It was Georgia play-by-play announcer Larry Munson who is credited with nicknaming Steve Spurrier “The Evil Genius.” What we learned during those 12 years at Florida when he led the Gators to the 1996 national championship, six SEC titles and a 122-27-1 record was that genius comes in many forms. It’s not just what Spurrier did with the UF offense while transforming the way football was played in the Southeastern Conference, but the mind games he played with coaches like Ray Goff and Phillip Fulmer.
Spurrier took no prisoners. He showed no mercy. If he got you down he was going to stomp on your larynx and make it so you couldn’t breathe. If he saw you flinch, he played the mind games and nobody in college football was better at getting into another coach’s head.
When he was at his best, Spurrier could draw up an offense that could overwhelm just about any defense he ran into. Other than Mickey Andrews, can you think of another defensive coordinator who ever got the best of Spurrier more than once?
Of course, Spurrier got to Andrews and Bobby Bowden prior to the 1996 national championship game. Remember how Bobby Bowden mumbled that “nobody ever called me a dirty coach” after Spurrier talked incessantly about Bowden and Andrews’ insistence that the Seminoles “hit until the echo of the whistle” after FSU beat the Gators in the final regular season game in Tallahassee? I still believe Spurrier’s mind games helped the 52-20 outcome of the Sugar Bowl that decided the national championship.
Remember when LSU defensive coordinator Carl Reese crowed about beating Spurrier in 1997? He called Spurrier “Shiny Pants.” Two years later Reese’s boss Gerry DiNardo was looking for a job and Reese’s reputation as a defensive coordinator was shattered. Spurrier beat up the Tigers on the field and then he made it a point to get into their heads afterward.
Georgia fans to this day say Spurrier’s mind games destroyed the coaching career of Goff. That could be disputed, but there is no question Spurrier made Goff’s life a living hell both with the way the Gators beat Georgia silly and the things he used to say about Goff on a regular basis.
I bring up Spurrier today because folks are starting to think Jim Harbaugh is the reincarnation of “The Evil Genius.” There are distinct similarities. Spurrier won as a first time head coach in the USFL with the Tampa Bay Bandits then won an ACC championship at Duke. Then he won the first SEC titles that counted and a national championship at Florida. He went to the pros and essentially was run out of the league. He did what nobody else has ever done at South Carolina by making the Gamecocks relevant.
And all the way he did it with Spurrier style, which is to say you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth when his lips moved.
Now take a moment to consider Harbaugh. He won at non-scholarship San Diego and Stanford in big ways while getting into everybody’s head on the west coast whenever his lips moved. He won with the 49ers but pretty much got run out of the NFL. He took the Michigan job just before the 49ers were going to fire him. Now, he’s busy resurrecting Michigan and making the Wolverines relevant in the same Big Ten division with Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio.
Harbaugh won 10 games in his first year at Michigan and has made a habit of pushing the envelope as far as he can into the gray area of the rulebook and stepping on every toe possible when he speaks.
Speaking to Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated, Harbaugh cut loose on several hot topics earlier in the week.
On the SEC and ACC leading the ban on satellite camps – a “knee jerk reaction” per Harbaugh – he said, “They power brokered that out … the image that comes to my mind is guys in a back room smoking cigars doing what they perceive is best for them.”
On Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss, who voiced his opposition to satellite camps: “You’ve got a guy sitting in a big house, making $5 million a year, saying he doesn’t want to sacrifice his time. That’s not a kindred spirit to me. What most of these coaches are saying is they don’t want to work harder.”
On the NCAA, which continues to call athletes “student-athletes,” Harbaugh said: “During the NCAA basketball tournament, we discuss the term ‘student-athlete’ ad nauseum in promoting our governing institution and our member institutions. Then, when we have an opportunity to truly promote the ‘student-athlete’ with a concept shared by educators and football men from all backgrounds, our leadership goes into hiding. I suggest we drop the term ‘student-athlete’ for consistency.”
Harbaugh is a lightning rod for controversy. He comes across as the biggest jerk in the world to the press … except when he’s using the press to his own advantage. He doesn’t mind zinging other coaches or schools or conferences. He’s an offensive genius who doesn’t mind running up the score on an opponent. His players and Michigan fans adore him. Opponents despise him with every fiber of their being.
Harbaugh still hasn’t done the things Spurrier did such as win a bunch of conference championships or a national championship, but it could happen at Michigan just as it happened for Spurrier at Florida.
If Harbaugh makes Michigan into a big winner, Wolverine fans will need to get used to being the most hated fans in college football. Just ask the Gators.
UF SPRING SPORTS
Softball: Florida’s midweek showdown with #8 Florida State was suspended when the rains came in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night with the score tied at 0-0 and runners on second and third with nobody out for UF. The #1 Gators will pick up the game on May 4 in Tallahassee prior to the regularly scheduled game with the Seminoles. The Gators host 5th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette for a non-conference doubleheader on Saturday and a single game on Sunday.
Lacrosse: The 2nd-ranked Gators improved to 13-1 on the season and 4-0 in Big East play with a 15-5 thrashing of Marquette at Donald Dizney Stadium Wednesday afternoon. Freshman Lindsey Ronbeck scored five goals and scored seven points to lead the Gators, who bolted to a 12-0 halftime lead.
Baseball: The 2nd-ranked Gators (30-5, 8-4 SEC) will be in Fayetteville tonight to start their 3-game SEC series with Arkansas (21-12, 4-8 SEC). Lefty A.J. Puk (1-2, 3.38 ERA) is scheduled to get the start tonight with Logan Shore getting the call Friday night and Alex Faedo on Saturday. The Thursday night game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
HAVE WE BEEN MISLED FOR YEARS ABOUT TY COBB?
In a speech at Hillsdale College, author Charles Leerhsen, who wrote the award winning book “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” makes a compelling argument that author Al Stump’s portrayal of Cobb in the book “My Life in Baseball: A True Record” isn’t anywhere close to being factual. Later made into a movie that starred Tommie Lee Jones as Ty Cobb, Stump’s book made Cobb out to be a miserable human being who may have murdered three other men and a racist who hated all black people.
As he researched Cobb for his book. Leerhsen found hundreds of conflicts in what Stump wrote. He also found numerous conflicts with the Ty Cobb that Ken Burns portrayed in his PBS series “Baseball.” Burns claimed Cobb was an “embarrassment to baseball because of his racism.” Well, it turns out those aren’t exactly accurate. Not by a long shot.
In his speech at Hillsdale, Leerhsen said Cobb was far from perfect, “But was he a racist and an embarrassment to the game? Far from it.”
Players who played against Cobb dispute the claims by Stump and others that Cobb was a dirty player.
Based on the research that he did into the real Ty Cobb, Leerhsen said at the speech, “What I didn’t understand was the power of reputation to bend the truth. In Ty Cobb’s case, the repetition has not only destroyed a man’s reputation, it has obliterated a real story that is more interesting than the myth.”
There were stories from former ball players from the Cobb era that Cobb, who was fabulously wealthy because he was somewhat of a genius with investments. They told of a generous Ty Cobb, who anonymously sent money every month to former players of his era who were down on their luck. As I read the excerpts of the Leerhsen speech, I thought back to those stories and realize that we have indeed been duped. Cobb probably wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t a monster, either.
Here are the excerpts from the speech:
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones was warned ahead of time by Knoxville Police that two of his players were under investigation for an alleged rape in 2014, according to The Tennessean. Is it a violation of state law? If so, the next few days in Knoxville are going to be very interesting.
The New England Patriots released Dominique Easley Wednesday. Easley went on injured reserve both years he was on the Pats roster after being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Nick Saban, who will turn 65 on Halloween, says opponents are starting to play the age card against him on the recruiting trail.
Former Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, the school’s all-time sack leader, was arrested in Waco Wednesday after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her on April 3. The timing couldn’t be worse for Baylor. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” is reporting the school knew of sexual assaults by two football players in 2013 but waited two years to investigate.
Memphis is turning its coach search focus to Tubby Smith to replace the departed Josh Pastner. Tubby has taken five different schools to the NCAA Tournament and won a national championship at Kentucky. He’s coming off a year in which he got Texas Tech to the NCAA Tournament. At Memphis, Tubby wouldn’t have to spend nights away from home to recruit. He’d be an exceptional hire.
Cullen Neal, son of New Mexico coach Craig Neal, is transferring to Ole Miss. Neal has graduated from New Mexico so he will be eligible immediately. He averaged 12.3 points and 3.7 assists per game at New Mexico last season.
Southern Cal has hired Lynn Swann to replace Pat Haden as its athletic director. Swann, a former Southern Cal All-American and Pro Bowl receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a member of both the College and Pro Football halls of fame. He has zero experience as an athletic director.
Johnny Manziel’s situation became even more bizarre Wednesday when LA police revealed that Manziel was a passenger Saturday in a vehicle in which his friend drove a car into a light pole. Manziel and his friend left the scene of the accident.
When Kobe Bryant made his final NBA appearance in New Orleans, LSU football coach Les Miles was there to give Bryant a personalized LSU football jersey.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: (1) Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion about Jim Harbaugh? And (2) are the comparisons to Spurrier’s “Evil Genius” fair and accurate?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
There is only so much James Taylor I can take. Up until about 1976, I really enjoyed his music but in the 40 years since, just about everything has sounded the same. After awhile, it’s like one song sounds the same as the last song. Prior to 1976, I liked Taylor’s music, which is why today’s music selection is Taylor’s “Greatest Hits (1976)” album.