Steve Spurrier was on the practice field Tuesday when he heard the Alliance of American Football was likely closing, ending his return to coaching.
“We hadn’t really started yet and our general manager guy said, ‘Coach there is going to be announcement that the league is going to be suspended.’ I said, ‘What does that mean? Does that mean we are not playing this week?’,” Spurrier said.
That’s apparently what it means. The first-year league suspended operations Tuesday.
Spurrier, the head coach of the Orlando Apollos, will go out as the league’s all-time winningest coach. The Apollos were 7-1, two games out front of the league’s other seven teams.
“We had the best team. If I never coach again, I went out a winner,” Spurrier told The State. “I didn’t go out like I did at South Carolina. That’s the bright side for me, being a little selfish in that, but for the players and the assistant coaches it’s a bummer.”
Spurrier is now the winningest all-time coach at South Carolina, Florida, the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL and AAF. After Apollos general manager Tim Ruskell informed the players of the decision to stop play, Spurrier addressed his team, he said.
“I personally thanked them for what they did, not only for themselves but for me,” he said. “I told them I didn’t have to take this job. I don’t have to prove to anybody that I can coach, but in life you always want to go out a winner. I told them, the way I felt at South Carolina, that’s not the way you end your coaching career. This was sort of a mulligan in life for personally.”
Spurrier was 86-49 in 10-and-a-half seasons at South Carolina. He led the Gamecocks to the 2010 SEC East championship and three straight 11-win seasons but resigned midway through the 2015 season with a 2-4 record.
“I looked in the mirror one day and said, ‘I have put together the two worst defenses in South Carolina football history and turned into a sorry coach,’” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, mentally I’ll be a little bit better off (now). That’s not the way anybody that loves competing and hates losing wants to go out.”
Spurrier was uncertain Tuesday if he or his coaches or the Apollos players would be getting any more checks from the league.
“The most disappointing part of all of it is the men who founded the league, Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian, I think they were led to believe they had some serious money behind them that didn’t come through. We were led to believe that there was a bunch of money, that we were well-funded and that was not the case. I am not sure how the players’ contracts read. All of us may be finished pay wise. It’s not a big deal to me, but a lot of these guys were looking forward to at least three more game checks.”
At least five Gamecocks were on AAF rosters at some point during the season: Busta Anderson, Devin Taylor, Ronald Patrick, Weslye Saunders and Elliott Fry.
Orlando quarterback Garrett Gilbert finished as the league’s leading passer and Apollos wide receiver Charles Johnson led the league in receiving yards.
“We really had a good bunch of players,” Spurrier said. “I really thank those guys, especially Garrett Gilbert. If they have an MVP of the league, he is it. Charles Johnson he’s about as good as any I have been around. Alshon (Jeffery) is a little taller than him, but he’s pretty close. How we got ahold of him I have no idea.”
The eight-team spring football league is not folding, but games will not be played this weekend, a source told The Associated Press. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because league officials were still working through details of the suspension.
The league was co-founded by former NFL executive Bill Polian and television and film producer Charlie Ebersol.
The AAF aspired to be a league for players with NFL hopes, but it could not reach agreement with the NFLPA to use players at the end of NFL rosters.
The Associated Press contributed