"I can't make star players out of all of 'em," Spurrier says with a shrug, and, no, he doesn't care how that makes him sound. Once, while at Duke in the late 1980s, Spurrier telephoned a writer at a local newspaper and requested that he not be referred to as an "offensive genius." Asked what he would prefer, Spurrier said, "I don't know. How 'bout...'mastermind'?"
How 'bout it? The Spurrier play-calling resume begins with a double-reverse pass on his first play as offensive coordinator at Duke in 1980 and includes so many fakes, pitches, tosses and unusual sets that Spurrier is generally considered the most creative offensive mind in the game. "There's nobody who prepares his team more for the passing game than Spurrier," says Kansas City Chief coach Marty Schottenheimer, who pointed his son, Brian, to Gainesville when Brian, now a backup quarterback for the Gators, said he wanted to be a coach. "The numbers don't lie. A lot of defensive coaches in college football are trying to solve the problems that his offense creates—and they don't do it very often."
Yet with that success, Spurrier bridges a strange divide: He is master of the SEC and second-class in the state of Florida, courtesy of Bobby Bowden of Florida State. Spurrier says he doesn't care, but his most embarrassing moments—and three of his last five losses—have come at the hands of the elder Bowden. Last year the Gators led the Seminoles by 28 points heading into the fourth quarter and limped away with a 31-31 tie; five weeks later, Florida lost to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. And Spurrier's only other two losses over the last two years have come against Terry Bowden.
Despite their rivalry, there is at least one thing Bobby likes about Spurrier—his brutal honesty. Spurrier, understand, is a Florida loyalist who savaged his own fans earlier this season for booing and is a father who took his namesake, Steve Jr., aside in high school eight years ago and told him he would never make it playing quarterback. "He says things a lot of us think," Bowden says, "but don't have guts enough to say."
He is all out there. There is no pretense to Spurrier; his savage competitiveness is legendary on the golf course, where he allows no gimmes, no fudging of the rules and no silence. Spurrier rides opponents mercilessly, and his trash talk isn't reserved for the links. "Steve's a brat," says his wife, Jerri, laughing. "He doesn't take everything in this world so seriously. Sarcasm, teasing, digging: He loves that kind of stuff. He's great at it." Growing up, Spurrier says with something close to pride, "we used to call it being a——disturber."
But taking it is another story. Hit him where he lives—his putting, his tightfistedness, his handling of quarterbacks—and Spurrier gets defensive. Once some friends gave Spurrier a picture of himself cringing after a blown putt. "That wasn't funny," Jerri says. "But if he gave it to somebody else? That's funny." When Florida fans booed after the Gators started slowly against Houston in September, Spurrier didn't just chide them. He took the booing as an indictment of himself, and he still isn't sure the razzing wasn't a way of telling him it was time to hit the road. "After five, six, seven years, you need to move on, because fans get tired of you," he says. "It ain't ever good enough."
That booing was nothing compared with the public ripping Dean, then Florida's starting quarterback, gave Spurrier last season after Spurrier warned Dean that he would be benched if he didn't perform well against Auburn. Dean didn't—he threw four interceptions—and deserved to sit. Nevertheless, Spurrier took the first serious heat of his career for trashing his quarterback's confidence. From then on, Dean plummeted, he says, from Heisman Trophy candidate to a "cancer on the team." Without explanation from Spurrier, Dean suddenly found himself rooming alone on the road. According to Dean, on the Tuesday before last season's game against Georgia, "they were handing out game plans and I was walking out of the room, and Spurrier said, 'Why don't I take the game plans from everybody?' I don't know if he thought I was going to fax a copy to Georgia or what."
There's no doubt Spurrier treated Dean roughly, but the way Wuerffel has played makes it difficult to question Spurrier's coaching decisions. And the stunning thing is what time has done to Dean's thinking. "If I was in Spurrier's shoes, I might've done the same thing," Dean says. "I've got no problem with Spurrier. I don't know if what he did was wrong."
When Dean went to play with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League last spring, "we had 40 plays to work on," he says. "Compared to Spurrier, there is no comparison. We just worked so much more in-depth at Florida. The problem for Spurrier is that when he draws up plays, he knows the plays are going to work. When they don't work, you're not doing your job. With his system, it's so good that if it doesn't work, it's your fault—and I don't disagree."
Three weeks after Dean's demotion, receiver Jack Jackson, who was benched for skipping a team meeting and lackluster play, also blasted Spurrier in the media. When Spurrier came into his weekly press conference three days later, he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. For those used to the smoothly confident Spurrier, this was remarkable: Before saying a word, he began sniffling and breathing hard, eyes filling with tears. Then he began a 15-minute tirade against the media, some members of which, he insists now, threatened him with criticism if he didn't provide inside information. It was like watching Nixon in full paranoid bloom, complete with talk of secret threats and enemies and the underlying surety that some people were out to get him.