Spurrier wants to tell his own story
By BOB GILLESPIE
In a career spanning nearly five decades, Buddy Martin has been sports editor of five newspapers, including the New York Daily News, Denver Post and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times; won an Emmy as a contributor to CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today”; currently is host of a daily, three-hour radio show in Ocala, Fla., where he lives.
He’s written seven books, including “The Boys of Old Florida” about the Gators’ 1996 national title, and “Urban’s Way” about former coach Urban Meyer. Two of his books were ghost-written autobiographies of his former CBS colleague Terry Bradshaw and ex-Kentucky basketball great Dan Issel.
All of which, you sense, has been mere prep work for his current project: co-authoring the autobiography of a longtime friend and an object of fascination for legions of college football fans – Steve Spurrier.
That’s the feeling one gets from talking with Martin, who says he’s spent 20-plus hours over 10 get-togethers – in Gainesville, Fla., at Spurrier’s Florida beach home and in Columbia – doing interviews that will become the as-yet-untitled tome, to be released in summer 2016.
This one, for Martin and Spurrier, is personal.
“Yeah, it was 22 years ago that we started talking about it,” Martin said this week. “He didn’t want to do it then, but he ultimately reached the point in his life where he wanted to tell his own story.”
Martin chuckled. “I feel lucky to get that phone call, and I’m honored he picked me to help him write his book.”
The timing, both say, is right. Some might assume that, at 70 and in his 11th season at South Carolina, the coach figures he’s closer to the end than the beginning of a storied career. That’s part of it, no doubt, but probably not the most compelling part.
A year ago, Ran Henry, a professor at USC, published his take on the self-styled Head Ball Coach’s life, entitled “Spurrier: How the Ball Coach Taught the South to Play College Football.” Henry said he spent 17 years doing extensive interviews with the coach and many people in his life.
That said, the end product was … well, to say Spurrier was unhappy, notably with portrayals of him and his father, is a massive understatement. Thus: this.
“I read somewhere, someone once said, ‘If you don’t write your own book, someone else will,’” Spurrier said at this week’s annual golf/media outing. “And about a year ago, this guy (Henry) wrote this book about me that was very untruthful, incorrect, stories in it (that) were absolutely made up. And (there’s) nothing I can do about it except write my own book, tell the story the right way.”
In fact, Martin says, the portrait he will paint of the only coach to win a Heisman Trophy, play in the NFL, coach a Heisman winner and win a national championship might surprise readers.
“Some people think he’s arrogant, but his humility is profound,” Martin said. “One thing he said is, ‘my whole career has been a lot of Thank you, Lord.’ He told me he doesn’t know why it all happened, but he wants to make sure people know how it happened.”
Spurrier insists his coaching career was, in fact, a near-run thing.
“Last Saturday, I was talking with a quarterback from Rock Hill, Rogan Mills, (whose) granddaddy was Doug Dickey,” former athletics director at Florida. “I said, ‘Rogan, if your granddaddy hadn’t hired me (as an assistant) in 1978, I wouldn’t even be coaching now.’ He gave me my first chance.”
Other what-ifs followed. When Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks coach was hired by Hawaii, Spurrier landed in Atlanta under Pepper Rodgers. When Tech dismissed Rodgers’ staff, Spurrier called a coach at Duke whom he’d met, and “lo and behold, I got hired at Duke,” he said.
“So it was a lot of good fortune along the way. That’s what the book will talk about.”
In Martin, the coach has his Boswell. They met when Spurrier played at Florida, and collaborated on a twice-weekly column, “Passing Thoughts,” during his time with the San Francisco 49ers.
When Spurrier was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Martin had season tickets. And when Florida was looking to replace Galen Hall in 1990, Martin was part of a media campaign to bring back Duke’s overachieving head coach.
“He’s been a friend for nearly 50 years,” Martin said. “It’s fun to work on a project with a friend.”
That work is on hold now with the Gamecocks’ season about a month away, and Martin says there yet could be revisions prior to publication. He believes he’s done “90 percent” of necessary interviewing, but adds that call isn’t his to make.
“I don’t know what he’ll choose to put in the book yet,” Martin said. “I want to emphasize this is his book, not mine. I’m a fly on the wall. (In the credits) he’ll be the ‘by,’ I’ll be the ‘with.’”
Martin expects the final result to be a success. “I have no doubt it’ll be a popular book with publishers, and especially in South Carolina,” he said. “And I can help him write the type book that’ll be interesting to all fans.”
Spurrier seems less concerned there. “If it sells pretty good, fine,” he said. “If it doesn’t, well, I’ve got my book out there anyway, so if anyone wants to know how fortunate I’ve been on my path for the past, oh, 65-70 years, that’s what will be in there.”
It’s the Steve Spurrier story, by Steve Spurrier. Buddy Martin with the assist.