“Some people don’t like seeing us get it together, having good seasons and winning SEC championships. But I can live with that. I’ll kiss no fannies to get good reviews. I’ll not play with a scared stick.”
Which college football coach uttered those words?
It probably didn’t take you long to guess the correct answer. It’s Steve Spurrier. But you may be wondering where that quote fell in the South Carolina coach’s hastily called press conference on Wednesday. Was it before he quoted Attila the Hun? Was it after he called out Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley, the man who helped slap the “Evil Genius” nickname on Spurrier in the 1990s? Last week, Bradley called South Carolina “a program on the descent” in a piece in The (Columbia, S.C.) State, the paper that lands on Spurrier’s driveway. The press conference produced some hot takes that suggested the 70-year-old Spurrier has entered the yelling-at-the-sky phase of his life, but his above quote suggests that isn’t true.
So, just when was that quote uttered during Wednesday's press conference? It wasn't. It’s almost 21 years old. Spurrier said it in November 1994 to St. Petersburg Times columnist Hubert Mizell. The column appeared in the days after Spurrier, then Florida’s coach, held a closed-door, recorders-off meeting with the beat writers who covered the Gators at the time. He was displeased with something one of their number had written, and Spurrier’s message was this: You’re either with us or against us. The beat writers tried to explain that their allegiance was to their readers and that they had no dog in the proverbial hunt, but Spurrier would have none of it. With, or against.
Spurrier* lashed out Wednesday at “enemies” of South Carolina’s program who would like to see the Gamecocks fail and who are spreading rumors that Spurrier’s age has something to do with the Gamecocks’ drop from three consecutive 11-win seasons to 7-6 last season. Spurrier quoted the most famous Hun, or at least what Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun author Wess Roberts wrote in 1985. In the book, Roberts-as-Attila writes that enemies must earn their foes’ concern. In a roundabout way, Spurrier made the point Wednesday that South Carolina wasn’t, using Attila’s guidelines for the term, worthy of being anyone’s enemy—not even archrival Clemson’s—until the Spurrier era. Spurrier is probably correct. We are talking about a program that played football for more than 100 years before it enjoyed its first postseason victory, a rousing defeat of West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl following the 1994 season. “[Mr. The Hun] said it very simply, ‘It’s a simple truth that the greater your accomplishments or victories, the greater opposition, torment and discouragement your enemies will throw in your path. Expect it and don’t become a victim of it,’” Spurrier said. “I’m telling our fans, expect those people that are our enemies to talk bad about us. We finally won enough games, although it wasn’t all that much last year. We’ve won enough that they’re trying to convince that my age has something to do with it and that I can’t coach anymore.”
*Full disclosure: As a college freshman in 1996, I was the worst walk-on player on Spurrier’s first and only national title team. I may be the worst walk-on he’s ever coached. I have a national championship ring because of the guy. He didn’t have much contact with the terrible walk-on offensive linemen, and I’ve written about him a lot longer than I played for him, but it’s important to lay out all the facts.
Who knew Attila the Hun penned an anti-hater anthem more than 1,500 years before Jay-Z dropped Dirt Off Your Shoulder? Later, Spurrier quoted Aaliyah, though he probably didn’t realize it. “Age is just a number, as we all know,” he said. “Your mental and physical fitness in life determine your ability to function.” Spurrier didn’t reference it, but that quote brings to mind this video, which shows that Spurrier is probably in better shape than some people half his age.
Spurrier didn’t respond the way he did Wednesday because, at 70, he sees enemies everywhere. He responded that way because he is Stephen Orr Spurrier and he has always seen enemies waiting to attack. With, or against. This is a man who probably remains mad at Bill Curry for not retaining him at Georgia Tech in 1980. (Spurrier had just bought a house in the Atlanta suburbs when he was told to shove off.) This is a man who remembers every slight—real or perceived. A few years ago, Jamie Speronis, South Carolina’s associate athletic director for football operations, called and asked for my mailing address. He then sent me a copy of a column I had written in 2005 as the Florida beat writer for The Tampa Tribune. It was an utterly forgettable story written that November as Florida prepared to play Spurrier’s first South Carolina team. If the Gators beat the Gamecocks that Saturday afternoon and Auburn beat Georgia that Saturday night, Urban Meyer’s first Florida team would win the SEC East title. In the story, I made reference to Florida fans pulling for the Tigers. Spurrier had underlined that section. He had then read it to his team, using it as evidence that the Gators considered the win against South Carolina a given. (They actually might have, but not because of anything I wrote.) The Gamecocks won that day, and the result of the Auburn-Georgia game didn’t matter. On that Saturday, I was an enemy.
At one point in Wednesday’s press conference, Spurrier struck at the heart of the issue. “We’ve got a bunch of recruits coming in this weekend,” Spurrier said. “We think some of them are going to commit to us, and they need to know who the coaches are. I certainly plan to be here with them.”
That’s the real problem. Coaches who recruit against South Carolina are telling prospects that Spurrier isn’t long for the job. Those coaches probably would have done that anyway because of Spurrier’s age, but they got some help last December from another quote that appeared in The State. Here it is. Take one guess who said it.
“Give me two or three more [years]. I used to say four or five, now I’m down to two or three. I mean, I could get in a car wreck, but I’m definitely planning on being back.”
That was Spurrier himself, violating the cardinal rule of coaching longevity answers. For recruiting purposes, the answer is always five years, and Spurrier’s answers since that quote appeared have stuck to the accepted playbook. But because Spurrier put two or three years on the record, he accelerated the same questions that Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno faced in their final years with their teams. These also are the same questions that Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, two years Spurrier’s junior, faces now. Wednesday, Spurrier answered more emphatically that he has no plans to step down anytime soon. “If I can’t coach worth a flip, that would be the only reason,” he said.
But Spurrier is the one who chummed the water for those enemies by giving what sounded like an honest answer after the 2014 regular season. If he held a press conference every time some columnist or opposing coach suggested he should be eating the early bird special instead of coaching football, he’d never get anything done. But he said Wednesday he isn’t addressing this topic again. That probably will allow him to work more efficiently. It won’t silence his “enemies,” but the close of Wednesday’s press conference suggested Spurrier appreciates those enemies more than he’d like anyone to think. He probably always has. You’re with him or against him, and the more people he has against him, the more fuel he has.
“Some people never are in that position. Some people never have enemies,” Spurrier said. “Some coaches never win enough to have anybody mad at them. So I guess we’ve won enough to have some people mad at us.”