Sunday, December 17, 2017
Colleges

Same ol' Spurrier

TAMPA — The concessions to age are mostly subtle. Steve Spurrier's golf handicap has spiked modestly, and he now runs exclusively on a treadmill. He even has less velocity on his visor, not that he ever really flings it anymore.

"I've got some arthritis in my dang fingers," said Spurrier, whose 11th-ranked South Carolina team began game-week preparation for the Outback Bowl at Jefferson High on Thursday. "It's not bad, it's just enough to make you think something's wrong."

From a chronological perspective, the head Gamecock is no longer a spring chicken. Stephen Orr Spurrier — Heisman Trophy winner, Bandit Ball creator, Gainesville icon and all-time winningest coach in South Carolina history — turns 68 in April.

Yet an autumn full of tee times remains on a distant horizon. While the ol' ball coach may not be able to shoot his age, he isn't acting it either.

Professionally, Spurrier, presiding over the golden age of Gamecock football, may be 67 going on 47.

"Physically, and hopefully mentally, I'm the same as I was 20 years ago," said Spurrier, who had right knee-replacement surgery in January.

"I actually work out more now than I did 20 years ago. As those health magazines say, exercise is the only fountain of youth out there."

With each double-digit winning season in Columbia, Spurrier seems to get a bit younger.

A year after leading the Gamecocks to their first 11-win season, he'll try for the repeat Tuesday as South Carolina (10-2) faces No. 19 Michigan (8-4) at Raymond James Stadium. He has won three in a row against Georgia, four in a row against Clemson.

His 2013 recruiting class is widely ranked among the nation's top 20.

"He's just out there having fun, man," Gamecocks All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. "He just loves the game. I think he loves being around it and just likes to win, so there's no telling how long he'll be in it."

A dozen years ago, the notion of Spurrier possibly still coaching as a septuagenarian seemed outlandish.

While still at Florida in the late 1990s, when expectations were at an apex and recruiting battles with Bobby Bowden and Butch Davis were at their fiercest, Spurrier indicated he didn't picture himself coaching past 60.

The two miserable seasons with the Redskins certainly didn't add years to his coaching life.

"When you do something strictly for money, usually it doesn't work out," he said. "I can't coach football 11 months a year. It's too much. I can't watch tape, go visit free agents."

Nonetheless, as 60 came and went, Spurrier — grandfather of 11 — discovered his zeal for coaching hadn't faded with his birth certificate.

He found a utopian landing spot in Columbia, mired in football mediocrity for generations. After modest success initially, Spurrier has flourished at a school where the passion for football is searing and the expectations aren't suffocating.

As the wins accumulate, his competitive edge seems to get sharper than his one-liners.

"He's such a competitor," said former longtime UF sports information director Norm Carlson, one of Spurrier's closest friends for nearly a half-century. "What's that saying, the ecstasy of victory and agony of defeat? That's something he loves. He loves to compete. I don't think he could see himself sitting back and playing golf every day."

At least not at this juncture. The Gamecocks' eight consecutive years of bowl eligibility and five consecutive seasons of at least seven wins under Spurrier are unprecedented. His 65 wins are the most in school history, joining Bear Bryant as the only coaches to own the school record for wins at two SEC schools.

And there's no reason to stop now; Spurrier recently got a two-year contract extension through 2017.

"I've really got a stress-free life," he said.

"It's stressful during games a little bit trying to call plays and all that. . … But as far as lifestyle, we grind it out August through the bowl game. … And then recruiting now, all the players come in the summer. They come on their own. We've got all our commitments already."

So the fun-n-young forges on.

"He's a competitor," said USC director of football operations Jamie Speronis, who has worked with Spurrier since 1990. "You know him. He's going to compete as long as he's having fun competing."

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