Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:09 PM
COLUMBIA, S.C. — For a guy who didn’t plan on coaching through his 60s, Steve Spurrier’s still going strong at South Carolina as he nears 70.
He is starting his ninth season with the Gamecocks and expectations haven’t been so high around his team since his “Fun-n-Gun” championship days at Florida from 1990-2001.
“You go like four, five years at a time,” the 68-year-old coach said Sunday. “I don’t feel much different than I did eight years ago, I don’ think. Although my back’s a little stiffer. Other than that, I feel my mind’s still OK.”
Spurrier’s been exceptional the past few seasons.
He led South Carolina to its first Southeastern Conference divisional title in 2010, defeating Georgia and Florida on the way to the Georgia Dome. Spurrier’s Gamecocks enjoyed consecutive 11-win seasons — a first in school history — and he became the school’s career leader in coaching victories, adding that distinction to the one he earned at Florida during his 12 seasons there.
“If it was going south on us, no, I wouldn’t want to be around a team that needs rebuilding,” he said.
He already did that, struggling through much of his first five years at the school with a 35-28 mark before stepping it up the past three seasons.
Now, Spurrier’s team is again the talk of college football because of All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, last year’s SEC defensive player of the year with 13 sacks.
Spurrier’s still got an ornery side. Right now, he’s ready to end the hype surrounding Clowney, the 6-foot-6, 274-pounder considered the top prospect for next spring’s NFL draft.
He’s closing practice because of autograph seekers stopping Clowney and others to sign anything they can. Spurrier’s also miffed at those who use cellphones to take photos or videos of the workouts.
“Poor Jadeveon can’t hardly get out on the field with getting somebody mad at him,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier wants the focus on the team, which he holds is the only approach that will bring SEC success.
Spurrier wasn’t sure how long he’d stay after 2009 when the Gamecocks went 7-6, losing four of their final five games. He wondered if South Carolina needed new blood.
Then began unprecedented run of recruiting success that started with Stephon Gilmore, now a second-year Buffalo Bills cornerback, and continued with tailback Marcus Lattimore and Clowney.
“I told Stephon that if he and I went to South Carolina, we were going to make big things happen,” Clowney said.
The Gamecocks have gone 31-9 the past three years. They’ve beaten SEC East rival Georgia three straight seasons and hold a four-game win streak over state rival Clemson.
Spurrier insisted his team runs deeper than one Heisman Trophy hopeful.
“Maybe they think Clowney is the star player and everybody else is not up to his level,” Spurrier said. “But they are.”
Spurrier has been as enthused as ever leading to the season, says Gamecocks quarterback coach G.A. Mangus.
Mangus was a quarterback at Florida from 1988-91, including two years under Spurrier, and remained on staff for three seasons after that. He says Spurrier has always kept a balance between his life on and off the field
“That’s probably why he’s been as successful as he is,” Mangus said.
Spurrier has rarely let his leisure time overtake his career. While some coaches grind things out 20 hours a day in April or May, Spurrier would be found on the golf course or the beach.
He was asked recently if having two healthy, talented quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson made him sleep easier during the offseason?
“You mean when I was in Ireland playing golf or when I was in the Bahamas,” Spurrier said with a laugh.
These days, the golf clubs are in the garage and the beach towels in the closet as Spurrier chases an SEC championship. He’s having fun and feeling as vital as ever on the field.
“Hopefully, I’ll leave before it goes south, of that I’m certain,” Spurrier said. “The key is let’s not go south.”
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