Ron Morris

September 16, 2012

Morris: Adaptability still Spurrier’s greatest weapon

STEVE SPURRIER CAN downplay his 200th career win Saturday night all he wants. It is a significant accomplishment. He joins 21 of the most successful coaches in college football history.

Yet there was no Gatorade bath to help him celebrate the milestone, which came in less-than-artistic fashion at Williams-Brice Stadium against outmanned UAB. The team did present Spurrier with a game ball afterward, and the crew for his weekly TV show had a cake prepared to celebrate.

Otherwise, Spurrier would like you to believe the 200th was no different than the 48th or 127th or 163rd in his illustrious coaching career.

“Two-hundred wins, I really don’t know what to say about it,” he said afterward. “I’ve got 47 others (in two stints of pro football), so it sort of blends in. I can assure you that others were just as important as all of them in college, the ones when I was a pro coach.”

Spurrier says such a feat is reached because one coaches for a long time, in his case 23 seasons, and because one does not get fired over his career. Spurrier also helped his cause by showing a willingness to change with the times and adapt his coaching and his team’s playing style accordingly.

All you have to do is look at the exclusive 200-win club for coaches at FBS programs to fully appreciate how adaptable Spurrier has been to the changing game. Others on the list include Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Tom Osborne, Lou Holtz, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, all of whom earned legendary status while remaining stubborn in their ways to the end.

Not Spurrier.

His college coaching career began at Duke with a 41-6 victory over Colgate playing what was labeled “Air Ball.” In three seasons, Spurrier’s pass-happy attacks produced 20 wins.

His offenses transformed into the “Fun ‘n’ Gun” attack at Florida, producing another 122 wins. Then, after a failed attempt to pitch the ball around the park in the NFL, Spurrier brought the “Cock ‘n’ Fire” game to USC.

After five seasons at USC produced 35 wins with an offense that sputtered as much as it succeeded, Spurrier made changes. Over the past two-plus seasons, the man once known as an “offensive genius” now can carry the moniker “defensive genius.”

His USC teams won an SEC East Division title in 2010 and 11 games in 2011 by relying on stingy defenses and a revamped offense. A season ago, more than 70 percent of USC’s plays on offense were on the ground. The “Cock ‘n’ Fire” had been replaced by the “Ground ‘n’ Pound.”

Part of that change reflected having a Heisman Trophy-candidate in Marcus Lattimore at running back. But an even bigger part was a shift to operating more out of the shotgun formation and running the read-option offense with a quarterback, Connor Shaw, more adept with his legs than his arm.

In his younger days, Spurrier poked fun at CEO-type coaches such as Mack Brown, then at North Carolina and now among the 200-win club at Texas. Spurrier delighted in being both the head coach and the offensive coordinator who called all his team’s plays.

He still carries both titles today, but he obviously has delegated more duties to his assistants. Spurrier has been willing to let his assistants incorporate new blocking schemes and the intricacies of the read-option into the offense.

Also, it used to be that Spurrier would declare every few seasons that he was taking control of the defense. At USC, he turned complete control of that unit over to former coordinator Ellis Johnson and, so far, has steered clear of coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s direction of the defense.

Even with the changes, the one constant through wins one, 50, 100, 150 and 200 is Spurrier’s competitive nature and his ability to prepare teams for games, no matter the competition. The win over UAB ran Spurrier’s record to 46-0 against schools outside BCS automatic-qualifier conferences.

Saturday’s win — at least the second half, anyway — proved to be somewhat of a throwback affair for Spurrier. With Shaw sidelined by injury, Thompson came aboard after halftime and was able to throw deep passes, including one that went for 94 yards and a touchdown to Damiere Byrd.

On those plays, it must have seemed like old times for Spurrier, like his days at Duke and Florida. On the night of his 200th win, a little nostalgia was good for everyone.

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