Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson: Saturdays won’t be the same without great innovator Steve Spurrier

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier reacts after a 45-24 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier reacts after a 45-24 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. AP

Steve Spurrier resigned Monday. Typically he would insert a punch line here, but he didn’t have one for the occasion of his own farewell.

The head ball coach decided to step down rather than fade away. He decided to get out before he found himself no longer the provocateur but the object of clever barbs.

A humbled Steve Superior? What an unappealing picture that would be. Unless you’re a Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama or Florida State fan who could take some revenge with a Spurrier-like zinger: “You can’t spell ‘losers quit’ without two S’s, a U and an R.”

It was a sad day for college football. The irreverent, innovative coach who freed the game from its numbing earnestness and hidebound playbook will no longer be on the sideline. Spurrier announced he is resigning immediately at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks fell to 2-4 overall and 0-4 in the SEC after a 45-24 loss to LSU. Saturdays won’t be the same without Spurrier throwing his visor and instructing his quarterback to throw the football until the cows come home or Bear Bryant flips in his grave, whichever happens first.

Spurrier, who led Florida to its first national title 30 years after winning the Heisman Trophy as a Gator, warned that he is not retiring. But he emphasized it was time for change after 11 years at South Carolina, the third moribund program he had raised to prominence following three years at Duke and 12 at UF. The team’s record is 9-10 since the start of 2014. He said he sensed “this is about it for me,” especially after a painful struggle to beat 0-6 Central Florida.

Spurrier, 70, said he always had the same answer when asked how much longer he planned to coach.

“As long as we keep winning, winning these bowl games, everybody’s happy, we’re ranked, life is pretty good, I guess I can coach several more years,” he said. “But if it starts going south, starts going bad, then I need to get out. You can’t keep a coach that’s done it as long as I have when it’s moving in the wrong direction.”

He worried that he was becoming a “recruiting liability” because of questions about his longevity and believed that players needed to hear “a new message and a new voice.”

“Only two years ago we were fourth in the nation,” said Spurrier, who was replaced by assistant Shawn Elliott. “Somehow or other we’ve slid. I’m responsible. I’m the head coach. It’s time for me to sort of get out of the way and let somebody else have a go at it.”

His revolutionary spirit will be missed, but his influence will be everlasting. He applied his imagination to football, which is why the college game today is more entertaining than the pro version. He shook things up with his wide-open offensive schemes, such as the Fun ‘n’ Gun. He’d brainstorm plays while eating, and scribble them down on napkins. He gave quarterbacks wide latitude to play like he played. Danny Wuerffel said Spurrier could make up a play in six seconds and was a master of improvisation and capitalizing on opponents’ weaknesses (although such “pitching the ball around” didn’t work in two years with the Redskins against NFL defenses). Plenty of coaches have copied Spurrier, and transformed programs in the process, but he was the original.

Spurrier worked his magic in the conservative SEC, where he won six conference titles and scored at least 500 points per season for six seasons in a row. He gave the Gators a true home field advantage by imbuing Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a foreboding sense of place.

“The swamp is where the Gators live,” he said. “A swamp is hot and sticky and can be dangerous.”

He refused to read from the standard coaching script. He said FSU stood for “Free Shoes University.” He said, “You can’t spell Citrus without UT,” and claimed he knew the real reason Peyton Manning returned for his senior year: “He wanted to be three-time Citrus MVP.”

After a dorm fire at Auburn destroyed 20 books, Spurrier quipped: “The real tragedy was that 15 hadn’t been colored yet.”

What a concept: Comic relief from a head ball coach rather than the usual fake respect for opponents or praise for crummy bowl games. Spurrier was the anti-Nick Saban.

“In 12 years at Florida, I don’t think we ever signed a kid from the state of Alabama. Of course we found out later that the scholarships they were giving out were worth a whole lot more than ours,” was another classic.

He preferred to play Georgia early in the season “because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”

Spurrier’s trash talk went over the line sometimes. Even his wife described him as a “brat.” Florida State athletic director Dave Hart once said, "It probably would be good if somebody would just spank [Spurrier] and put him to bed and hope that he wakes up all grown up."

Spurrier could be a petulant bully, and those who don’t like him will say his ego is telling him to cut and run at South Carolina before the slide turns into a blemish on his coaching genius.

But love or hate the head ball coach, he put on a compelling show. College football will be less electric – and caustic – without him.

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