Josh Kendall

His strong faith a constant theme in Spurrier’s new book

Steve Spurrier says, 'I fired myself'

University of South Carolina's former head football coach Steve Spurrier talks about his resignation on a deeper level with The State's Josh Kendall.
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University of South Carolina's former head football coach Steve Spurrier talks about his resignation on a deeper level with The State's Josh Kendall.

If the 2015 UCF game was the one that made Steve Spurrier decide his college coaching career was coming to an end, the LSU game two weeks later was the one that made him realize he’d made the right decision.

In what would turn out to be the final game of Spurrier’s 26-year coaching career, he was unsettled that afternoon by how nice everyone in Baton Rouge was to him before kickoff, and when he went into the Gamecocks locker room to get dressed for the game, he lamented that fact to his assistant coaches.

“When I was coaching at Florida and we came to LSU every other year, they would be shooting birds at us, throwing stuff at the bus and yelling, ‘Arrogant, cocky Spurrier, run up the score!’ ” Spurrier told his coaches. “And now they are really nice to us because they know they are going to kick our (behind) today.”

The Tigers did, 45-24, and three days later, Spurrier resigned as South Carolina’s winningest football coach of all-time. That story comes from Spurrier’s autobiography “Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football,” a collaboration with author Buddy Martin that will be released Tuesday.

Spurrier goes on in the book to recount how things began to go south for him during the Gamecocks’ 2014 season. After a 45-42 loss to Tennessee on Nov. 1, he abruptly left his postgame news conference without taking questions and later that week he had problems sleeping and remembering the code for his locker and phone numbers, he reveals in the book.

The team’s psychologist diagnosed Spurrier with “acute stress disorder” and gave him sleeping pills, Spurrier writes.

“When you’re the oldest coach in the Southeastern Conference ever at 70 and you’ve had a bellyful, it’s time to step aside and give somebody else a chance,” he writes.

Late in his career, Spurrier made no secret that he was eager to tell his own story after so many other people had told parts of it, and “Head Ball Coach” is it – a nearly 300-page book that chronicles Spurrier’s life from a young child in East Tennessee to his midseason resignation at South Carolina.

He dedicates the book to “the very best parents any young boy could have, Reverend John Graham Spurrier, Jr., and Marjorie Orr Spurrier” and recounts the impact his hard-charging father had on his life.

“Some people said maybe he was a little overbearing,” Spurrier wrote. “I’ve said many times that my father was the most passionate Christian man that I have ever known or met.”

Spurrier’s father is the man who taught him the scoreboard was there for a reason and that it wasn’t about how you played the game, it was whether or not you won that game.

“As a young boy, I was taught that in life there are winners and there are losers,” Spurrier writes.

The Rev. Spurrier’s faith also left a lasting imprint on Steve, and Steve Spurrier’s strong faith is a recurring topic in the book.

He points out in the book that all three Florida Gators to win the Heisman Trophy – himself, Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel – were the sons of ministers, and that the 2015 South Carolina team wasn’t much for attending the team’s voluntary chapel services.

“It’s hard to overlook the fact that our worst-attended services corresponded with our worst record in 11 football seasons,” he writes.

Most of the book covers known material, but Spurrier does give several glimpses into his personal life and philosophy. His wife of 50 years, Jerri, makes numerous appearances in the book, including in a chapter devoted mostly to their life together.

“She’s not only the love of my life and the mother of my children, but my best friend, my roommate and my adviser,” he writes.

He tells of how he almost ended up playing football at Ole Miss and about how happy he is that he didn’t, because of his success at Florida and his close relationship with his coach there, Ray Graves.

Not much space is devoted to Spurrier’s career as a professional quarterback, mostly because there’s not much to tell. The most interesting part of that period is how big an influence Tampa Bay assistant coach Bill Nelson had on his life. Nelson was hired by the Bucs three days before Spurrier was cut from the team, but those three days shaped how he would coach quarterbacks the rest of his life.

Spurrier spent a year as quarterbacks coach at Florida and another as quarterbacks coach at Georgia Tech before becoming the offensive coordinator at Duke, where he tells of pickup basketball games against the Blue Devils’ young basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who Spurrier calls “a decent player.”

Spurrier’s old enemies make appearances, too. While he takes time to recount his delight in beating up on Georgia while he was at Florida, he saves his most pointed words for Florida State and former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden. Florida State upset then-No. 1 Florida 24-21 in the final regular season game of 1996 in a game that is remembered for its physical play.

“(Bowden) knows how I feel about the way they played back in that era – trying to hurt players, hitting quarterbacks late, hitting on the sidelines, etc.,” Spurrier writes. “That was uncalled for, and coaches can control that.”

The Gators won the rematch – and Spurrier’s only national title – a month later in the Sugar Bowl.

“Final score: Florida 52, FSU 20. As someone once said, ‘Payback is hell!’ ” Spurrier writes.

On his South Carolina years, which get one chapter in the book, Spurrier sticks mostly to familiar ground.

Near the end of the book, Spurrier’s mentions three regrets from his playing and coaching days – that he didn’t do “a little more” as a player at Florida to help the Gators win a conference title, that he didn’t work harder trying to be a better pro quarterback and saying, “I now realize I should have stayed at Florida longer.”

The Gamecocks, though, are thankful he didn’t.

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