Josh Kendall

Exclusive with Steve Spurrier: A day later, ‘I’m OK. I’m very much OK’

There’s life after football, Steve Spurrier insisted Wednesday in an exclusive interview with The State. Now the 70-year-old former South Carolina coach is trying to figure out exactly what that is.

“You don’t have to run yourself into the ground too much and get all chewed up and spit out,” Spurrier said one day after announcing his resignation after 10-and-a-half seasons as the Gamecocks’ coach. “It’ll chew you up and spit you out and you’ll come out mumbling to yourself if you don’t watch it.”

Spurrier spoke to The State from his usual office overlooking the field at Williams-Brice Stadium, and he plans to remain there through the end of the regular season, gradually cleaning out countless pieces of memorabilia that has accumulated since he took the job on Nov. 23, 2004.

Interim coach Shawn Elliott will continue to work from his regular office at the other end of the football complex.

“Usually, when a coach resigns or gets fired or leaves, he usually goes into hiding, but I’m not going into hiding,” Spurrier said.

Spurrier called Monday, the day he made his final decision, “a difficult day,” but was mostly upbeat Wednesday.

“Yeah, I’m OK,” he said. “I’m very much OK.”

He calls it “natural” that some people would argue he quit on his team by leaving in the middle of the season, but he continues to believe he made the right decision for himself and the Gamecocks.

“You take the scenario of staying,” he said. “Say I stay and we go 4-8, 5-7 and we all get fired or I resign and now all the assistants are out. I really like the interim coach thing, and I think every head coach should do it this way. So, by having an interim head coach, this guy gets a chance to turn it around. He gets a chance to say, ‘Come on guys. All you assistant guys, we’re fighting it together now or we’re all gone.’ Shawn has got these assistant coaches coaching their butts off, and I’m out of the picture. I don’t know how I could have turned it around.”

The Gamecocks (2-4 overall, 0-4 SEC) take on Vanderbilt in Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday at 4 p.m. Elliott will coach the final six games of the regular season and is a candidate for the permanent position, athletics director Ray Tanner said Tuesday.

“Gosh, if Shawn can win three of these six games, I think that would be an excellent job,” Spurrier said.

Whoever gets the job on a permanent basis needs to be a tireless recruiter, Spurrier said.

“We need a hustler, a guy with fire and passion, a guy that is going to out-recruit (Clemson coach) Dabo (Swinney) and (Georgia coach) Mark Richt and (North Carolina coach) Larry Fedora,” he said. “I think it’s obvious our talent is not quite as good as it was, and that’s my fault. We haven’t recruited, maybe, quite as well. We thought we had, but it hasn’t played out.”

Spurrier’s age “definitely” had a negative impact on South Carolina’s recruiting, Spurrier said.

“I don’t act 70 or talk or look like it, but I am,” he said. “It’s hard on recruiting. You can’t be 70 years old and go 4-8, 5-7. I definitely was a liability. It can get ugly. The more you lose, the uglier it gets.”

Spurrier remains surprised this season went so far south so quickly, he said.

“I thought we had a chance to really have a good team this year,” he said. “I thought we had a wonderful chance to win seven or eight games, maybe more.”

Although university president Harris Pastides told The State on Tuesday that he wants Spurrier to be recognized on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium during a game this season, Spurrier is not sure that’s a good idea.

“Maybe next year would be better, to tell you the truth,” he said.

Spurrier is the Gamecocks’ all-time winningest football coach with a record of 86-49. He was 228-89-2 in a 25 1/2- year collegiate coaching career at Duke, Florida and South Carolina.

This year, though, something didn’t click, and Spurrier told his former team as much when he met with them Tuesday afternoon.

“I just told them, ‘You guys need a new message. My message, you have heard too often. It’s time you hear a different one, and coach Elliott is ready to give you a new message. Hopefully, it’ll stick in and, hopefully, you can get it turned around,’ ” he said. “Maybe my message was stale, yeah.”

And that’s why he had to go, he said.

“I sort of fired myself,” he said. “That’s one way to look at it. I don’t think I’ve done a very good job this year. I really don’t.”

Other answers from Spurrier:

Are you sad? Are you relieved?

A little of both. I’m sad our team is not better and it’s my fault. I’m in charge of recruiting. I’m in charge of the entire team, so I haven’t done a very good job. I don’t think I’ve done a very good job this year. I really don’t. For whatever reason, I just don’t think I’ve done as well, maybe, as I could have. I know these coaches, Shawn, I mean he is fired up, he is passionate, it is the opportunity of a lifetime for him, and I think this is what needed to be done. It had to be done.

You have referred to yourself as a “liability” two or three times in the past two days. You have fallen on your sword pretty hard the past couple of days. How does that feel?

Yeah, I’m OK. I’m very much OK. I have avoided being fired. That was one of my goals in coaching, see if I could get through without being fired. I hope our team starts winning. Now, I know I have done some good jobs in the past. When you’re finished, you look at the overall, so my overall is pretty decent, I guess.

How’s your wife, Jerri, doing?

I think she’s getting better with it.

When you told Jerri, what was her reaction?

Oh, she didn’t like it. She wants me to be head coach forever. She loves going out there hugging all the players at practice. She actually could still do it. I’m sure they’ll give her a hug, and I’m going to encourage her to go out there a little bit.

Steve Spurrier Jr., South Carolina’s wide receivers coach, and Scottie Spurrier, an offensive quality control coach with the team, are more than just assistant coaches to you. Was that a part of your decision-making process?

You know, I didn’t even hardly talk to them about it. I told Jerri, ‘Well, our two boys are on their own now. They are flat-out on their own.’ And they need to be. They are ready for this. They are both prepared for it. They knew this day was coming.

The fact you were at two places for double-digit years is pretty remarkable. How aware of that have you been throughout your career?

I hope people will say, ‘He was not a hit-and-run guy.’ These coaches now, some of them, they will take a job and if they get a better offer, they will leave before they even coach one year. That happens a lot. Coaches are sort of individual, what’s-best-for-me type guys, it seems like, but, hopefully, I have been a person that sticks around. Gosh, I’ve had the same wife now for 49 years. Yeah, 12 years at Florida, and 10-and-a-half. I never thought I’d say ‘and-a-half’ but I’m a half-year ball coach now.

What have you meant to college football?

That is for others to say. Someone asked me about being remembered, and I said I think about like all us in any profession, I think you in your profession would like to be considered one of the best, and that’s all I want, ‘One of the best.’ There are a whole bunch of good ones, and to be considered up there amongst the good ones, that would be enough.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC