The workers paint the stripped walls and bulging boxes litter
the floor and the money flows into this athletic department as if
by faucet. You move past this empire under construction, up the
stairs, to the top of this world, and meet the man who made
University of Florida football matter again. Steve Spurrier walks
you into his cluttered office and begins defending himself before
you've asked a question.
You tell him you are here to write about his relationship with
quarterbacks and ...
"This is going to be a positive story, right?" Spurrier
interrupts. "You aren't going to talk about quarterbacks who blame
me for not making it, are you? I can't make them all stars, you
Positive story? How could it not be, really? This man won at
(Duke), for Bear Bryant's sake, giving the Blue Devils their first
bowl game in nearly three decades. The Gators hadn't won anything
that mattered in 56 pre-Spurrier years, but now they win the SEC as
naturally as babies take breath. You can say Spurrier many things -
arrogant, egomaniacal, tyrannical - but he's something else, too.
It's called a winner.
Quarterbacks? Spurrier took Shane Matthews from fifth string to
collegiate stardom. His system consistently makes magic out of
mediocrity - or, as former pro pupil John Reaves says, "He takes
journeymen like me and makes us record-breakers." Spurrier will
make a good QB great, as former NCAA passing leader Ben Bennett
attests when saying, "I had the tip of the iceberg in my hands when
I met Steve, and he showed me every ounce of iceberg hidden beneath
"Steve Spurrier," New York Giants quarterback Dave Brown
surmises, "is a god."
Spurrier isn't thinking about that on this sunny summer day. He
is talking about the criticisms, and it's making his golf-tanned
face red. Spurrier stands up from behind his desk, imitating how he
yells at QBs to conceal his fury from the cameras that hunt him: He
stomps tightly around boxes on his office floor, pretending he's on
a Saturday sideline, cupping his hand around his mouth, swearing at
the ground through clenched teeth.
"I try not to make eye contact with the quarterbacks," Spurrier
says, still talking to the floor. "Look, I can't please everybody.
People are just looking for some way to criticize me. They can't
say I'm a bad coach because we're winning too many games. So they
say I yell too much at my quarterbacks, and they train a camera on
me until it catches me angry."
Spurrier says criticism doesn't bother him - no, no, no - and
now he is walking over to the vast panel beside his desk to prove
it. He has pasted various philosophies and pictures here. There's a
quote from Rick Pitino, saying, "If you believe what you read or
what other people say, then you are a fool." And there's another
quote from John Wooden, saying, "The more successful you are, the
more you are criticized."
Next to these, there are action photos autographed by
Anthony Dilweg: "Words can't explain how much you helped me."
Ben Bennett: "I can never repay you for all you've done."
John Reaves: "You're the best."
Spurrier, surveying his montage, smiles.
"That's fine - people can call me arrogant, cocky, whatever,"
Spurrier says. "It's a compliment. At least they're not calling us
losers anymore. If people like you too much it's probably because
they're beating you."
Spurrier removes his reading glasses and sits back down behind
his desk. You look at where he has just been, at the hundreds of
passages and photos, and you can't help but notice:
The man has built up quite a wall.
Danny Wuerffel, the baby-faced assassin about to break almost
every school passing record, is perfect for this volatile coach,
ice to Spurrier's fire. He hums Bible hymns on the sideline, has a
3.7 grade-point average and has what his father calls "a spiritual
explain," which helps explain why he doesn't flinch when Spurrier,
spittle flying from his mouth, climbs inside his face mask. …