April 20, 2010

Spurrier 65 and still going strong

Steve Spurrier plans to celebrate his 65th birthday today snorkeling off a coral reef in the Bahamas.

Steve Spurrier plans to celebrate his 65th birthday today snorkeling off a coral reef in the Bahamas.

In the high-stress world of major-college football, Spurrier has avoided health problems and mental fatigue by finding time for exercise, golf and travel.

Why should today be any different?

As South Carolina's sixth-year coach reaches retirement age, he says he's in better shape than he was at 25, when he was a backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Spurrier works out five to six days a week, maintains a healthy diet and refuses to keep the long hours that often lead to burnout among his peers.

Spurrier has had yearly physicals since turning 50, and - other than an uneven gait that is the result of four knee surgeries and two back operations - is the picture of health.

"The doc usually says, 'It's nice to have some healthy people come in here taking physicals.' And he's talking about all of our coaches usually," Spurrier said. "It seems like if the head coach is a workout guy, most of his staff will be."

Gamecocks assistant coach Lorenzo Ward said one of the first questions Spurrier asked during his interview was whether Ward worked out (he does). It probably didn't hurt that Ward is also an avid golfer.

"He likes to know his assistants are working out," Ward said.

A few days before his birthday, Spurrier invited a reporter from The State to join him for a workout in the USC weight room as a kind of public-service announcement to Gamecock fans who might not share his zeal for fitness.

After a grilled chicken salad from Bernie's for lunch, Spurrier works out for an hour most afternoons. The workout consists of core-strengthening exercises, light dumbbell work and 30 minutes of cardio - 20 minutes of walking on the treadmill and 10 on the stationary bike. On this day, Spurrier whips through the workout without a water break.

Spurrier works out at the team hotel on game days. If it's an early kickoff, he'll walk around the hotel with his wife, Jerri, a fitness enthusiast who teaches an aerobics class at the university.

"I just enjoy working out, and the feeling after you work out. After I work out, my knee feels better, my back feels better," Spurrier said. "With all the information on health, it's just amazing some people choose not to participate."

Spurrier was not always a health nut.

As a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida in the 1960s, Spurrier used to bum cigarettes at parties. His off-season conditioning for most of his nine-year career with the 49ers did not begin until a month before training camp, where quarterbacks were required to run 1.75 miles in 12 minutes.

Spurrier ran until undergoing his third knee surgery at 57, when he started the weights and cardio regimen.

Spurrier, a moderate beer drinker who gave up cigars 30 years ago, also has good genes. Both of his parents were in their late-80s before dying of what he called "old age."

Spurrier also manages to keep stress to a minimum. He carves out several months in the spring and summer for golf, and plans annual vacations, such as this week's trip to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas.

He never has believed in watching film into the wee hours or crashing on a couch in his office.

"You can stay in there every night, sleep in there, but your time spent with your players is what's most important. It's what you teach them, (and) you can only teach so much," Spurrier said.

"That's one thing about pro football: You've got your guys all day. (You say), 'Well, gee, we've already gone over this. We've already gone over that. What are we going to do now? We've got another two hours.' You almost get tired of sitting around looking at each other."

Like any coach in his 60s, Spurrier's future is a popular topic among opposing coaches, recruits and media members.

In December, USC added a year to Spurrier's contract, taking it through the end of the 2013 season. And though Spurrier can retire before then without penalty, he receives a $1 million longevity bonus if he remains through 2011.

"Every coach, if he's done it a long time - if it starts going bad - then he needs to step aside. One of my goals as a coach - and I will reach that goal, I'm pretty sure - is to never get fired," said Spurrier, who walked away from the final three years of a five-year, $25 million contract with the Washington Redskins.

"Maybe two percent are able to say they never got fired. It cost me a lot of (money) to leave the Redskins without saying, 'Fire me.' Cost me a lot of dough, but that's all right."

Speaking of money, Spurrier said one of the benefits of turning 65 is his NFL pension will kick in.

"I've waited all these years, and the maximum you can get is when you turn 65. So fortunately I've had a job and didn't need to apply," said Spurrier, who makes $1.75 million a year at USC. "Most (players) start taking it at age 45. I'd say around half don't have a job. I've been very blessed to have a job all these years."

His health, too.

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