I guess I wanted to hear it from him before I could fully grasp that Steve Spurrier was stepping down. And when my phone rang late Tuesday, it finally became official: The Head Ball Coach is moving on and is now a former head ball coach.
He said in his presser that he wanted to be classified as “resigned” and not “retired.” He wasn’t kidding. As a matter of fact, those of you who thought he was out buying a rocking chair this week and sizing up a new pair of Crocs for beach walking, think again. He won’t miss a beat.
I can give you this tip: Spurrier will be back on the job before you know it.
Hint: Watch ESPN’s Game Day from Ann Arbor, Michigan Saturday morning.
I asked him if he was as exhausted as we were with the events of the day and he said, nah, he was OK.
I did not find him in a state of mourning. Spurrier said he’d been out hitting golf balls after the press conference and came home for an early dinner. He even seemed like he was enjoying the new October hours. For certain, he was relieved and said he had a huge burden off his shoulders.
It was the UCF game that shocked him into the reality that his team really couldn’t compete at even a not-so-high level anymore — at least with him at the helm — and he felt strongly he should get away and let an interim coach have a shot at it.
“We were trailing at the half,” Spurrier said, “and I got to thinking: We might lose to this team (UCF). And I’ve never lost to a non-BCS team before. I was 52-0.” That became the measuring stick.
And when it came the time to step down, he didn’t feel like it was fair to the interim coach to start out after the Vanderbilt game. So that was his motivation about getting out now.
Oddly enough, I had been on talk shows all day, reading stories and Tweets and listening to people mourn the loss of this once great football coach. “It sounds like he died,” said my wife, and she was right.
Spurrier was very much alive and actually kind of excited about trying his hand at TV this weekend. Would he consider this as a career? Apparently there are some agents out there buzzing around him.
“I don’t know because they haven’t offered me a job,” said Spurrier, “and I’m not sure how much work would be involved. But it sounds interesting.”
Mark this down: Once the HBC hits the set there may be no getting him off of it.
Thus ended a frenetic 24-hour news cycle that led virtually every sports show in America.
As the news first trickled in Monday night and questions from friends and family kept cropping up, my text blew up. Around 9 p.m. at the peak, I really didn’t have any answers. Frankly, I wasn’t shocked — but maybe slightly stunned. Or maybe I was just in semi-denial.
And then the reality struck. He was done. At the press conference Tuesday it was authenticated. When Spurrier finally called later Tuesday, I could sense his relief of a huge burden. His football fate had been on a roller coaster ride straight downward and he felt like he was about to crash and burn.
Upon hearing the original unconfirmed report, I wasn’t even sure what to think, say or write. Did somebody push him, or did he jump? Why? And even now as I write the words that have come so hard this past 24 hours, it’s difficult to imagine college football without the HBC.
But no, he said, he was not pushed and he was “treated very well by the President (Harris) Pastides and (AD) Coach Ray Tanner.” He will stay on the payroll for a time because he’s still owed a good chunk of money.
Friends all over the coaching profession were calling and texting him — from Urban Meyer to Dabo Swinney to Nick Saban.
Spurrier didn’t plan to leave in this fashion, because he had hoped to go out “on the shoulder pads of my players” after winning the SEC title in the Georgia Dome. However, he did go out on his own terms.
Frankly, I thought he had one more good run in him. He came into the 2015 season needing just 16 wins to become the first coach in history with 100 victories or more at two schools. He had that bounce again and seemed more determined than ever when he called an impromptu press conference in August and announced he wasn’t going to talk about his age anymore, quoting Attila the Hun and breathing fire.
Looking and sounding like the Refreshed Head Ball Coach last summer, Spurrier stuck his saber in the ground and defiantly told the media he was never going to address his age again. He challenged his team and away he went way toward the 26th season as a head coach.
I thought that fire was also burning in his belly as well and would re-ignite his passion — maybe change his fortunes on the field. He was genuinely excited about the hiring of Jon Hoke. The truth was , though, that his talent level was mediocre, two of his starting quarterbacks were injured and the SEC East was vastly improved.
When I asked him what it would mean to achieve that goal of winning 100 games at two schools vs. winning the Heisman, he said it was easy: “They pick a new Heisman winner every year.”
The agony of defeat was just more than he could bear to suffer and, as he said, after having to rally after halftime just to beat Central Florida and reach a 2-2 record, it became obvious the long haul uphill climb was too steep and looked like Mount Everest.
So he called Tanner and informed the South Carolina AD how he was leaning.
The one thing I’m positive about is that nobody knows Spurrier’s mind — with the possible exception of Jerri, his wife of 49 years. I certainly didn’t have a clue. In our many conversations, he talked a lot coaching “two or three more years” and entered this season reinvigorated and feisty about the year ahead.
Except looking back now, he did say several times in the book interviews, “if things start going South I’ll get out of the way.” And he also said he wanted to leave the game of his own volition without ever having been fired. I never had a clue it would be at mid-point in the season.
Even right to the end at press conference, Spurrier threw us a little curve, making sure that the media knew the proper term was “resigned” and not “retired.” With that, of course, leaving the door propped open in case he wants to join a team as a “consultant.”
Or, perhaps, become a TV star.
Right away, Florida coach Jim McElwain teased us with the comment: “Hopefully maybe now, when he steps back, I can get him a chair in our office and I can learn from him.”
Some people will call him a quitter. But those who know him will tell you how wrong that it on so many levels. He may have quit, but he will never be a quitter.
And you can hear the respect of his peers in their quotes — even a touch of sadness.
I loved what Nick Saban said: "I hate it for Steve and hate it for college football. The guy's been one of the best coaches for a long, long time and a great personality for the game. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he's accomplished and what he's done. He's always one of the hardest guys you have to play against and a great competitor and a real friend. He always will be. It's always sad to see somebody who's meant so much to the game walk away.”
I’m not ashamed to admit that in a life as a writer/columnist editor since Dwight Eisenhower was president, there are a handful of sports personalities that I’ve felt privileged to know and cover — some of them on the biggest stages in sports. Steve Spurrier is right near the top. I feel honored and privileged to have seen him play and coach.