Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks pulled into Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino by bus late Tuesday afternoon, the mere anticipation of his arrival drawing a crowd of journalists, gawkers and college football fans wanting a glimpse.
Known as the “Ole Ball Coach” when he led the Florida Gators from 1990 to 2001 and the “Head Ball Coach” at South Carolina since 2005, Spurrier has that certain something when it comes to being candid — and winning football games.
At 69, he will lead the Gamecocks against the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl, readily admitting, in so many words, that nobody wants to be 6-6 entering this game.
“It’s tough for both schools,” said Spurrier, when told that the bowl has been a “tough sell” for the South Carolina fan base. “We’ve been 11-2 the last three years. I don’t know if you knew that or not. But this year, we’re 6-6.
“Miami used to play for national championships. They’re 6-6. This is where life is. Fans, once you’ve been up there and your team is having sort of an average year, it’s hard to sell tickets.”
South Carolina has reportedly sold more than 1,100 tickets. The Hurricanes aren’t even releasing that information. Bowl officials say that about 37,000 tickets have been sold overall.
Spurrier, however, said he was “thrilled” to be at the Independence Bowl, and insisted there’s “a lot on the line in this game.”
The offensive guru, who was born in Miami Beach and won the 1966 Heisman Trophy for the Gators, is known for flinging the ball and making quarterbacks look good. But he has only coached against the Hurricanes once before: in the 2001 Sugar Bowl that was preceded a few days before by a Bourbon Street brawl and was concluded with the Hurricanes winning 37-20.
Spurrier was asked how different this Miami team is from the one he played in the Sugar Bowl.
“Ohhhh,” he said. “Oh, man. Well, this one is a very good team, too. I think they’re 14th in the nation in defense, and they’ve got the best running back maybe in school history. But for some reason they’re 6-6.
“You watch them play and you wonder, ‘How did they lose this one or that one?’
“But that 2000 team, gosh, they had about six or seven first-round NFL guys. This team may have a few. Anyway, this is a very fast, quick team. Somehow, though,” he reiterated, “they ended up 6-6.”
UM coach Al Golden had nothing but praise for Spurrier on Tuesday after practice.
“He’s built three programs,” said Golden, referring to Duke, where in 1989 Spurrier led the Blue Devils to their first conference championship since 1962; Florida, where he won a national title and seven Southeastern Conference championships; and South Carolina, where the past three seasons have been 11-2 successes.
“If you look at his first five years, it was a struggle. The record speaks for itself and the reputation is among the best in our business.”
A reporter mentioned that Golden is trying to build the program in Miami. Any advice for Golden?
“No, I’m not an advice guy,” Spurrier said. “He’s doing an excellent job there. It’s not as easy a job maybe as it used to be, Miami. Florida State’s back up. The Gators, I guess, have been down a little bit lately.
“But they’ve got a talented team. I think they’re close to putting it together.”
Spurrier explained that his ties to Miami Beach go back to his birth, when his dad was “a Christian minister” in the war years. But when the congregation’s original preacher returned from the war, the family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then to Tennessee.
“My wife is from Fort Lauderdale,” Spurrier said of the former Jerri Starr, Flying L’s Class of 1962. “She’s a Lauderdale girl.”
Spurrier took a long time to answer how long he would continue to coach. “Hopefully four or five years,” he finally said. “That’s what we always say, isn’t it?”