The Head Ball Coach has still got it

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier is entering his 24th season as a college head coach.

The only thing sharper than his memory is his wit.

And while he may be nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, Spurrier is hardly coasting to the finish.

In his ninth season as South Carolina’s coach, he has brought the Gamecocks unprecedented success. They’ve won 11 games each of the past two seasons -- the first time in school history that they’ve won more than 10 games in a season -- and are one of only five schools nationally to have reached the 11-win plateau each of the past two seasons.

The other four: Alabama, Boise State, Oregon and Stanford.

“That’s the company you want to be in, but total success would be to win a conference championship,” said Spurrier, who won an ACC championship at Duke in 1989 and six SEC championships at Florida, including four in a row from 1993-96.

“We still think we can win one here. That’s what we’re pushing for. We’ve beaten Georgia three in a row, and you’d think a 6-2 conference record and beating the team that won [the East] the last two years would be enough. But it hasn’t been. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. It’s like golf. You might shoot 68, but somebody else shoots 66.”

Maybe this is the year the Gamecocks shoot 65.

They tee it up Thursday night against North Carolina on ESPN. We sat down with Spurrier recently and covered an array of topics, everything from Title IX’s impact on getting college football players more financial assistance, to his recruitment coming out of high school, to the secret to blocking Jadeveon Clowney.

As usual, the Head Ball Coach didn’t disappoint.

How far out front is Alabama from the rest of the pack in the SEC?

Steve Spurrier: Let’s put it this way: When you have the No. 1 recruiting class in America every year, not every other year or every third year, how can you not be out front, especially when they’re so well-coached and football is so big there in Alabama? Nick Saban does an excellent job and gets his guys prepared to play. But I compare it to what Kentucky’s got going on in basketball when they’re getting the top players in the country every year.

Did you have any genuine interest in the Alabama job in 2007 when Saban was hired?

SS: No, I was all set here. [Athletic director] Mal Moore called, and I told him to stick with Saban. They’d already gone after Saban, and Saban told them the first time he was staying [in the NFL]. So when Mal called me, I said, ‘Listen, stay with Saban. He doesn’t like pro football. I was there. It’s no fun. He doesn’t have a very good team in Miami and knows he can recruit and build a team at Alabama.’ I’d say they got the right guy.

Do you ever wonder what might have been had you pursued the Alabama job?

SS: Nah, because I liked this situation. There was nowhere to go but up. It’s more of a thrill to me, personally, to achieve things that have never happened before than to win a national championship that’s already been done a bunch of other times at that school.

Alabama and Bear Bryant recruited you out of high school, too, didn’t they?

SS: I visited there, and that’s really where my dad wanted me to go, to Alabama to play for Coach Bryant. My mom wanted me to go to Georgia Tech because of their academics. So I decided to go to neither [laughing]. I do remember Coach Bryant telling me he thought I was a good enough athlete to play safety if it didn’t work out at quarterback. Joe Namath was Alabama’s quarterback then, and Steve Sloan was there, too. They were loaded.

Having attended high school in Johnson City, Tenn., did the fact that Tennessee was still running the single-wing offense keep you from seriously considering the Vols?

SS: I think that’s where I probably would have gone in a heartbeat if they had been running a different offense. I grew up a Tennessee fan, but Bowden Wyatt was in his last year and they didn’t fire him until after I decided to go to Florida. They were still running the single-wing under the interim coach [Jim McDonald] before Doug Dickey came that next year. So if Dickey had come a year earlier, I might have been a Vol.

How did Florida get into the picture?

SS: The only tie was that I was born there [in Miami]. They really didn’t recruit me much during the football season. They started calling during basketball season. Coach [Ray] Graves’ brother sent him a note after we played Knoxville Central [High School] that year and said, ‘You ought to get this tall kid.’ I was 6-1½. In those days, that was tall for a quarterback. I visited Florida in the spring, watched their spring game and signed in April. Florida was sort of an underdog at that time. They’d never won anything. Amazingly, when I got back down there coaching 27 years later, they’d still not won much of anything.

Did it ever cross your mind in those days that you might return to the SEC as a coach?

SS: Actually, I interviewed for the LSU head job in 1986 after the USFL folded. I flew in and talked to the committees but wasn’t even invited back for a second interview. Mike Shanahan interviewed for that job, too. They ended up hiring Mike Archer, who was already on the staff. They could have saved a lot of money because they brought in a bunch of us.

Have you ever had a player quite like Clowney? And just how unblockable is he?

SS: He’s something, just so disruptive. We haven’t blocked him or much of anybody this preseason. A lot of that is Jadeveon, but he got blocked last year, a good bit in some games. I think he knows now he can’t take plays off. He’s handled all the publicity and accolades pretty well, maybe not as well as [Marcus] Lattimore. Nothing fazed him. He was like a third-team tailback trying to beat out a first-teamer every practice. That was Lattimore, but there aren’t a lot of guys out there like him.

You’ve been outspoken about getting college football players more money when you look at the millions of dollars being generated by the sport. Do you think we’re any closer to that becoming a reality?

SS: I think we’re closer. I don’t know if it’s a done deal. I hear commissioners now saying these kids deserve some money for their parents to be able to come to games and it [should] not be such a financial burden to come watch their sons play. A lot of the commissioners, presidents and ADs keep wanting to tie it to Title IX and that you have to give the girls the same amount as you do the football and basketball players. I don’t know that you’d have to do that, but it’s a good excuse to never do it, to say, ‘Well, we’d have to give the same money to the girls, too.’ I think you’ve got to ask President Obama. He needs to get his voice into this. I’d like to see what he says about it.

You haven’t hesitated to point out how much scheduling has impacted both the SEC and national championship races the past few years. What do you make of your schedule this year given the fact that you avoid Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the West?

SS: It evened out a little bit, but we play Clemson every year and also play North Carolina this year. Georgia’s got a tough schedule this year, too. Did you see who Texas A&M plays out of conference [Rice, Sam Houston State, SMU and UTEP]? That’s embarrassing. They don’t play Texas anymore because they both got mad at each other. To me, that’s childish. It would have been like Clemson saying they were not going to play us anymore after we joined the SEC. They would have gone crazy around here. We’ve been playing these guys for 100 years, and now all of a sudden, we’re not playing them? The schedule can make or break you.