The Florida-era Steve Spurrier is completely gone.
I don’t say that lightly, especially because of how big a part of my childhood he was. My first time at the Swamp was the ’89 Florida-Kentucky game when I was four. I’ve been to at least one game there every year since.
On fall Sundays while I was growing up, my family had a custom of eating lunch while watching the Steve Spurrier Show with lunch after church. It was jarring to go from that to Ron Zook’s show, and it never did quite feel right.
I inherited a lot of my attitudes about football from that Steve Spurrier: it’s okay to throw for the endzone late in a blowout if it’s the backup doing it, there’s a certain elegance about getting receivers wide open over and over, he who’s on top gets to talk, etc.
When I saw that he is going to implement a Wildcat formation, I realized that the Spurrier I once knew is gone. I should have known this moment was coming given the state of the South Carolina offense the past couple years, but I figured it was what would happen if he got stuck with only quarterbacks at Noah Brindise-level and below.
I simply cannot fathom the Florida-era Spurrier ever deciding to run many plays without a quarterback on the field. He was a quarterback, loved to teach quarterbacks, and acted like a quarterback from the sideline as he still could read defenses better than most collegiate signal callers. That Spurrier would never have considered the Wildcat because he could get just as many yards on a fade route.
What started in Washington has completed in South Carolina. I am with those who think he thought he could walk into Columbia and win almost as quickly as he did at Florida. It worked before, why can’t it work now?
For one thing, the situations are completely different. Bear Bryant famously called Florida a sleeping giant of a program. Charley Pell and Galen Hall built it up to the point where it could take off, and they brought on the same probation that other big time programs had in the ‘80s while doing it. The cupboards were stocked, and Spurrier was the right guy in the right place at the right time for UF.
The talent level at South Carolina in 2005 was not comparable to that of Florida in 1990. It was comparable to that of Florida in 2005 though, and the Gamecocks’ win that year (in a game that Spurrier outcoached Urban Meyer, no less) showed it.
Three seasons later, the gap between Spurrier’s old program and his current one seems like it could scarcely be wider. Florida has added two more SEC and national titles, and it handed him his worst defeat ever last season to the tune of 56-6. Whatever he’s doing has caused him to fall behind the conference leaders, the opposite direction he wants to go.
Now to help catch up, Spurrier, a guy with six SEC titles, is essentially taking a page out of the playbook of Houston Nutt, a guy with no SEC titles. I can tell you that I would never have expected to see that happen when he took the job four years ago.
I have no doubt that his competitive fire is still burning; I doubt anything will ever extinguish that. The witticisms will still come, as they have periodically through his time in Columbia.
The trend-setting Spurrier though is gone, replaced by a more pragmatic and, yes, trend-following Spurrier. It’s time for all of us to stop expecting to see anything different.