Steve Superior Aims To Do It... Again
Eleven games later, with a record of 8-3, the Duke University Blue Devils were crowned ACC Champions. Coach Steve Spurrier knew what he was building. While everyone was busy studying his structure from the outside and comparing it to the daunting buildings around it, the egotistical young coach was admiring his work from the inside out – the foundation, the craftsmanship – and most importantly, the possibilities.
In the nineties, a blur of orange and blue lightning streaked across our televisions. The Fun n' Gun offense of Florida tormented opponents and rose above the hardnosed SEC. One SEC title led to another, then a couple years later – another, and another, and another, and so it went until finally the man now famous for his ego, visor, and unparalleled offensive IQ stepped down.
From nowhere, after seven SEC titles, nine seasons of at least ten wins, and five SEC Coach of the Year awards, Steve Spurrier was gone in a red and yellow swoosh to coach the NFL's Washington Redskins.
It became evident the good Lord put Steve Spurrier here to mold teenage men, teach them togetherness, trust, perseverance and leadership through football. He could stroll back into Florida, still an icon, and put the NFL behind him for good.
Unfortunately for the Gator faithful, Spurrier's ego was hungry. A man humbled by the egomaniacal greed of the NFL still found a way to stick out his chest, beat it a time or two and shock the world one more time. Why go to Florida? It would be too easy. Why not, just for kicks, to really cement his greatness, recreate the Duke miracle all over again?
His golf partner – a legend himself – was stepping down soon. Their conversations, maybe half jokingly at first, obviously turned serious at some point. The offensive wheels started turning, "x's" and "o's" began running through his mind. He could probably feel the "hat-head" from the visor coming back – arms folded, studying from the sidelines, ready to critique. Just like that, he was back to step into a pathetic situation in Columbia. The same Columbia left reeling after his fellow icon golfing buddy witnessed a melee unforeseen in the annals of college football. There would be no bowl game, players caught stealing high priced equipment, arguably the best player on the team got tossed and within an instant one thing was for damn sure – The Ol' Ball Coach must be back!
So now, after two seasons of thrilling upsets, a bowl game victory, a recruiting class like none other in the history of South Carolina, Coach Spurrier looks to yet another "season three," and yet another SEC title.
Is there a blueprint to success for Spurrier? Is there a process the coaching genius feels necessary to implement in a certain order?
"No, no. You just coach the team you got the best you can and you go from there," says Spurrier.
It stands to reason taking into account changing times, demographics, personalities and salaries. Nothing works the way it used to whenever human minds control it. Others learn to deal with a certain attack, adjust and eventually subdue.
There are similarities from Duke to Florida and to South Carolina though. Recruiting, when done properly, is where the plan begins to unfold. Spurrier went on to compare groups of players in place when he took jobs and the effect recruiting had on future success.
"That was a good one at Duke, wasn't it?" he laughed as if it still amazes him. "That third year at Duke we had a bunch of seniors. We inherited a lot of good players that were sophomores at first, so they were seniors by that third year."
A good recruiting class, developed properly, they excelled by their senior season. Florida, however, was handled a bit differently. Coach Spurrier went into detail about taking the job, "At Florida, sorta' an interesting story. One of our big booster guys, when I was first hired he said, ‘Steve, the first couple years we don't expect too much, but after that, we think we're supposed to win here at Florida.'"
The smile subdued by his signature smirk came back, "I said, ‘Let me tell you something, we're gonna' be real good the first two years, but that third year? We don't have much unless we have a heck of a recruiting class next year.'"
His blueprint, if it can even be called a blueprint, conforms to the situation. Duke had a solid young core while Florida presented the opposite scenario. "What had happened, Florida had really slipped in recruiting like two straight years before I was hired. We had juniors and seniors though. We were first in the conference in offense and defense for almost two years so that'll show you what kinda' talent we had. That third year was the least talented team, I think, out of any year I was there."
Where is South Carolina entering year three compared to Duke and Florida? Coach Spurrier enthusiastically answered, "Here at South Carolina, this is our best team. This is definitely our best team you'll see so far."
Coming off of Carolina's best recruiting class ever, his "adjusting with what you have" approach seems to be working. The surprising facet falls in those no longer here or no longer welcomed here. Imagine Carolina teams under Spurrier with Demetris Summers as a senior or Ko Simpson. Imagine Cory Boyd playing the year he was suspended. Imagine Coach Spurrier inheriting an offensive line his first season. These are all after thoughts though, as the adaptation phase has moved beyond the initial stages – the toughest stages.
Don't be mistaken, though not nearly as evident, the adjustments are an ongoing process. Nick Prochak, recruited as a QB/DB is now a sure handed tight end. Carlos Thomas, a blazing wide receiver recruit, now prowls the defensive backfield regularly. Mike West the linebacker has become Mike West the receiver. Just recently Steve Spurrier announced Lemuel Jeanpierre has switched to the offensive line. Spurrier went so far as to predict "Lem" (now wearing #57) as a starter in next season's first game.
"We try to find our best athletes to put on the field." said Spurrier. Earlier in the day he explained the story of Shane Matthews, "My first year at Florida he was fifth team going into the Spring Game, and I think he was 8-of-11, three touchdowns, about 160 yards. The next year he was SEC player of the year."
With his third season unofficially under way and more talented freshmen set to arrive in Columbia over the summer, the signs point upward. It's a little eerie, if you think about it: southern city, underachieving football program stuck in a big conference, enter Spurrier. Will his third year have the same result as that of Duke? No one knows, but one thing is for sure, this team is headed places with one goal in mind: SEC Championship.
It's been said that if we don't learn from history, we are bound to repeat it. In Coach Spurrier's case, this would be a good thing.
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