Spurrier loves speaking his mind

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier insists that his bark is much worse than his bite.

But to much of the college football world, the Head Ball Coach will forever be known as that wise-cracking son of a Presbyterian minister who's won more SEC games than any other coach in history not named Bear Bryant and revels in rubbing it in the faces of his opponents.

The only thing more entertaining than some of the plays Spurrier has drawn up in what's sure to be a Hall of Fame coaching career are some of his zingers.

That is, unless you're on the receiving end of those zingers.

And we learned earlier this spring that, even at 67, Spurrier is still on top of his game, which is probably good news for South Carolina fans and not such good news for everybody else in the SEC.

When he's chirping the loudest, that's usually a pretty good sign that he thinks he has a pretty good team.

His classic one-liner in April was that he'd prefer to play Georgia that second week of the season "because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended."

That's vintage Spurrier.

To some, he's beyond cocky and absorbed in himself.

To others, he's a breath of fresh air, and unlike a lot of coaches who are programmed to the point of being robotic, Spurrier will say whatever's on his mind.

"I think most coaches in football and basketball are too serious about everything. Everything is life or death," Spurrier said. "Very seldom do you see me upset about what some other coach says. I can't ever remember being upset about something coach (Phillip) Fulmer said or anybody else.

"Of course, he didn't say much."

The reality is that Spurrier and Fulmer have always stayed on good terms despite Spurrier's flurry of digs at Tennessee through the years.

In fact, Spurrier has a picture of the two of them together on a bookcase in his office at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"I like ol' Phil. I really do," said Spurrier, who was 9-5 against Fulmer at Florida and South Carolina.

Fulmer's retort has always been, "Steve's a pretty good guy. He really is … as long as you don't put a camera or microphone in front of him."

Others haven't taken as kindly to Spurrier's needling.

Dave Hart, the athletic director at Tennessee and formerly the athletic director at Florida State, once fumed that Spurrier needed to be spanked, put to bed and then everybody could hope he "wakes up all grown up."

Those comments came in 2001, which was Spurrier's last season at Florida. Spurrier had publicly accused Florida State of dirty play and intentionally trying to hurt Florida players during the Gators' 37-13 win over the rival Seminoles.

It wasn't the first time Spurrier had taken aim at the Seminoles.

One of his most famous barbs was the "Free Shoes U" line directed at the Seminoles in reference to their Foot Locker scandal in 1993, a shopping spree for Florida State players that was paid for by agents.

Spurrier, who likes dishonesty about as much as he likes losing, can't take credit for that epic dig, though.

"Norm Carlson [Florida's longtime football publicist] once told me, 'That Free Shoes U was still the best one,'" Spurrier recalled. "I wish I'd thought of that, but I didn't. That wasn't mine. I got it from somebody else."

That one's right up there with the "You can't spell Citrus without UT" when Florida was beating Tennessee every year in the 1990s, relegating the Vols to the Citrus Bowl.

And when Peyton Manning announced that he would return for his senior season at Tennessee in 1997, Spurrier's response was that Manning was coming back to become the first three-time MVP of the Citrus Bowl.

"That one sort of backfired," Spurrier said. "They won the conference that year. We screwed around and lost to Georgia."

Somehow, it always gets back to Georgia.

Spurrier was 1-2 against the Bulldogs as a player at Florida from 1964-66, including a nauseating 27-10 loss during his senior season when the Gators were ranked No. 7 nationally and previously unbeaten. So it's no coincidence that Spurrier ran the score up on the Bulldogs every chance he got when he returned to Florida as head coach.

The feeling is mutual. Good luck in getting anybody at Georgia to say anything remotely nice about the Head Ball Coach.

When the game moved to the schools' campuses for two years in the 1990s because of construction at Jacksonville's stadium, Florida routed Georgia 52-17 in Athens and became the first opponent to score more than 50 points at Sanford Stadium. With a little more than a minute to play in the game, Spurrier had his backup quarterback throw a pass that went for a touchdown.

As Spurrier walked off the field that day, a Georgia fan threw a cup of tobacco spit at him.

Spurrier, who was 11-1 against Georgia as Florida's coach, had thrown his own haymaker a few years earlier right after the Gators clinched their first SEC championship in 1991 with a 45-13 pasting of the Bulldogs.

"How is it when [Georgia] signs people, they get the best, but when we play, we've got the best players?" Spurrier asked reporters. "Georgia has signed a lot of good players. Something just happens to them at Georgia, I guess."

As he heads into his 20th season as a head coach in the SEC, Spurrier can handle being one of those coaches everybody loves to hate.

Matter of fact, deep down, he loves it.

It comes with the territory when you've won 111 career SEC games, six SEC championships and don't mind having a little fun along the way.

His most recent accomplishment has been moving the Gamecocks into the SEC's upper echelon. They won 11 games last season for the first time in school history and played in their first SEC championship game a year ago.

Spurrier points out that until just recently during his time in Columbia that he made it a point to keep quiet.

"I didn't do a whole lot of talking because there wasn't much to talk about," Spurrier said. "We were winning seven games a year until the last two years. If you don't win very much, it's hard to say anything."

Plus, Spurrier maintains that he's more reserved during the season and saves his best stuff for the offseason.

"They all want to hear something funny at the booster club meetings in the summer and laugh and giggle a little bit," Spurrier said. "Bobby Bowden used to do it all the time, and they all thought it was funny. But then I'd do it, and it would get out there, and they'd all take it personally and say, 'You son of a gun.'

"That's OK, though … because it's all just a bunch of talk."

And anybody who truly knows Spurrier knows he's a lot more than just talk.