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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, October 23, 1995
THEY HATE HIM. At Auburn they hate Steve Spurrier for his crack last year about the Tigers' soft schedule and, even more, for his Florida Gators' frightfully casual 49-38 dismissal last Saturday of Auburn's national-title hopes. At Georgia they still talk about the time Bulldogs coach Ray Goff, tired of Spurrier's yapping, reportedly growled that he would like to get Spurrier alone in an alley for 30 minutes. But at Florida State they may hate him most, because though Spurrier has beaten the Seminoles just once in five-plus seasons, two summers ago he unerringly heckled the players involved in their notorious Foot Locker buying spree by calling their school Free Shoes University.
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—and he's the reason why. Under Spurrier the Gators have gone 55-12-1; have become a perennial top 10 power; and 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 clich�s; he pretends no modesty.
"Arrogant...cocky...loudmouth—well, what else could they say?" Spurrier says, voice rising. "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."
No one denies that it is Spurrier's offensive system that has made the Gators so formidable. In 1982 the Air Ball attack he installed as Duke's offensive coordinator powered an undermanned Blue Devils 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 Gators backup quarterback Eric Kresser. 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? Spurrier is generally considered the most creative offensive mind in the game. "There's nobody who prepares his team more for the passing game," says Kansas City Chiefs 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."
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's most embarrassing moments have come at the hands of the elder Bowden. Despite their rivalry, there is at least one thing Bobby likes about Spurrier—his brutal honesty. "He says things a lot of us think," Bowden says, "but don't have guts enough to say."
Those Tennesseans angered by Steve's 25-point victory margin over the Volunteers this year should talk to the Reverend Graham Spurrier. Steve's father, now 81, coached Steve's Little League and Babe Ruth baseball teams, opening one season by telling the kids, "Those who think the object is not to win or lose, but how you play the game, raise your hand." Most of the kids did. Steve didn't; he knew what his father was getting at. "They wouldn't keep score if the object isn't to win," the reverend told the children. "You might as well stay home if you don't come to win." When Steve would play sports, he says his father "was never overpraising me. He would say, 'How about that shot you missed in the corner? How about that incomplete pass?' You always could've done a little bit better."
Graham may have pushed his son, but Steve's talent and, more important, his confidence and ability to see plays develop were gifts he uncovered on his own. In 1966, with Florida and Auburn tied 27-27, the Gators had a chance to kick a game-winning 40-yard field goal—out of range for their regular kicker but not for their quarterback. Spurrier, who hadn't attempted a kick in six games, persuaded coach Ray Graves to let him try. He nailed the field goal—and with it, many observers believe, the Heisman Trophy.