The voice came sliding down out of the stands two Saturdays ago, a bayou twang thickened by liquor and envy and fury at the god who would foist such a man upon the rest of us. "You're lucky, Spurrier! You ain't that good!" But the Florida football coach couldn't hear; Steve Spurrier stood watching his undefeated team finish its calm dismissal of Louisiana State for the eighth straight time, watching from the sidelines as his Gators gave the lie to LSU's faith in its once awesome home field advantage. He was too far away, and when the voice came down again, it had lost something. "You're lucky..." it said, and then there was just this insecure silence, because that's not true and everyone knows, and that's what's so galling. Look at him! He's tall, lean and, at 50, still has his hair, and, damn it, he nails his putts and has a Heisman Trophy and a 29-year marriage and loyal children and.... You ain't that good!
They hate him. At Auburn they hate him for his crack last year about the Tigers' soft schedule and, even more, for Florida's frightfully casual 49-38 dismissal last Saturday of Auburn's national-title hopes. At Georgia they still talk about the time Bulldog coach Ray Goff, tired of Spurrier's yapping, reportedly growled that he would like to get Spurrier alone in an alley for 30 minutes. At North Carolina they still haven't forgotten how he quite happily pushed his 1988 Duke team, which led 34-0, to humiliate the Tar Heels with another score. As his former coach, colleague and opponent Pepper Rodgers once put it, "Embarrassment is part of the game to him."
Spurrier can be smug and mean, generous and warm, and with friends and enemies alike he has a free and deadly tongue. He possesses the dubious talent of sensing someone's weak spot and striking, such as the time at a coaches' gathering in Hawaii when Spurrier needled then Volunteer coach Johnny Majors about a loss to Alabama the previous fall, provoking a red-faced screaming match. "He will express himself—I'll leave it at that," says Majors, who's now at Pitt. "He's not bashful talking about himself, or his team."
But at Florida State they may hate him most, because though Spurrier has beaten the Seminoles just once in the five-plus seasons he has been at Florida, two summers ago he unerringly heckled the players involved in their notorious Foot Locker buying spree by calling their school Free Shoes University. Then, just to make sure everyone got his point, Spurrier refused to recant; instead he wondered out loud about the shine on all those new cars in the Florida State player parking lot. "I'm not saying anybody broke any rules; I'm just saying there was a feeling of, well, those kids are driving awfully nice cars," Spurrier says innocently. "How's it happen?"
Mostly, though, they loathe Spurrier in all those Southern towns because the Gators have, after 56 years of nothing, won three SEC championships since he came back to Florida—four if you count the 1990 season, when Florida would have won the title but was ineligible to do so because of NCAA violations committed by previous coach Galen Hall—and he's the reason why. Under Spurrier the Gators have gone 55-12-1; have become a perennial Top 10 power; and now, with a 6-0 record after Saturday's cleansing win over Auburn, have played themselves into contention for their first national title.
Worse, Spurrier has gone about winning without engaging in the time-honored Bear Bryant style of mushing words into meaningless clichés; he pretends no modesty. "I don't look at him as overly arrogant," says Terry Dean, the former Gator quarterback whose benching last season led to a bitter and public rupture with Spurrier. "Maybe egomaniacal." Steve Superior was how legendary Auburn coach Shug Jordan pronounced Spurrier's name when Spurrier was a Heisman-winning quarterback for Florida in the mid-1960s, and now that name is said with a sneer.
"Arrogant...cocky...loudmouth—well, what else could they say?" Spurrier says, voice rising into his oft-imitated squawk. "Teams are not supposed to like their opponents if the opponents are beatin' them. And I am a little different. I read something once that I think is so true: If you want to be successful, you have to do it the way everybody does it and do it a lot better—or you have to do it differently. I can't outwork anybody and I can't coach the off-tackle play better than anybody else. So I figured I'd try to coach some different ball plays, and instead of poor-mouthing my team, I'd try to build it up to the point where the players think, Coach believes we're pretty good; by golly, let's go prove it."
Florida did that Saturday. In a performance both dazzling and desultory, the Gators slogged into a rain-soaked Jordan-Hare Stadium and found themselves down 10-0 before three minutes had passed. By halftime they had dropped a half-dozen passes, missed a field goal, fumbled twice and thrown an interception—and still led by 15. In their previous two meetings Auburn and Florida had engaged in topsyturvy games decided by a total of six points; both times the Tigers pinned sloppy Florida with its first defeat. But last weekend Danny Wuerffel, the Florida quarterback, shook off early nerves to throw four touchdown passes; the Gator offense generated 577 yards; and Spurrier finally beat Terry Bowden, handing him his first home loss after two-plus seasons at Auburn.
Yet for all that, Spurrier wasn't happy afterward. Florida still hasn't clicked for an entire game this season, and the brilliant moments serve to highlight the Gators' maddening inconsistency. Spurrier knows: He's attracting prime talent now, and in this, Florida's first 6-0 start since 1969, his players exude the seriousness necessary to win everything. "We've got no excuses if we don't do well," says Spurrier, who risks more blame because he's also the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "We've got no excuses for ourselves."
While Wuerffel passed for 380 yards and Chris Doering scored three times and running backs Elijah Williams and Fred Taylor combined for 208 yards against Auburn, no one denies that it is Spurrier's offensive system that has made the No. 3 Gators so formidable. In 1982 the multifaceted Air Ball attack he installed as Duke's offensive coordinator powered an undermanned Blue Devil offense to the No. 4 ranking in the country, and over the 12 years he has been a head coach, the 300-yard aerial barrage has become so commonplace in his Fun 'n' Gun offense that a recruit figures all he need do is suit up. "It doesn't matter who you are, you can do well," says Gator backup quarterback Eric Kresser. "Whoever's in there will put up numbers." And those who don't play? Since 1990, five of 14 quarterbacks on the Florida roster have transferred.