When you’re the oldest coach in SEC history, and your team is coming off a lackluster 7-6 season, you become an easy target of the critics.
HOOVER, Ala. — To paraphrase what they said about Caesar, some came to bury Spurrier, not to praise him. When you’re the oldest coach in SEC history, and your team is coming off a lackluster 7-6 season, you become an easy target of the critics. After 26 years as a head coach and 23 SEC Media Days, Steve Spurrier understands that all too well at age 70.
“I know the critics are out there — and that’s why they’re called critics,” said The Head Ball Coach. “They criticize every chance they get and we gave them chances to criticize us last year, which is OK. That’s part of our sport.”
He will take umbrage at somebody calling South Carolina’s 7-6 record “mediocre” as one national talk show host did. He’ll tell you, in fact, that beating Miami in the Duck Commander Bowl (AKA Independence Bowl) in Shreveport was such a meaningful outcome that he and his team were “rejuvenated.”
He even took up for the downtrodden SEC East — “we upheld our end last year by going 5-0 in our bowl games” — and professes a newfound appreciation for playing in bowl games because “we can’t all win (the championship).”
So is this Steve Spurrier 4-point-0 rationalizing away last year’s shortfall or is he really fired up and ready to get his team back in the Top Ten?
"We got new life,” said Spurrier. "We were 7-6, same as Tennessee and the same as Arkansas, and I think they're sort of celebrating big seasons last year. So we were celebrating also. We were doing some cartwheels and high-fiving after that Independence Bowl game because it was a year that could have gone real south, and guys hung in there and somehow or another found a way to win the game.”
Although later in another interview room he explained that he really wasn’t poking fun at Arkansas and Tennessee, some people still took it that way. One of them was the Vols coach, who was next to speak to the group. After hearing of the chatter generated by Spurrier's comments, Butch Jones fired back:
"Contrary to reports, there were no back flips and there were no somersaults. In the world of college football, you're judged on wins and losses but you're also judged by, 'Did your team overachieve,' or 'Did your team underachieve?’"
Another media wag said Spurrier should lay off zinging Tennessee until he could beat the Vols again — what with the Gamecocks having lost two straight to them.
I thought Spurrier won Media Day again with his lively 30-minute spiel, among other things offering up choice tidbits on why he was still a head coach after 26 years: “I forgot to be fired and I’m not going to cheat.”
Using golfer Dustin Johnson’s “I wanna get away” line after the golfer three-putted from 12 feet and declined to go up and accept the runner-up trophy: “He just said he needed to get away. But he’s back and he feels good. And I think he’s got a wonderful chance to win it (someday).”
Others (Joe Tessitore of ESPN) took shots at the HBC for being “subdued” and unnecessarily mentioning Nick Saban’s salary. But in the context I felt Spurrier was simply trying to illustrate how quickly coaches come and go — and that there NFL might come calling Saban again someday.
“We've got some coaches in our league who may go to the NFL someday. There's no guarantee they're going to be at this school the way some of those NFL teams can offer $15 million, $20 million a year to a coach. If one of them offered Coach Saban, it would make that $7.2 million look paltry to him probably, and they easily could.”
Then another talk show host made fun of Spurrier’s suggestion that handicapper Danny Sheridan should make odds on how many of the current SEC coaches would be around in four years from now.
Just for the heck of it, a couple of us went back four years and stopped counting when we reached seven — or half of the coaches. So he has a valid point.
Some might say Spurrier is hanging on too long. Some might suggest ageism is in play when critics contend it’s time for Spurrier to hang it up. Spurrier? He thinks 70 is just a number. And points out that we have at least two presidential candidates who are almost there now.
“I breezed right through age 60, breezed right through 65, and I'm going to try my best to breeze right on through 70,” said Spurrier. “I can still remember just about everything. So mentally, I think I'm the same as I was. We got two people running for president, I think Hillary and Donald Trump are both 69, I believe. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) at Duke, he's still doing pretty good at, I think 69 also. So the age really doesn't mean a lot. The number on your years is not what's important. It's whether you can function physically, emotionally, mentally, get your team ready to play.”
Funny, I think the 70 numbers are more emphasized now since the 7-6 last season. I don’t recall much about Spurrier’s age 67, 68 and 69 when his Gamecocks were going 11-2, 11-2 and 11-2.
After all, as Spurrier says, they are all just numbers.