Goodbye, Ball Coach

Steve Spurrier woke up this morning as a former football coach (and full-time golfer).

Spurrier, AKA “The Ole’ Ball Coach”, announced his retirement last night. He is stepping down immediately from his post at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks are 2-4 overall and 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference. Spurrier’s final game on the sidelines was last Saturday in Baton Rouge, where South Carolina lost a “home” game to LSU 45-24. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Columbia, but due to severe flooding across much of the Palmetto State caused by Hurricane Joaquin and a stationary front, the decision was made last Wednesday to shift the game to Louisiana.

In nearly 26 seasons of coaching college football, Spurrier won 228 games at Duke (1987-89), Florida (1990-2001) and South Carolina (2005-15). In between Gainesville and Columbia, he had two-year stint with the Washington Redskins, where he went 11-21 before resigning at the end of the 2003 campaign. Spurrier led Florida to the 1996 national championship and five SEC championships, and guided South Carolina to back-to-back 11-win seasons, the first in school history.

Spurrier was an All-America quarterback for the Gators under the late Ray Graves, winning the 1966 Heisman Trophy and guiding Florida to victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl in what turned out to be the final game for the Yellow Jackets’ legendary coach, Bobby Dodd, whose name now adorns Tech’s stadium in Atlanta. Spurrier didn’t reach his pro potential with the 49ers and Buccaneers, but he stuck around 10 years because he certainly a cut above quite a few bozos who played quarterback in the NFL at that time, and he could also punt.

Those who are old enough to remember (read: 40 or closing in on 40) recall Spurrier coached for three seasons in the United States Football League with the Tampa Bay Bandits. The Bandits were arguably the most successful team in the spring league, at least at the box office, where the team routinely outdrew the Buccaneers, whose fans were beyond fed up with cheapskate owner Hugh Culverhouse. How bad was it for the Bucs? After winning the NFC Central in 1981, they would not experience another winning season (the 1982 strike-shortened season notwithstanding) until 1997, the year AFTER Spurrier coached Florida to its first national championship. I’m betting some of his better Gator teams would have been able to keep up with the Bucs of the mid-1980s, at least for a half.

When he was with the Redskins, Spurrier was ridiculed for not working hard enough, for playing too much golf, for delegating too much to his assistant coaches. That’s what I really like about Spurrier: he knows his limits. He knows that football is still a game, even where it is a religion, as it is at every SEC school, save Kentucky. He knows the importance of family, and always made sure his wife, Jeri, and the spouses of his assistant coaches were always welcome on the team charter. You certainly won’t find that in Manhattan, Kansas, where Bill Snyder works at least 20 hours per day and demands his assistants do the same. You won’t find it in Tuscaloosa, where Nick Saban wants his assistants to eat lunch at their desks like he does. Gerry DiNardo was a classic workaholic when he coached LSU from 1995-99. It didn’t get him far.

I thought of something last night when I heard the news. I realized Spurrier is the most notable coach who coached his last game at LSU.

Ironically, Spurrier’s predecessor (at least, permanent predecessor) in Gainesville, Galen Hall, also coached his last game in Baton Rouge, when Florida, led by Emmitt Smith, defeated LSU 16-13 on October 7, 1989. Hall was forced to resign four days later due to numerous NCAA rules violations. Those violations landed Florida on probation, and Spurrier was called in by then-Florida athletic director Bill Arnsparger, LSU’s coach from 1984-86, to clean up the mess. Spurrier not only cleaned up the mess–Florida was never investigated by the NCAA during his tenure–he won and won big. For that, he will always be revered in Gainesville, save for those Florida State and MIami alumni in the city, and rightly so.

The last LSU coach to coach his final game in Death Valley was Mike Archer, who was forced to resign with two games left in 1990. The Bayou Bengals defeated Tulane 16-13 to send Archer out with a 27-18-1 career ledger.

Speaking of the Green Wave, five coaches have ended their tenures in the Big Easy in Death Valley. Two, Andy Pilney and Tommy O’Boyle, were on the wrong end of 62-0 games in their finales in 1961 and 1965, respectively. Vince Gibson, meanwhile, led 28-point underdog Tulane to a 31-28 victory in 1982 over an LSU team which was going to the Orange Bowl and one week removed from routing Florida State 55-21.

Houston Nutt, like Hall and Gibson, won his last game coaching Arkansas in Tiger Stadium. The Razorbacks won 50-48 in three overtimes, yet LSU somehow won the BCS national championship, defeating Ohio State in New Orleans less than seven weeks later. It took losses by Kansas (KANSAS??!!!!!), Missouri (not even a tiny dot on the SEC’s radar in 2007) and West Virginia (not remotely interested in the Big 12 yet) for it to happen, but nobody’s coming to Baton Rouge requesting Les Miles relinquish the crystal ball.

South Carolina became the third Power 5 school to change coaches in less than three days. At least Spurrier left of his own volition.

That wasn’t the case at Maryland and USC, where Randy Edsall and Steve Sarkisian were terminated.

Maryland’s program got much better for kicking Edsall to the curb. He is a grade-A TURD. He left UConn without telling the Huskies face-to-face following their Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma on New Year’s Night 2011, instead flying directly from Phoenix to College Park for his introductory press conference with the Terrapins.

Edsall is such an uptight douchebag he makes Nick Saban look like the second incarnation of Bob Hope. He is all about rules, rules and more rules, and a coach can get away with it when a coach wins as much as Saban has at LSU and Alabama. When someone does it at a mediocre program, which Maryland is, it’s petty. Edsall would have made a former Maryland coach named Paul Bryant blush.

The Terps got what they richly deserved when they fired Maryland alum Ralph Friedgen following a 9-4 season in 2010. Edsall was 22-33 in College Park, and nobody in the Big Ten “Fears the Turtle”.

Sarkisian was fired after only 19 games at USC due to a substance abuse problem. Rumor has it he was intoxicated during the Trojans’ Sept. 26 game at Arizona State. It’s a sad ending for the former BYU quarterback and Washington coach, who called USC his “dream job”.

Don’t cry for Mr. Spurrier. I’m sure he’ll be spending plenty of time at Augusta National, where he is a member. Maybe someone will ask him to caddy for The Masters in the near future. That would be a sight to see Spurrier in one of those white jumpsuits.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on October 13, 2015, in College Football and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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