Steve Spurrier took a fair share of grief upon his sudden departure at South Carolina. Hey, he dished out plenty over his long and snipe-filled coaching career. So, Spurrier can take a little now. That’s a reasonable return on his investment in barbs and one-liners.
But this past week, one key figure from his past spoke another, more balanced, view of a coach quitting on his team in mid-season.
That would be Shane Matthews, Spurrier’s first quarterback at Florida when he returned to coach there in 1990, who said:
“I’m a little bit (disappointed). He was never a rah-rah type guy in the locker room but he always said – and I preach this to the kids I coach now – keep playing. There are going to be good things that happen and bad things that happen throughout the course of the game, but keep playing to the end.
“But then again, the way his mind works, if someone’s not getting the job done, you’ve got to make a change. Like alternating or benching his quarterbacks. Well, it’s kind of like he benched himself here.”
We spoke with some of those who had the most intimate contact with Spurrier’s gifts for offense and for being offensive – his quarterbacks – for a story in Sunday’s AJC. There emerged the informed impression that the manner of his departure was not going to significantly subtract from the breadth of his legacy.
Even those who had strong personality clashes with their coach – like the Gators (and former Falcon) Doug Johnson – were only understanding and supportive in the aftermath. “A sad day for college football,” Johnson called Spurrier’s departure.
They know better than most Spurrier’s faults and his flights of football genius. They know all the shades of his personality, from dark to light. And they seem to realize which, in balance, will be remembered in the end.
As the pile that jumped on his October resignation slowly disperses, a softer view of Spurrier’s tenure undoubtedly will remain.
The way Spurrier chose to exit was, to put it indelicately, chicken-bleep. But that washes away with the next rain, leaving behind the innovator, the agitator and the competitor whose absence makes college football a little poorer. The quarterbacks he rode so hard know that, and we’ll do well to keep that in mind also.