Back to school time for ol' ball coach

Updated: November 24, 2004, 5:05 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier might give his brash, visor-throwing style an overhaul now that he has returned to college football.

Spurrier took over at South Carolina on Tuesday, signing a seven-year deal worth $1.25 million a season that could grow to more than $2 million with incentives. He pledged to turn the Gamecocks into the consistent champion he built for 12 seasons at Florida.

But the ol' ball coach comes back following a dose of humility, after going 12-20 in two pitiful seasons as the Washington Redskins coach in 2002 and 2003.

"Maybe I was a little arrogant. Maybe I ran my mouth more than I should," Spurrier said. "Human nature comes down and causes you maybe to feel you've got more answers than you really do when you've got a real good team.

"So hopefully, I've learned some humility and great respect for all coaches," he said.

Is this the same man who quipped you can't spell the Citrus Bowl without UT (Tennessee)? Or called Florida State, "Free Shoes University?" Or recounted how a Gator receiver told him it was nice of Gamecocks fans to wear all black -- it was a "Black Out Florida" effort -- so they could easily see the football in a 56-17 rout at Williams-Brice Stadium three seasons ago?

"When they see what he can do on the field, people will be happy with him," said South Carolina assistant David Reaves, the son of Spurrier's former assistant at Florida, John Reaves.

The 59-year-old Spurrier, who replaces Lou Holtz, led the Gators to six Southeastern Conference titles and the 1996 national championship. He seemingly could have stayed in Gainesville, Fla., forever, but abruptly resigned in 2001 and began a disastrous stint with the Redskins.

Spurrier left the NFL after last season and then waited for the right college job to open.

"You could see he was getting anxious," said his wife, Jerri.

There was a strong push from some Florida followers for Spurrier to return to his old position at The Swamp after coach Ron Zook was fired. But Spurrier pulled out of the running and said again Tuesday that 12 years at the same university was enough.

When Holtz told athletic director Mike McGee he planned to resign, South Carolina officials went after Spurrier. McGee contacted Spurrier and negotiations were handled quickly.

Spurrier said the school's focus on him was appealing, unlike at Florida, where he would have had to go through the interview process.

"Dr. McGee said, 'I'm going to exhaust my search with you before I go to the next guy,' " Spurrier said. "He didn't have to go to the next guy."

Spurrier met with his new team and found them eager and ready to push forward.

"We've got everything here," Spurrier said. "I'd like to borrow a phrase from the Boston Red Sox: Why not us? Why not the University of South Carolina Gamecocks?"

Perhaps because the 67-year-old Holtz is the only coach to win more than one bowl game in 111 seasons of South Carolina football. The Gamecocks' lone championship came in 1969 as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But quarterback Ingle Martin said not to sell Spurrier short. Martin was a Spurrier recruit at Florida who transferred to Division I-AA Furman after the coach left for Washington.

"I wouldn't bet against him if he had both hands tied behind his back at his execution," Martin said.

If Spurrier wants to win the SEC at South Carolina, he'll have to get past his former team, which was 10-0 against the Gamecocks while Spurrier was the Florida coach.

Those games figured to be tough on Spurrier, who said he is not looking forward to his first matchup with his alma mater, next Nov. 12 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Spurrier went 20-13-1 in three seasons at Duke before taking over at Florida in 1990. He posted 122 victories over 12 seasons, tormented opponents with his offensive flair and witty one-liners, and departed with the best winning percentage in league history.

The executive committee of the school trustees approved the deal for Spurrier. Incentives include $250,000 for winning the Bowl Championship Series, $100,000 for becoming national coach of the year and $150,000 for winning the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The contract has a $250,000 a year buyout clause for both sides. Should Spurrier retire and not take another job, he owes the university nothing.

"Maybe we're prejudiced now for Steve Spurrier," McGee said. "That wasn't always the case."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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