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Right at home, Spurrier still going strong

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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Already a Hall of Fame lock when he returned to the college coaching ranks nearly a decade ago, Steve Spurrier has found his second wind at South Carolina.

He’s also found a home.

The Head Ball Coach will always be a Florida Gator, and he’ll proudly tell you as much in his familiar, high-pitched twang. But South Carolina has grown on him in more ways than one.

So much so that he and his wife, Jerri, plan on staying in the Columbia area even when he’s done coaching.

“People always ask where I’m going to live when my coaching days are over,” said Spurrier, who owns a vacation home in Crescent Beach, Fla. “Usually, your last stop is where you end up, if your last stop is successful. Bobby Stoops wants to be in Norman.

“Our plan is to live here, at least between here and Crescent Beach. Every time I go through Gainesville, I don’t know anybody anymore. I’ve got a few pals there, but not that many. This is a good place to live. It really is.”

And for the record, Spurrier plans on resigning and not retiring. In his mind, there’s a big difference.

“I like resign a lot better,” Spurrier said. “Retiring sounds too much like you’re going to sit around and not do a whole lot. I’m not a sit-around kind of guy.”

Now, for those South Carolina fans who get sweaty palms when Spurrier even broaches the subject of his retirement (oops, his resignation), relax.

He’s having way too much fun -- and success -- to even think about walking away right now, and he feels and looks a lot closer to 49 than his actual age of 69. He misses a day of working out about as often as he concedes a 3-foot putt, which is never.

A devout family guy, Spurrier’s two sons, Steve Jr., and Scott, are both working under him on the South Carolina coaching staff, and the Gamecocks are enjoying the kind of unprecedented run that few others in college football have been able to rival the past three years.

But even with three straight top-10 finishes, three straight 11-win seasons, five straight wins over rival Clemson and the longest current home winning streak in the country, don’t tell Spurrier he’s exceeded expectations.

“No, we’ll exceed them when we win the SEC,” Spurrier said. “That’s still the goal, to push for that. We’ve made some really good progress, on the field and financially. When I got here, we’d had one person to give a million dollars to athletics, and her name is on the stadium, Mrs. [Martha] Williams-Brice, and that was in 1972.

“Since then, we’ve found 10 or 11 wealthy people who’ve given over a million dollars. We were way behind financially to most of the schools in the SEC and are still trying to catch up. But we’ve been able to get the facilities upgraded, and once we did that, we were able to sign our top in-state kids. That’s been huge.”

Spurrier’s renowned feel for calling a game and exploiting opposing defenses’ weaknesses ranks up there with any coach who’s ever roamed the sideline in the SEC, or any conference, for that matter.

But it’s his unwavering confidence and presence that have permeated the South Carolina program and been the difference in a ton of close wins over the years. The Gamecocks are 11-3 the past three seasons in games decided by a touchdown or less.

“People are always going to love him here because he’s changed the culture, but he’s not satisfied,” South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson said. “That says something about him and where this program is right now.

“We’re always pushing to take it to new heights.”

In some ways, Spurrier is about as old-school as it gets. Both his wife and longtime football operations director, Jamie Speronis, aren’t sure how many times Spurrier has turned on a computer by himself. If he wants to read something on the Internet, Speronis is generally the one who prints it out for him.

In the corner of Spurrier’s office, he has a stack of old play-by-play sheets from games going back who knows how many years, and he can get to the one he wants in a matter of seconds.

Even though he owns an iPhone, nobody is really sure if he knows how to use it. He’s still rocking the old flip phone.

So while technology might not be Spurrier’s thing, don’t think for a minute that he has any trouble relating to today’s athlete. His wit is as sharp as ever, and nobody is spared.

“As an offensive lineman, you probably don’t want him saying much of anything to you,” senior guard A.J. Cann quipped. “I try to stay on his good side. He might be pushing 70, but he’s still coaching as hard as he ever has, and man, does he know how to push your buttons.”

Thompson added: “I love playing for him. He has his way of doing it and isn’t going to stop until you do it that way. When you get there, he’ll be happy. But until then, he’s going to keep grinding on you.”

And doing so in vintage Spurrier fashion.

Toward the end of spring practice this year, sophomore receiver Pharoh Cooper looked back too early on a pass route, prompting Spurrier, the son of a Presbyterian minister, to pipe up, ‘Pharoh, you know what happens when you look back?’ ”

In the Book of Genesis in the Bible, Lot’s wife looked back on Sodom and became a pillar of salt.

“He does a really good job of relating to whoever you are,” Thompson said. “I’m a Christian, and any time he can relate a Bible story to something we’re doing, he’ll do it. He’ll call Kane Whitehurst ‘Abel’ sometimes, off-the-wall stuff, and you think he’s crazy.

“But you always listen.”

For some SEC purists, it’s hard to fathom that Spurrier is just three seasons away from equaling the 12 seasons he spent as Florida’s head coach.

He’s not sure he’s ever had more fun coaching than he has these past few years, especially given the fact that South Carolina has accomplished so many firsts on his watch. As part of his new contract, Spurrier has the option to stay on as a special adviser to the president and athletic director when he does hang up his coaching visor for good.

But as Spurrier himself says, he can’t imagine not coaching football.

“What else are you going to do?” he said. “Every time I go to the beach now, after about three days, I say, ‘Jerri, let’s go.’ I’m not going to play golf every day. I’ve got my enthusiasm up, too. I got two epidural shots in my back [recently] and am feeling pretty good. I still have some arthritis, but it doesn’t hurt to work out.

“We’ve got a lot to look forward to here and a lot more we want to do.”

Plus, it’s home.


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