Spurrier prepared a young college journalist for future career
In so many ways, I was spoiled to have the chance to cover Steve Spurrier for three years as a student at the University of Florida in the mid 1990s.
His Gator teams were ridiculously successful, of course. The three years I covered were all SEC championship teams, and my senior year, I covered a Heisman Trophy winner. My first issue as editor of the Independent Florida Alligator in the spring of 1997 commemorated the Gators’ first national championship.
But more than that, you were spoiled covering Spurrier because he made your job easy: quote after memorable quote, jabs at rivals and even his own players. He was confident, colorful and candid, with a swagger that spilled over to his team, on and off the field. You never were at a loss for words filling a daily notebook, in part because Spurrier certainly never was.
My past overlapped with my present in January 1996, when three state papers reported late one night that Spurrier was leaving the Gators to become the Bucs’ head coach. Before Twitter and cell phones, practically before the Internet, we scrambled for any sort of confirmation.
After midnight with final deadlines fast approaching, I decided to call quarterback Danny Wuerffel — if Spurrier really was leaving, there would be no bigger story, and he surely would have told his quarterbacks. Of course, I woke him up.
“My goodness, why are you calling so late?” he asked, sharing that Spurrier hadn’t said anything about leaving, politely ending the call.
Of course, Spurrier stayed, and won a national title that very year. We staffed the Heisman ceremonies in New York, and my wife Nicole — then a copy editor at the student paper — scored a photo credential to go with me and other writers. Trying doggedly to get the best Spurrier photo at the Downtown Athletic Club as one Heisman winner celebrated another, she followed him around a corner and, briefly, into the men’s room. Her fondest memory of Spurrier isn’t of him being hoisted by his players on the field, but smiling and pointing at a restroom door.
Spurrier’s success with the Gators made every paper in the state want a daily presence in Gainesville, and with few willing to put a beat writer in town, that meant college kids could get great clips and help pay the bills as correspondents. My second year on the beat, I got to take over as the Times’ Gator corro for two years. In some small way, I can thank Spurrier for where I am today.
College football — and college football writers — will wish him well today, but the sport is a little less colorful, the headlines a little less predictable with Spurrier not on the sidelines.