HOOVER, Ala. — It’s talking season for college football, and no one gives better quote than Stephen Orr Spurrier.
The man who once asked if the Florida State Seminoles called themselves the ’Noles, why couldn’t he call them the Semis; who cracked you couldn’t spell “Citrus Bowl” without the “UT” for Tennessee; and who brashly describes the football tradition at his current employer South Carolina as “mediocre,” won the day Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days.
Spurrier usually wins, so really Tuesday shouldn’t have been any different.
No one is immune from his needle. Former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, sporting shoulder length dark locks and a beard at media days, is now a reporter for a website covering the Gamecocks. Asked what he thought of that, Spurrier cracked, “When I see him, I’m going to tell him he looks like he joined the cast of ‘Duck Dynasty.’ ”
Asked what kind of reporter he thought Garcia would make, Spurrier said, “(He) might be good in the media. Heck, you guys made it.”
The Don Rickles of coaching strikes again.
Of course, Spurrier is much more than talk.
If you were putting four faces on the Mount Rushmore of SEC football, you’d have to start with Bear Bryant, obviously. You should add a Manning, too. Just pick a favorite.
And Herschel Walker. Apologies to Cam Newton and Bo Jackson, but there’s never been a better college football player than Walker.
You simply couldn’t leave off Spurrier, either. Pair his coaching career with his 1966 Heisman Trophy at Florida, and there’s never been a better combination of athlete and football coach in the SEC.
This will be Spurrier’s 10th season at South Carolina. Coupled with his 12 years coaching at Florida, where he led the Gators to the 1996 national title, Spurrier is the first man to coach 10 or more years at two SEC schools.
He’s been conference coach of the year at Duke (which he led to the 1989 ACC title), Florida and South Carolina. At a rather modest 77-39, he is already the Gamecocks’ winningest coach ever.
“As a young coach growing up, it’s hard to say he wasn’t the standard,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He is the standard.”
Though by his own admission, he’s yet to win a championship at South Carolina — his Gamecocks played in the 2010 SEC Championship Game but got smoked by Newton and eventual national champ Auburn — he’s willed the program to unimagined heights.
The Gamecocks have posted three straight 11-2 seasons. In South Carolina’s entire history dating to 1892, the program had one 10-win season back in 1984. There’s a culture of mediocrity in Columbia that former LSU coach Paul Dietzel and his lone ACC title in 1969 couldn’t change, that former New Orleans Saints running back George Rogers and his 1980 Heisman couldn’t alter, either.
By Spurrier’s own unvarnished admission, he still has a ways to go. The man who led Florida to six SEC titles in 10 years from 1991-2000 (plus a vacated first-place finish in 1990) is still trying to convince garnet and black backers that winning the SEC means more than beating Clemson.
“Clemson used to pretty much own South Carolina in football, no question about it,” Spurrier said. “If you ask our fans, I can assure you a majority would say, ‘We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC.’
“Personally, I’d rather win the SEC.”
The Gamecocks lost superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and quarterback Connor Shaw from last year’s squad but could easily still be the team to beat in the hard-to-decipher SEC East.
Dylan Thompson was 3-0 as Shaw’s understudy last year, and Mike Davis rushed for nearly 1,200 yards. If defensive tackle J.T. Surratt can fill Clowney’s void, the Gamecocks should be back in Atlanta in December.
“I tell those recruits, ‘If you come here, hopefully you’ll be on the first-ever SEC championship team’ ” at South Carolina, Spurrier said. “That’s still our goal.”
The Gamecocks’ first two conference games should tell a lot. South Carolina opens by hosting Texas A&M on Aug. 28 in the inaugural SEC Network doubleheader, then hosts Georgia on Sept. 13.
Spurrier lobbed a playful shot at Sumlin, who recently signed a new $5 million a year contract.
“Kevin Sumlin has an excellent record as a coach. He’s a good negotiator, we know that also,” Spurrier said.
Told what Spurrier said, Sumlin just smiled. It’s an honor to be zinged by the king.
“He’s been awful quiet,” Sumlin said, “so that must mean he thinks they’re awfully good.”
Considering what Spurrier has done at South Carolina, that’s not just idle talk.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.