Steve Spurrier has taken the fun out of the South Carolina-Clemson football rivalry. No jabs at Dabo Swinney. No taunting of the Tigers after a program-record five consecutive wins in the rivalry. No unsolicited putdowns of Clemson.
After USC’s victory this past Saturday against South Alabama, Spurrier even talked about the mutual respect between the two coaching staffs.
“Probably a little bit,” Spurrier said Tuesday when asked if that kind of respect for the opposition is a little unusual for rivals. “But (there) may be more (respect) nowadays than it was in the old days.”
Spurrier spoke from experience.
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“I remember the old days – at some schools, you didn’t care for the coaches at the rival schools,” he said. “Florida-Florida State, or even Florida-Georgia, a bunch of big rival-type games, you just didn’t say too many positive things.”
Along the way in coaching stays at Duke and Florida, Spurrier built a reputation as much for his pokes at opposing coaches as for his passing offenses. He perpetually needled North Carolina’s Mack Brown, Georgia’s Ray Goff and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden.
He referred to Brown mockingly as “Mr. Football.” Following Duke’s 41-0 victory against UNC in 1979, Spurrier took a team picture in front of the Kenan Stadium scoreboard in Chapel Hill. Displeased with the first photo, Spurrier summoned his team back on the field for another.
Spurrier once asked what happened to all of Georgia’s outstanding recruiting classes under Goff once they got to Athens. Then he authored the now-famous “half a hundred between the hedges” statement after Florida ran up a 52-17 whipping in 1995 in Athens.
Perhaps because his Florida teams were 5-8-1 against Bowden’s Florida State teams, Spurrier was a little more judicious in his comments about his counterpart, although he did forever label the Tallahassee program “Free Shoes University.”
When Spurrier was hired at USC, he mentioned in his introductory news conference how he had been humbled by his experience with the Washington team in the NFL. He said, perhaps he would be easier on opposing coaches upon his return to the college ranks.
And he has been.
It probably helped matters that Spurrier was named USC’s coach a couple of days after the ugliest incident in the history of the USC-Clemson rivalry.
“Yeah, it was a bad scene. It was a bad scene for both schools,” Spurrier said of the 2004 brawl that led to both schools not participating in bowl games. “The game the next year, we all shook hands before the game and, I think, really put it to rest.”
USC’s victory against Clemson in 2009 was the start of its five-game win streak in the rivalry. Despite the streak, Spurrier has stayed true to his word about treating the opposing coach well. The only slipup was a comment Spurrier made in 2012 after Swinney had offered his sympathies for the injury to USC star running back Marcus Lattimore.
“A lot of quotes came across the nation,” Spurrier said. “I read one today from the head coach of our Upstate school. You know that school that used to beat us a lot but doesn’t beat us much anymore.
“Usually, when that coach up there talks about South Carolina, it’s a bunch of garbage and a bunch of BS, usually. But I have to agree with him on what he said the other day. He said ‘Marcus Lattimore stands for what’s right about college football.’ ”
Spurrier and Swinney have mostly talked since about how much each program respects the other.
“I think we all get along a lot better, college coaches,” Spurrier said Tuesday. “I think we all realize what we all go through. We have more respect for each other than maybe in the old days. And certainly, I think that’s true with our staff and the Clemson staff.”
At his news conference on Tuesday, Swinney said, “Coach Spurrier’s legacy speaks for itself. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s a great football coach and has been for a long time.”
While that might not be as fun for fans, those kinds of comments certainly lend more civility and respect that should be inherent in the rivalry.