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  • Spurrier excited about SEC revival with Gamecocks

    Aug. 28, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!





    COLUMBIA, S.C. -- You really can't believe he's 60. On a random offseason weekday, Steve Spurrier is bounding around his office like a kid in Toys R Us.


    South Carolina fans hope Steve Spurrier can do for them what he did for Florida. (Getty Images)
    "Have you seen Cocky?" Spurrier says, flipping on the switch of a two-foot replica of the South Carolina mascot that begins dancing across a ledge.

    "I was lucky on the hair genes," he remarks after a reference to his perfectly coifed hair helmet that looks like it has been preserved since he won the Heisman in 1966 -- as a dashing senior.

    You simply can't believe he's 60. A doctor checked Spurrier's heart last year during his year off from football. It looked better than in 2003, his last year with the Washington Redskins. What was he doing different? Relaxing. Well, that and a new interest in the StairMaster.

    "It gets you huffin' and puffin'," says the smiling man who used to eat quarterbacks for lunch, even when they followed instructions.

    Lunch was served again in the spring. Spurrier, you see, reads everything. Not many people know that about him. Newspapers, TV, Internet. He likes to keep track of the condition of the program.

    After a scrimmage, quarterbacks Blake Mitchell and Antonio Heffner were asked how they thought they did. "Pretty good," they were basically quoted as saying.

    "You call that, 'pretty good?'" he shot back next time the three came together.

    Spurrier sat down his quarterbacks and showed them a film of Florida's 54-17 victory at South Carolina in 2001. Rex Grossman threw for 302 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Gators scored the last 44 points of the game.

    "It was a game we never punted," Spurrier said. "Now that's pretty good, not hitting one out of three. You guys have to understand what playing well means."

    This is the Spur Dog in full. At an age when a lot of men are counting the days to retirement, Spurrier is counting the days toward the opener in his new job.

    "Sometimes as a young coach in your 30s, you're trying to act like you're 45," Spurrier said. "When you get to be above 60 or so, you want to act like you're 45. Health-wise I feel like I can do more than I did at 45. Hopefully my mind is still as good as it was then.

    "I think it is."


    Consider that a warning shot. The college football world is on the edge of its cleats, waiting for The Tao of Steve to return to the game. That opener against Central Florida is now three days away. National television is moving in. Fittingly, the alt-country band Big and Rich will be playing at the state fairgrounds across from the stadium.

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    If Big Kenny and John Rich don't play a certain song from their last CD, someone needs to get punched.

    "I'm having the time of my life, no worries on my mind.
    Everything's just fine, today is even better than yesterday.
    Everything is going my way, I'm living in the big time.

    Big Time at South Carolina has spawned both wild-eyed optimism and a souvenir industry that might show up as a line item in the state budget.

    Fans are gobbling up T-shirts that show a palmetto (state tree) wearing a visor. There is the obligatory "Got Spurrier?" plus "Cocked, Locked and Loaded." Florida's old Fun N Gun offense has been re-baptized "Cock N Fire."

    Oh, sure, Spurrier could have stayed in Gainesville, built on his legend. But why do that? The man has always been about thinking one step ahead of the opposition. Talking to Spurrier, it almost seems as if he became tired of Florida long before it was was tired of him.

    "The only thing I could have done better there is go 14-0," he said. "It was just the idea of same job for 12 years. I figured I'd done about 250 Gator Clubs. They probably got tired of hearing my same old stuff every year, and I probably got tired of signing autographs, pictures and posters."

    That's both a rationalization for leaving Florida and, later, taking the Redskins job. A 12-20 two-year stay in Washington de-evolved into a bad, bad decision. Spurrier lost control of the team and eventually the faith of Napoleonic owner Dan Snyder.

    "I learned a lot of humility," Spurrier said. "Sometimes when you're winning all the time, human nature makes you think you're a little better coach than the other guys."

    OK, so that's it for the humility segment. Strike the set. The deflector shields are back up. After half a tick of reflection, he practically dismisses it all with a wave of his hand. This is where he wants to be.

    One small thing. The Gamecocks aren't very good this year. They're picked fourth in the SEC East, perhaps the toughest conference in college football. No doubt Tennessee's Phil Fulmer and Georgia's Mark Richt have a little payback waiting for their old tormentor.

    Florida's Urban Meyer is once-removed from taking over for Spurrier, but there's always room for a rather strange rivalry there, too.

    "He's had a tremendous record the last four years," Spurrier said, subtly stressing Meyer's relatively brief head coaching career. "Obviously the competition is a little stiffer there."

    Jab, jab. Right cross. Another verbal TKO from the comfort of his office. The Spur Dog is not only back, he's growling.

    And believing. The coach believes Carolina can do something this year. Sure, the top two rushers from last year have been kicked off or suspended. He has flat-out run off some old Lou Holtz-recruited players who didn't measure up.

    But that's part of the drill. Fifteen years ago, Spurrier did about the same thing at Florida, then a moribund, mediocre, rundown program

    "The similarities," he said, "are amazing."

    When Spurrier arrived at Florida in 1990, the program was on probation. South Carolina just received a three-year probation from the NCAA last week for violations committed under Holtz's watch.

    Florida in 1990 and South Carolina in 2005 are largely the same program -- great fan support with a spotty championship resume.

    In 1990, Florida's only previous SEC title in 1984 was vacated as the result of NCAA penalties. South Carolina last won a conference title in 1969, when it was in the ACC. Spurrier cracked 'em up at SEC media days when he trotted out some Chinese rationalization for the planets lining up again.

    "We went 6-0 in ACC that year, and it was year of the rooster," he said. "(This) is the year of the rooster, so don't bet too much against the Gamecocks even though we're big underdogs. We've got the rooster on our side. That's about the only thing we have going for us."

    Still, the reality is that in 109 years of football, South Carolina has won only three bowl games, two of those by the just-departed Holtz.

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    "That's what is so exciting about this job, everything is here to be done for the first time," Spurrier said, "Division, SEC, major bowl, they've never finished in the top 10. It's not going to be easy, but everything is here."

    It's almost unnatural that Williams-Brice Stadium keeps selling out win or lose. But mostly lose. Even in the lean times, that blind loyalty fueled a program that ultimately lured Holtz and now Spurrier. A new $10 million football facility was completed in January.

    "Oh man," linebacker Lance Laury said when asked what it would be like if the Gamecocks started winning big. "It would be crazy down here. They'd have to build a bigger stadium."

    In 1990, Florida fifth-string quarterback Shane Matthews was languishing on the bench. So far down the depth chart was Matthews that Spurrier had actually forgotten to put him in a scrimmage.

    You know the rest. A couple of injuries, and Matthews landed his chance, killed in the spring game and eventually led the Gators to a 9-2 record and an SEC title (again, not officially recognized because of another NCAA probation).

    Mitchell could be this year's Matthews. The quiet, gangly redshirt sophomore won the starting job but can't really have any idea what he's in for.

    Mitchell stayed home in LaGrange, Ga., for spring break to study his playbook. That's one small step. Spurrier has been known to alternate quarterbacks on a snap-by-snap basis. Will it happen to Mitchell the first time he overthrows a receiver?

    "You can never get comfortable," Mitchell said, "He keeps pushing, keeps pushing."

    It should be, well, interesting, all this pushing. Mitchell has thrown nine career passes.

    You really can't believe the man is 60 because of 40-year-old walk-on receiver Tim Frisby. The former Army Ranger turned down book and movie deals to return to school largely because of his new coach. Frisby was something of a national curiosity last year when the father of six walked on after a career in the Army.

    When Spurrier was announced, Frisby made the immediate connection. Here's a middle-aged, scout-team broadcast major in the right place at the right time as one of the game's all-time offensive innovators takes over.

    In typical Spur Dog fashion, the coach all but guaranteed Frisby will catch his first career pass.

    "I plan on catching many," Frisby said.

    Cult of personality is a strange thing without substance to back it up. Spurrier is that stage now. The hair, energy -- even Cocky -- are in place for another extreme makeover. Some of the same rules still apply.

    "On the defensive side of the ball," Laury said of practice, "actually, I've never seen him over there."

    The difference being that this time Spurrier won't sneak up on the SEC. The Fun N Gun has been copied, dissected, spread around the country. The man who brought the modern forward pass to the SEC literally could have his offense turned against him -- Dr. Frankenstein attacked by his own creation.

    Not that this registers much with some Gamecocks whose sense of history goes back to 1990. To them, Spurrier's start at Florida might as well be Rutgers-Princeton in 1869. It all began there.

    "A lot of these guys were too young to remember," Frisby said. "That could be a plus and a minus. It's a plus because everything is new to them, maybe a minus because they don't know how intense he is."

    Even at 60, going on 45.

Related Topics

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  • DJRamFan
    National TV Welcomes Spurrier Back to College
    by DJRamFan
    Cue the TV cameras and dig out the new visors. Steve Spurrier is back.

    Spurrier begins his South Carolina coaching career Thursday night against Central Florida. And befitting the return of one of college football's most charismatic personalities, a joyous party is planned for sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium.

    ESPN is basing its College GameDay show in town, along with profiling the Palmetto State in the network's continuing feature highlighting all 50 states. The country band Big & Rich will perform before the game.

    The main attraction, though, comes before kickoff when the 60-year-old Spurrier steps onto the field after three years away from the college game where his Florida teams once consistently contended for the national title.

    "We realize we have not done anything to earn the spotlight, but we'll take it," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, our play will prove that maybe we deserve it. So that's what we'll try and do Thursday night."

    Spurrier was involved the last time South Carolina enjoyed this sort of attention. Then, he was a bitter rival as Florida came to town and, with a 54-17 victory, ended the Gamecocks' bid for an SEC Eastern Division title in 2001.

    He left in true Spurrier style, poking fun at South Carolina's efforts to "Black Out Florida" - fans dressed in black to show unity - when he said one of his receivers mentioned it was "nice of them to wear all black so we can pick the ball out of the sky."

    Those same Gamecock supporters who angrily crumpled up Spurrier's jabs after reading the next day's newspaper have turned out in record numbers to support their newest star. The stadium has been sold out for weeks, fans came by the hundreds to watch routine summer practices and Spurrier has been cheered at every appearance.

    His new players are eating it up.

    Defensive end Orus Lambert says Spurrier's legacy in the SEC is the excitement and passion he generates. "We love it and we can't wait to play," he says.







    Spurrier has increased the school's exposure as well. He has been a one-man publicity machine for South Carolina this offseason, putting a happy face on the team's numerous problems - including criminal charges against several players and NCAA probation for violations during predecessor Lou Holtz's tenure.

    He has discussed losing desire near the end of his disappointing two years as Washington Redskins coach, of growing tired of golf during his year off and surprising many in college football by choosing to lead one of his favorite patsies from his Florida days. Spurrier's Gators were 10-0 against the Gamecocks.

    Through it all, Spurrier has grinned and vowed the Gamecocks indeed have what it takes to win a Southeastern Conference title - but maybe not right...
    -08-31-2005, 06:04 PM
  • DJRamFan
    ronzookclassypickupforillinois.com
    by DJRamFan
    Aug. 1, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!





    CHICAGO -- Ron Zook knows his place in college football history. One of the most famous URLs in college football history is still only a couple of keystrokes away.


    Ron Zook brings a .621 winning percentage to Illinois after guiding the Gators to 7-4 in his final season. (Getty Images)
    fireronzook.com

    "I took off from New Orleans, and before I landed in Gainesville, they had that," Zook said reminiscing (sort of) Monday at the Big Ten preseason media days. "(Pittsburgh Steelers coach) Bill Cowher told me, 'Man, you screwed this game up. Now everybody has 'Fire Bill Cowher.'

    "I said that's my legacy to coaching."

    Pretty much. For now. The infamous website now exists only to proclaim "VICTORY" in huge headline type through a doctored front page. Dwight Eisenhower is smiling out from a picture on A1, as if to suggest a battle of World War II proportions had been won.

    The going-out-of business-sale for fireronzook.com gear ($9.99 for the thong panties, who knew?) is supposedly concluded. The site, in case you're wondering, supports the hiring of Urban Meyer and proclaims Saturdays are worth waking up for again, "with a Bloody Mary, of course."

    Coaches have been fired, run out of town and disgraced, but seldom all three, and practically never with a .621 winning percentage.

    Just so you know where this column is heading.

    What could have been called ronzookfiresback.com debuted Monday -- Zook, the new Illinois coach, taking some not-so-veiled shots at his old employers. Which was great. It's about time. The guy who delivered more filibusters than big victories at Florida isn't a boob or a fool. He's merely the latest guy-to-follow-the-guy, that unfortunate cradle of coaches that counts Bill Guthridge, Gary Gibbs and Gene Bartow among its exclusive group.

    In order, those three followed legends Dean Smith, Barry Switzer and John Wooden. Zook followed The OBC (Ol' Ball Coach), the Florida icon who won six SEC titles and a national championship. No, he wasn't athletic director Jeremy Foley's first choice. No, he had no head coaching experience. And yes, frz.com was literally fired up and running before he left the New Orleans Saints to touch down in Gainesville.

    But ...

    "What did you want me to do, tell them no?" Zook said.

    Exactly. What would you do if a super-rich major-college power dumped its football program in your lap? Delivered you from life of assistant coach servitude? Gave you that one chance that 99 percent of coaches never get?

    "People say, 'Why would you follow Steve Spurrier?'" Zook said....
    -08-02-2005, 01:31 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Schnellenberger building a fourth power in Florida
    by DJRamFan
    Sept. 23, 2004
    By Dennis Dodd
    SportsLine.com Senior Writer

    Why not flip a coin to pick a starting quarterback?

    Howard Schnellenberger had done wackier things in his career. Twenty years ago it seemed like he was throwing that career away. Miami had won the national championship in 1983 and Schnellenberger, the celebrated architect of Hurricanes football, bolted -- try not to laugh -- to the USFL.

    Needless to say, that didn't work out. There was an inspiring stop at Louisville and a disappointing one at Oklahoma but, really, his career arc was never the same again.

    "In my opinion, he might have as many championships as anybody, ever (if he stayed at Miami)," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "It's crossed my mind many times."

    So why not flip that coin three years ago? How is that more outrageous than creating a football program at an unknown campus in Boca Raton, Fla.? A place where the burrowing owls on campus were the inspiration for the school's nickname?

    Or agreeing to go door-to-door soliciting community leaders for the mere $15 million needed to go from germ of an idea to kickoff?

    Really, it wasn't weird at all for the 70-year old who, well, let's just say he still has extreme confidence in his abilities. So, yeah, it really was Schnellenberger who suggested in 2001 that freshman quarterbacks Jared Allen and Garrett Jahn flip a coin to start the first game in Florida Atlantic's history.

    "They were too close for a human being to call so God called it," Schnellenberger said this week, considering his latest construction project. "Certainly I would do that. Why wouldn't I?"

    Ridiculous is sublime again in Schnellenberger's world. Amid this season's talking points -- hurricanes, instant replay, kickers who can't kick -- is the job Schnellie has done at that owl-laden commuter campus of 13,000 students in Palm Beach County.

    Three victories, all on the road, all against I-A competition in Florida Atlantic's final season before joining the big time, which in this case is the Sun Belt Conference in 2005. Next year, this college football IPO will be eligible for -- please stifle your laughter again -- a bowl.

    All of it after playing organized college football for all of four years. All of it according to plan.

    "He was basically semi-retired in Miami selling municipal bonds," said Dr. Anthony Catanese, the man who hired Schnellenberger at Florida Atlantic in 1998. "I said, 'That's not the place for Howard Schnellenberger.'

    "He told me in five years he'd have this program nationally recognized. He did it in three."

    Almost all of it has been done with kids from the state of Florida who couldn't go to one of the Big Three -- Miami, Florida or Florida State....
    -09-23-2004, 01:14 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Return to Spurrier hardly a done deal
    by DJRamFan
    Oct. 27, 2004
    SportsLine.com wire reports

    GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All the trophies Steve Spurrier brought to Florida still line the hallways inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Six Southeastern Conference championships, two Heismans and a national title.

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    Spurrier's legacy remains -- and it always will.

    He gave the program its first Heisman Trophy in 1966, its first SEC title in 1991 and its only national championship in 1996. He coached the Gators to 122 victories over 12 seasons, tormented opponents with his offensive flair and witty one-liners, and left town with the best winning percentage in league history.

    So if Spurrier wants to coach at Florida again, is there anything that would prevent his return?

    Maybe.

    "Everybody thinks it's a done deal. It's not a done deal. It's not a slam dunk," said Tommy Donahoo, president of Gators Boosters Inc., which raises money for the school's athletic programs. "Spurrier can't just ask for the job and get it. There's certainly a contingency out there that wants him back, but there also are people upset with some of the things he did before."

    For everything Spurrier would seemingly return to Gainesville -- credibility, victories and championships -- he also brings some baggage.

    Many fans are still upset over the way Spurrier left Florida. He called athletic director Jeremy Foley from his beach house and dropped the news in the middle of the recruiting season.

    His recruiting dropped the last few years -- he admitted he left the "cupboard somewhat bare" -- and he wanted to limit the number of stops he made on the annual tour of "Gator Clubs."

    Speculation about his return has even prompted concerns about his age (is 59 older than ideal?) and his motivation (will he leave again for the NFL?).

    Would players, fans, boosters, Foley and school president Bernie Machen be willing to trade potential problems for the chance to restore the Gators to the national elite? Would they be silly not to?

    "It was hard for coach Zook to replace 'The Legend,"' center Mike Degory said. "And if 'The Legend' wants to come back, it's going to answer a lot of questions."

    There's also Spurrier's relationship with school administrators to consider, and his lack of one with Machen.

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    As for Spurrier and Foley, the AD says the relationship hasn't soured.

    "Steve Spurrier and I were friends before he was the head football coach at the University of Florida, we're friends today and we'll be friends forever," Foley said. "Did we always see eye to eye and stuff? No, but our friendship has never been better."

    Spurrier has met Machen...
    -10-28-2004, 09:24 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Gators' new general keeping tabs on, off field
    by DJRamFan
    July 29, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!





    HOOVER, Ala. -- In a league that seemingly has many knuckleheads as All-Americans, Urban Meyer has become the lord of discipline in the SEC.

    Let's just say if the touchdowns scored by Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia this season can match the number of arrests, that would be a good thing. Meanwhile, Florida's new coach is walking the walk.


    All eyes will be on Chris Leak to carry the Gators. (Getty Images)
    Unlike a portion of his SEC brethren, Florida's new coach is proactive when it comes to The Discipline Thing. It almost seems like he wants to catch wrongdoers.

    Seniors are dispatched to local clubs on weekends, sort of like hall monitors, checking to see if their teammates are staying in line.

    "It was after one workout, one Thursday night," said free safety Jarvis Herring who was rousted off the couch by one of Meyer's duty calls. "He'll call you in advance."

    Herring has been transformed. He told the New York Times that last offseason (under former coach Ron Zook), he and teammates would start drinking in the morning and not stop until late at night -- or until the booze ran out.

    Zook, a masterful recruiter, was largely criticized for the team's lack of discipline off the field.

    Now Herring is a decorated hall monitor. Meyer chose him to come here as one of the Florida players to speak to the press during SEC preseason media days. While the surveillance might make some Gator upperclassmen uncomfortable about informing on their teammates, it does install a sense of responsibility.

    "When I worked for Earle Bruce, he told me discipline is 90 percent anticipation," Meyer said before departing here for Gainesville. "I really believe that. (When we get home) I'm going to drive over and walk through some of the dorm rooms and see how they're doing. I want to meet their parents. I want to know if their mom and dad say they should be at church on Sunday."

    Once-a-semester "champions dinners" have been established to honor those players who have achieved as citizens, students and athletes. Those who have get special Florida gear and eat gourmet food in a white-tablecloth setting. In the same room, though, the slackers get hot dogs on paper plates to be reminded of their underachieving status.

    "We think that Coach Meyer is going to be the future," senior offensive lineman Mike Degory said. "We're ready to buy into it right now. What he demands from us is a lot of responsibility, a lot of time. What he's going to reward us with is a lot of wins. That's a fair trade in my book."

    Meyer is not as hard as he looks. Last year's...
    -07-31-2005, 03:00 PM
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