky's child rapes went unreported for years.
Morris quickly followed with a written apology in his column for The State. He wrote, "In hindsight, any link to what happened at Penn State was inappropriate, and I apologize."
"I'm not taking it anymore," Spurrier said, on his own radio show. "If that's part of the job, I can head to the beach."
But that was not enough for Spurrier. He wanted Morris' head on a spike, just as he had with Larry Guest and Robbie Andreu when he was the coach at Florida. He tried to get the South Carolina president and "the guy that runs the paper" to make some changes, a not very thinly veiled demand that Morris should be fired. Spurrier encouraged South Carolinians to cancel their subscriptions to the paper, until he got satisfaction for Morris' having "slandered my name and integrity."
His paper's publisher, Henry Haitz III, eventually forbid him from writing about the Gamecocks or Spurrier, or to give interviews to the media about what had happened. In August of this year, Spurrier convinced Haitz to hire as a new Gamecocks football beat writer one Glenn Snyder, who, at 67, describes himself as the Gamecocks "superfan." Snyder said, "I love the University of South Carolina. I love Steve Spurrier … Coach Spurrier and I have become friends."
Spurrier, of course, was ecstatic that he had finally gotten what he'd always wanted: his own publicist, rather than an objective journalist, to write about him and his team. Then, in early September, the shameful treatment of Morris by almost everyone involved in the South Carolina football program was revealed in Jim Romenesko's online column. When Spurrier was asked if it was true that he'd gotten Morris banished from Gamecocks football, he replied, "I complained to the world about him. I complained to Gamecock Nation on my radio show. But don't put that on me. He is responsible for that." He also said, "Ron Morris just wrote stuff that wasn't true about me, and I reacted."
There is a profound distinction between not writing the truth about someone and simply having a difference of opinion -- unless, of course, that someone is a narcissist. At this point, everyone involved in this disreputable affair-- The State, the university, Gamecocks football -- was embarrassed into shame, except, of course, Spurrier himself, who -- like the brat kicking and screaming on the floor of the toy store, embarrassing his mother -- has never had any shame. But Henry Haitz III did. The State's publisher reinstated Morris to his old job, writing about Spurrier and the Gamecocks, while still keeping Superfan Snyder on as a counterpoint.
But in football, as in life, chickens, or rather Gamecocks, have a way of coming home to roost. It seems that Spurrier was caught on his own TV show last weekend, slurring his words as if drunk. That particular show was immediately pulled from the airwaves and replaced with one from the archives of previous Spurrier shows, as if the original had never existed. But even the old Head Ball Coach can't make reality vanish. The slurring show resurfaced, and Spurrier was forced to explain his behavior. He admitted that he got the program pulled because of his "negative" comments on it about his team. As for his slurring words, he said, Shoot, so what if he "has a few beers after a game … like most coaches do, to relieve the pressure." When the Gamecocks athletic director, Ray Tanner, was asked why the program was removed, he said, simply, because Spurrier "didn't like it."
The Head Ball Coach, at 68, now has come full circle, back to his true nature, at South Carolina. The kinder, gentler Steve Spurrier is now, like Tara, gone with the wind. In his place is not merely a brat, but a bully, and a coward, as all bullies are. They use their power to cow the weak, and they quit when things get bad.
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Pat Jordan is a freelance writer living in Abbeville, S.C. He is the author of A False Spring and 10 other books, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Harper's, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, GQ, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal and many others.