Only One Thing Matters to Florida Coach Steve Spurrier

Article excerpt

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 know?" 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 the water." "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 Spurrier's QBs. 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. …


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