Good afternoon, thank you all for being here.
We gather here today in celebration of a career coached like none that came before it and none that will come after.
After four years in college, a decade in the NFL and 37 glorious years in coaching, Steven Orr Spurrier ended his major college coaching career after 37 glorious years, officially, on Tuesday. As a player, Spurrier displayed the moxie that would one day serving him well on the sidelines. "Blindfolded, with his back to the wall, with his hands tied behind him, Steve Spurrier would still be a two-point favorite at his own execution," the Atlanta Journal's John Logue wrote of him in 1966. Spurrier won the 1966 Heisman Trophy while helping his teams go 29-12-1 during his four years at Florida, but he didn't experience the same level of success as a professional. Our friend tried his hand at professional football a number of different times in a number of ways, but it never quite worked out the way he'd hoped.
No, college football was where he belonged, where his wizardry and his wit were most appreciated.
Spurrier jumped into coaching at his alma mater in 1978, spent a year at Georgia Tech in 1979, then three as Duke's offensive coordinator. After a stint leading the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits, Spurrier nabbed his first head coaching job at Duke in 1987. He led the Blue Devils to 20 wins in those three seasons, and that success led him back to Gainesville a third time. It was then he entered our game's lore forever, leading the Gators to seven SEC championships (by his count), eight top-10 finishes, nine 10-win seasons, a school-record 122 wins and its first national championship. He turned Florida into a powerhouse, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium into The Swamp and the SEC on its head with his Fun 'N' Gun attack. What becomes of Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel without Steve Spurrier? I shudder at the thought, friends.
After a detour in Washington that our dearly beloved would prefer me not mention, Spurrier arrived at South Carolina and re-educated the entire university on what it could possibly become. He walked in at age 60 and rewrote the school's record book. Who could have imagined South Carolina could win the SEC East and then go on to three straight 11-win seasons? Before our friend Steve's arrival, the thought was near unspeakable.
But more than his feats on the field, Spurrier's greatest legacy was the lessons he taught us, the way he made us re-think what a coach can and should be.
He taught us that system and philosophy and convention are great, but never so indispensable that they can't be abandoned in favor of common sense. I'm stand here before you today reminded of Spurrier at his drawing-up-plays-in-the-dirt best, using alternating quarterbacks to beat a Florida State team he had no business of beating in 1997. And I remember how his golden age at South Carolina became possible when he reversed course from his Fun 'N' Gun, playing like everybody else just when everybody else finally started playing like him.
He taught us that winning big and enjoying life aren't mutually exclusive. In an industry of workaholics, Spurrier famously spent devoted as much of his offseasons to his golf game as he did to improving his next team's roster.
He taught us that football is just one corner of life, that just because you're a coach doesn't mean you can be blind from the bigger picture. In fact, your position requires you to acknowledge it. "I realize I'm not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it," he said back in 2007. "I've been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could get rid of it."
And, more than anything else, the lesson I'll remember from Steve Spurrier is that no matter how serious and important your job may be, it's okay to never quite grow all the way up. Spurrier made enemies out of everyone around him, then turned those enemies into friends. So while I stand here before you today, I see most of you in your Florida orange and blue and your South Carolina garnet and black. But I also see plenty of you in Florida State garnet and Tennessee orange, North Carolina blue, Clemson orange and, yes, all the way in the back there, those of you in your Georgia red and black. While Spurrier loved to gig Tennessee and Florida State, defining both with a simple phrase like "You can't spell Citrus without U-T" or "Free Shoes University," no one rubbed him raw quite like the Bulldogs.
He went 18-11 as a player, assistant and head coach against Georgia. It was his omnipresent paranoia of the Bulldogs that drove him to call and impromptu press conference this August that made many of us wonder if the end was near for the Head Ball Coach, and it was a 52-20 loss in September that confirmed it was. Even in 32-point defeat, though, Spurrier went down swinging, dishing one last backhanded compliment. "Hard to believe we beat these guys four of the last six years," he said.
Maybe it was pride, maybe it was pragmatism, maybe it was both, but with South Carolina at 2-4 and with Tennessee, Florida and Clemson waiting on the schedule, Spurrier just couldn't let himself stick around and watch the inevitable. And just like that, he was gone.
I stand here today, friends, joining you as we mourn what is lost, but imploring you to accept that grief, to embrace that sorrow, and be thankful for all that we had.
Now, I know we have many friends, many that have known him longer than I have, among us today. Let anyone who is so moved come up and share a few words today.