One-on-One with Steve Spurrier (Audio added)

Jul 15, 2021 | 0 comments

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It's going on 20 years since Stephen Orr Spurrier, better know to the Gator Nation as the Head Ball Coach, last coached at Florida – meaning there are students on campus who know that the Gators play on Steve Spurrier Field and he guided Florida football to its first-ever SEC and National Championship, but really don't know much else about his backstory.

Inside the Gators caught up with SOS less than a month before the grand opening of his Spurrier's Gridiron Grille restaurant and museum for this edition of Where are they Now.

When it came time to pick your college, what were your main options and why did you end up choosing Florida?

Spurrier: Back in the 60s, when I was coming out of high school, I was fortunate to be the All-State quarterback, and I guess, maybe a high school All-American, but anyway, I had an opportunity to go a bunch of places. And I visited, I think about 10 or 11 colleges. Back then there were unlimited visits. I would get a buddy of mine and we would drive over to like Duke University and watch a basketball game. I went to Kentucky, I visited there because (laughing) I wanted to see a Kentucky basketball game. I visited Ole Miss, and, oh, a bunch of places, and I pretty much was going to Ole Miss because at that time they had the best pass offense in the SEC. I wanted to go somewhere in the SEC. Tennessee ran the old Single Wing, it just wasn't the best place for me to go to college and try to play football.

Then I decided, there was no signing date, so I said, I'll wait until basketball season was over and visit some other places. Coach [Ray] Graves at Florida started recruiting me, really about in January. I didn't really hear from them during the regular football season. Coach Graves came up, I think, maybe three times and visited with my parents and I. Back then the coaches could take you out to dinner, so there was a nice steak house called the Peerless Steak House in Johnson City, I got a good steak, instead of one of those little $2 steaks. So we would go up there. And then I visited Florida when basketball season was over. It was a beautiful day down here, about 72-74 degrees and they had a snowstorm, I think, come through Johnson City that weekend.

Anyway, Coach Graves was a big influence on me. He said, 'Steve, we're going to start throwing the ball. We think that's the way to go. We're going to give you an opportunity to play as a sophomore’ – freshmen were ineligible back then.

Coach Graves, the University of Florida, the weather down here, everything made sense and so that's where I cast my lot and obviously, it's the best decision I've made in my life at that point.

It's hard to imagine Florida football without you, but can you imagine what might have been had you not picked the Gators? What if home state Tennessee had a different offense and offered? You would have been making Citrus Bowl jokes about the Gators?

Spurrier: Well, what if they'd have had a signing date like February 5th or 6th or something the way they do now? I would probably have signed with Ole Miss because that was sort of the logical place for me to go play because they threw the ball around better, I think, than the other SEC schools.

I was kidding around with a lot of our grandkids at Crescent Beach, we go there every July 4th weekend, and I said, 'You know if I hadn't chosen Florida to come to school and if your grandmother [Jerri Spurrier] hadn't transferred from UNC-Greensboro to Florida, you wouldn't be here now (laughing).' They all sort of looked at each other, 'That's right, you wouldn't be here now.'

Your path in life, we don't know how it's directed, but it is directed somehow and all I do is thank the Lord every day for the path I've been fortunate to go.

You did something not many do, you stepped away from a college job that was at the top of their game on your own terms. Do you ever think about or even regret not sticking with Florida for another 5-to-10 years and what you might have been able to accomplish if you did?

Spurrier: Well, the way the college and pro games are now, I probably would have stayed around. Back then, you could actually almost triple your salary going from college to the NFL. You know, if a person makes $50,000 a year and he has a chance to make $150,000 doing the same job, they usually take it.

So, it wasn't exactly the money, but I thought back then that after 12 years, that's probably long enough. I'm still the longest-tenured coach ever at Florida at 12 years. Coach Graves was 10 [years], nobody else has gone 10.

I really thought 12 was enough, maybe coach in the NFL for 4-5 years and maybe resign, retire, quit, whatever you want to call it. There weren't a lot of coaches going deep into their 60s back then. I've always been a 'workout' guy, you know I look back now and workout wise I do about the same thing I did when I was about 45 and I'm in my 70s now. So, yeah, I could have stayed a lot longer and in hindsight, I should have. But at that time, you know Denny [Dennis] Erickson left, Butch Davis left down there. A lot of guys, if you had a chance to go pro, it was just sort of the thing to do.

Speaking of salaries, do you feel like you missed your mark, so to speak, in that if a college coach had your record today, they would be making 7-8 million a year – but then again, today's coaches have to deal with NIL, the one-time transfer rule, opt-outs.

Spurrier: It's just a sign of the times. I look back to my coach Ray Graves and I think his top salary was either 35 or 40 thousand a year and after 10 years as head coach and eight or nine as Athletics Director, he had to still go work a little bit. George Steinbrenner hired him to sort of be a PR guy down at a race track down in Tampa. So, coaches back then hardly made anything, so I feel fortunate, I've made plenty, I've got enough money to live, help my kids, and all that kind of stuff. But obviously, the money nowadays is a lot bigger. That's just the way things are.

After you left, between then and Dan Mullen presently, UF had four coaches with really only Urban Meyer enjoying your type of success. Was that hard to watch from the outside? During any of those openings, were you ever approached about coming back – even on an informal level? Would you consider it?

Spurrier: Well, after the Washington thing folded up after two years, the Florida job was open, but the thing about it, we had a president who came from Utah, Mr. [Bernie] Machen, and obviously Urban was at Utah and they went 12-0. So, it was logical for him to come here. The president wanted him, so I can understand it. So, that's what happened and it gave me an opportunity to go somewhere else. So, South Carolina, Mike McGee, called up and offered me the job. So, I was able to get 10 good years in there at South Carolina.

When John Brantley was being recruited back in 2007, his father, John Brantley Sr. told me that he thought your offense fit his son best, but they couldn't even consider being at South Carolina because they couldn't stand to watch him go up against the Gators every year. You went 5-5 against UF, in what is probably SC's best 10 game stretch in the series, but what was it like for you having to face the Gators?

Spurrier: We went 5-5 against Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia in those 10 years, so we held our own I would say, and we were actually 6-4 against Clemson those 10 years. It really wasn't hard. I'd been away, what, four years, something like that. There was maybe one player on the team who was a fifth-year player, that was maybe here when I was here. So, it wasn't a big carryover and actually, Florida could have hired me, but they chose Urban Meyer (laughing) back in [20]05, so I was just thankful that South Carolina gave me a chance to coach again. And the opportunity to, golly, do so many firsts at South Carolina was really there. In fact, I told my wife Jerri, 'We're going to South Carolina and coach' and she said, 'That means we have to play against Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee every year' and I looked at her and said, 'Jerri, that's why we're going. We get to play against the top teams.' I've always liked to be the underdog a little bit. At Florida here, we were very seldom underdogs, so coaching at South Carolina, we had a bunch of underdog games and when you win one of those, it's a little bit more thrilling I think.

What are your thoughts on how Dan Mullen has done these first three seasons?

Spurrier: He's done very well. When he got here he was sort of like I was. He said, 'We've got a bunch of good players here' and I said, 'I know you do.' When I got to Florida back in [19]90, people didn't know the team that we had. We had defensive players all over the place. They were third in the nation the year before and returned eight starters. The offensive line was all back. Errict Rhett. Shane Matthews was already here. Nobody knew he was going to be SEC Player of the Year. All he needed was a little opportunity to play, a little confidence. So Dan inherited a pretty good team. He knows offense well, and obviously what we did last year, I think we broke a bunch of offensive records with Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts and all those guys.

I think it's going to be different this year. I think we're going to run the ball a lot better. Emory Jones and those running backs and maybe be a little more 50-50. Who knows. But he's done a good job here. He's recruiting well. Facilities are really going to help when they're finished up and hopefully, we can get back to winning some SEC Championships. To think that we only have nine in the history of being in the SEC since 1933 – is that all – but that's where we're at right now, but hopefully we can start beating Alabama and Georgia. It's not easy, but if we want to win the SEC, that's what we got to do.

Speaking of Matthews, when we did our Where are they Now interview with him, he said that beating Alabama the second week of the 1990 season was he believes the most important win, and he said that you would agree. So, I’m not going to ask you about the most important win, but rather your favorite win.

Spurrier: We had several, several. I wouldn’t pick the one, there were too many. In hindsight, the second game over Alabama, we didn't play our best up there, I think we were down 10-to-nothing at the half, hot day, and we just sort of adopted the motto, ‘We’re going to keep playing ‘til it's over, something good can still happen, let's keep playing.’ The guys played extremely well on defense, and we blocked a punt to win the game. So, we're 2-0, 1-0 in conference play and went on and won the conference that year and I remember a local writer said the victory over Alabama, was unbelievable, amazing, and here's what happened, the Florida football team played like most Alabama teams played that won conference championships and the Alabama team played like a lot (laughing) of Florida teams, in getting a punt blocked to lose a game. So, that's what happened. We didn’t have many errors, we didn't hit a lot of big plays offensively, we had a few here and there, but we did enough to win the game and that, I think, propelled us to winning the SEC that year and then six more after that.

I've heard you on the radio reminiscing about high school baseball records and scores from over 50 years ago, and down and distance from games 30 years ago, have you always been able to instantly recall things from so long ago?

Spurrier: It pretty much just sticks when you have a good victory of some type, it's easy to remember. So, most scores of big games, this, that and the other, championship games, I've got all those stored in there. Even high school baseball games, we won a couple of state championships both my junior and my senior year, it’s easy to remember 1-to-nothing and 7-to-5 (laughing), those were the two final games. Those were memories of a lifetime, so those scores were easy to remember.

The upside is having all of those good memories, but the downside are the losses. Do those memories stick as well?

Spurrier: Oh yeah. You look back, this play or that play, I wish we would have done this, or I wish I would have called that. I wish I would have been more involved in the defense. We were talking today on one of the little podcast shows, and we were talking about the 94 season when FSU tied us and Auburn beat us and I said, ‘You know FSU hit a fourth and 10 in the fourth quarter and that's the reason they tied us and Auburn hit a fourth and 8 in the fourth quarter and went on and scored a touchdown after that’ and we were playing that stupid quarter coverage that I don't like, but that's what our defenses coaches called and I think if we played a solid cover-two with five guys across the first down line, I think we may have had two more victories instead of a loss and a tie. We should have had another play on or disguised, but hindsight is always 20/20, can't do anything about it now. What was good about it, even having a loss and a tie, we came back and won the SEC a few weeks later. Our guys were able to bounce back, one loss hurts, but it doesn't knock you out of an opportunity to win a championship.

What are your thoughts on recruiting today with how prevalent it has become on the Internet? Coaches have to kiss up a lot and say anything in recruiting, but you never seemed to take that approach, you were more of ‘we'll win with or without you’ type.

Spurrier: Our approach, I hope, was pretty good. We had two No. 1 classes while I was here and we were usually in the top-five I think. FSU was hard to beat though. I don't know what they were giving away (laughing) up there, but I remember one year there were about seven guys who wanted to wait until Signing Day and they got about five of them and I think Georgia got the other two – and Mike Bianchi said it was a sad day in Gainesville, and I think the next three years we won the SEC anyway (laughing), so it didn't affect us too much. No, we recruited our tails off. We didn't brag about it. That's one thing. I said most all these coaches like to brag about how hard they work, so I’m going to be a guy who doesn't brag about how I work. I can assure you, it wasn't an accident we had the success we had. We put in the time, we didn't just brag about it the way these coaches do now. I would rather brag about, ‘Hey, here's what we accomplished’ at the end of the year rather than trying to get people to say, ‘Man those guys are working their tales off’

Anyway, that was just a little something that I never thought was important to brag about how hard you worked.

If you go back to the class with Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Ed Chester, Mo Collins, the names go on and on, they kind of snuck under the radar back then, but that class would be celebrated as monumental nowadays.

Spurrier: Fred, he should be an NFL Hall-of-Famer, and you know he sort of rotated with Eli Williams and Terry Jackson, we had so many running backs and receivers. Travis McGriff had to wait for his fifth year to really play and he became the leading receiver yardage-wise in school history, and he still is. He really only got to play as a starter that one full year, so I really admire Travis for hanging around, and when his time came, he certainly made the most of it. 

The same thing with Kyle Trask. But don't you think you are going to lose some of that now with the one-time no penalty transfer rule?

Spurrier: It's probably going to get like that just about everywhere. You know, so many of our all-time great receivers here at Florida were local kids. I mentioned Travis McGriff, Willie Jackson went to PK Yonge, and Chris Doering, and there are three guys there who I think are in the UF Hall of Fame, or should be and some made All-American. But yeah, it is going to be different if you can get a kid who says, 'I want to play for Florida, I'll sit on the bench for two or three years and wait my turn’ it will be unusual when that happens.

What are your duties as a UF Ambassador?

Spurrier:  I’m pretty much a public relations guy. I do a little bit this, that, and the other. The proudest thing I've done in the last two years is [head tennis coach] Bryan Shelton asked me to come talk to the tennis team. This was prior to the 2020 year, and of course, we got wiped out by Covid, but I talked to them a bit about how we won some championships and how we set goals. One of our goals was to win the National Championship, win the SEC, win the bowl game, beat FSU, we had a bunch of them. In tennis, you win the conference, maybe win the conference tournament, get in the national tournament, and maybe go win it. Men's tennis was the team of the year for Florida this past year, they won the National Championship down in Orlando. My wife Jerri and I drove down for the finals against Baylor and it was thrilling to watch. Baylor won the doubles point and got ahead in singles early, but somewhere along the line the momentum really changed, Coach Shelton's son [Ben Shelton], as you know, is on the team there and he sort of got some inspiration going and the Gators in the stands were yelling and screaming just like in a football game. It was really fun. I don't know if I had anything to do with them winning the National Championship (smiling), but I told them, ‘Put that in the back of your mind, if you think you’re good enough, it's okay to talk about it a little bit before the season, but when the season starts, just keep grinding away, and you’ll have a chance’.

The old USFL is reforming. You had your first taste of coaching professional football with the Bandits. Back in those days, do you think the Bandits would have been able to beat the NFL Bucs?

Spurrier:  Probably our [19]84 team could. Our 84 team stayed healthy the whole year, we were 14-4. John Reaves played extremely well, threw for over 4,000-yards and we had two 1,000-yard rushers, we had Greg Boone and Gary Anderson, both had over 1,000. I would say that was a pretty good offense and our defense was good that year also, because we stayed healthy. The next year about three of our key guys on defense got hurt, we were very average. We made the playoffs, but got beat in the playoffs, got beat both years.

When the AAF ended, was that the end of coaching for you? Could you see yourself returning to the sideline at any level in any capacity? Do you still have that itch?

Spurrier:  If it was one of those three-month spring league-type things and they wanted me to come for three or four months, yeah, I would probably do it. If it's in Florida (laughing). I’m not going to New York City or Chicago. Orlando or Tampa would be my team or maybe if they put a team in Columbia [S.C.], I think we could draw a crowd. But other than that, no, I wouldn't do it. But yeah, three or four months, I’m still in good health and that would be easy to do.

When it comes to a lot of these types of places, they basically 'lease' the celebrity's name to put on the billboard and have them show up at the grand opening or now and then to sign autographs. But what is your investment here? I don't mean monetarily. I mean, what do you have of yourself invested in this place? Did you offer feedback on the layout, the menu? 

Spurrier:  I think it's pretty much my idea. I got with [Business manager] Freddie Wehbe, a guy who represents me in a bunch of things and so forth, and we talked about a restaurant – well actually my daughter Amy said, ‘Dad, you need a restaurant to put all these trophies, and this, that and the other’ – and we got Danny Wuerffel's Heisman in here also – so Freddie put together some investors and some excellent restaurant people – so we’ve had wonderful advice on how to do it. We're in position, I think grand-opening August 11. We've hired over 100-people, maybe 150 or so [Note: Mr. Wehbe is off to the side motioning with his thumb that the number is higher] and they're being trained right now – so we're in a position to take off. 

I hope to be here a lot. I called him [Wehbe] the other day and asked if there’s anything going on at the restaurant because I've got nothing to do tonight, I need to come by and see somebody, but nothing is going on. We're here right now at Visors Roof Top Lounge. I’m looking forward to coming in here and having an ice water or maybe a cold beer, if the situation occurs (smiling). We're at a place called Celebration Point. What was interesting is Danny Wuerffel was in town this past weekend, he has this flag touch football team that plays on television and he has a bunch of former players playing for him, had me talk to his team briefly, he said, ‘You know, Coach Spurrier always emphasized to our team if we win a championship – 10 years from now, 25 years from now, we're going to be celebrating it,’ This year we got the 25 year of our 1996 National Championship team, and the 95 team, because of the Pandemic last year, are coming also, and that was the first [regular season] undefeated team in school history. So, man, we’ve got something to celebrate so if we win this little flag touch football thing, every 10 years we're going to get together and celebrate. Let's go win this thing. So that was Danny Wuerffel talking to his team and I'm hoping and believing that they got a chance to go do it.

I've been here about 45 minutes just looking at everything, and I still haven't seen it all. Let's say someone is here from out-of-town stopping in for five minutes to pick up carryout. What do you recommend they see in their short visit? What is the absolute must-see in here?

Spurrier:  I picked out a lot of them, and then Freddie Wehbe and our staff here helped pick out a lot. People ask me, ‘What’s your favorite pictures?’ and I say, ‘My favorite pictures are after we've won a championship and got the whole team there, putting up a No. 1 or something like that.’ Because that’s the only time we would take pictures after a game, for the special wins and those are my favorite pictures.

It isn't just photos, visors, and helmets, you have a lot of things in here that fans have never seen before. Things such as personal letters from other coaches and personal items of yours. What made you decide to put so much of yourself out there?

Spurrier: Well, it's part of my history. I think one of the letters the Tennessee fans would like to see is from Pat Summitt. She wrote me a letter congratulating me on, I think, the National Championship – and I wrote her one every time she would win one. We were pretty good buddies, played golf together a little bit. It was really sad that she got Alzheimer's, however, you get that, cut her career short – but she’s still one of the best coaches – men or women – in the history of the Southeastern Conference

What is your go-to item on the menu?

Spurrier: I’ll tell you, our chef is really good. The other day I was in here and we had a meal with Dean Lancellotti, who was Dean of Students at the University of Florida when I was coaching, he turned 100-years old and he looks like he's about 75. I’m not kidding, he’s walking around, moving around and he's as spry as he can be. The salad they brought out, I said, ‘Man I could eat this salad all day.' It was really good. It was, I guess, some sort of Greek dressing, but the whole meal was just outstanding. The food is going to be really good here, the service, we think, is going to be excellent also and the people are going to have a wonderful time here. We hope our customers will really enjoy the experience of coming to the Gridiron Grille.

Finally, what do you think is going to be a more nerve-wracking moment, lining up to kick the winning field goal against Auburn or your grand opening night next month?

Spurrier:  I really wasn't anxious when I lined up to kick the field goal. All you can do is concentrate on keeping your head down, hit through it, and so forth. I wish I could do that on the golf course (laughing) because my kicking form looks pretty good in that picture – and that's why I made it, I had pretty good form. If you make a good swing with your golf club, you’ll have pretty good results also, so I probably need to remember that. We're a little anxious I guess, but everything is in place. We've got good people and we're ready to go.

Just like the first game against Oklahoma State here at home in 1990 – people asked if we were nervous or anything, Shane Matthews who was starting his first game ever said, ‘No, we were prepared. We were ready because we'd done it 100s of times in practice.’ So, when you're well prepared, you're anxious because you're ready to get going.

You've obviously accomplished a lot, but what are three things on Steve Spurrier's Bucket List?

  1. Watch my 14 grandkids grow, graduate and play sports.
  2. Travel to Iceland and Alaska with Jerri.
  3. Travel to the desert in Arizona, see the Grand Canyon.

Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille Fast Facts

  • All food is made from scratch and locally sourced. There is no freezer at all in the main kitchen. Seafood served that night was caught that morning here in the state of Florida
  • The Champion’s Room will feature 18 original works of art by James Bates depicting the head coaches who have won Championships at Florida
  • The Visors Tailgate & Rooftop Bar will feature 200 of Steve Spurrier's visors. His 20 favorite ones will be featured in a separate case
  • The restroom walls are covered in wallpaper featuring Spurrier's 28 favorite plays. They are currently working out a licensing deal where fans can buy the wallpaper for their own homes
  • One of the final pieces of the puzzle to be put in place will be a blue concrete slab out front with Spurrier’s handprint
  • The front entrance features plaques of Spurrier's Gators Greats. The first six were chosen in conjunction with the UAA, but in the future, three will be added per year based on a fan vote
  • Former Florida basketball player Svein Dyrkolbotn is the owner and founder of the Viking Companies, the company developing Celebration Pointe
  • The bar will feature HBC (Head Beer Coach), a craft ale by local brewery First Magnitude Brewing Company 
  • The onsight studio will host Dan Mullen's weekly in-season Gator Hotline radio show as well as other local broadcasts. Also, they are in talks with ESPN to broadcast from the restaurant the week of the Florida-Alabama game
  • At 18,642 square feet, it is the ninth-largest restaurant in the state of Florida
  • When they are fully staffed with 375 employees, it will be the 19th largest employer in Alachua County
  • Visit Florida is predicting between 100,000 and 200,000 visitors a year just to see the museum.

(On desktop or laptop, click on each individual photo and the caption is on the bottom left hand side. On a smartphone, simply scroll right)

Tags: Sport

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