HOOVER, Ala. — When Steve Spurrier abruptly walked away from his highly successful coaching career at Florida after the 2001 season, he had a plan.
It involved a few more years of coaching, then a lifetime of leisure for his remaining days.
"Obviously you never know what your path in life is going to lead to," Spurrier said Tuesday during his appearance at SEC Media Days. "When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach NFL five or six years and retire to the beach, and play golf a bunch, and travel around, this, that and the other. But that was a bad plan. It was. Later you found out that was not a real good idea. But that's the way I was thinking back then."
Twelve years later, Spurrier, 69, is about to hit a milestone at South Carolina — and in the SEC. When the season begins, he'll become the first to coach at two SEC schools for 10 years or more.
To commemorate that anniversary, it seems fitting that Spurrier is about to embark on what many believe could be his best season yet with the Gamecocks. South Carolina is coming off three consecutive 11-win seasons and is ranked among the preseason Top 10 in national publications.
His players said Tuesday they would like nothing more than to win South Carolina's first SEC championship for their coach, who's the second-oldest head coach in college football behind Kansas State's Bill Snyder, 74.
"It would be amazing," senior offensive lineman A.J. Cann said. "We've been trying to knock that door down for the past couple of years. And just to have that chance to do that, to win the SEC championship would be great for the fans, for the city, for the state and for Coach Spurrier."
"We've had great teams the past couple of years, and he's built it," senior defensive tackle J.C. Surratt said. "I think he knows he's coming close and he wants to get the job done."
South Carolina opens against Texas A&M in a nationally televised night game Aug. 28. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said Spurrier has been strangely quiet, which makes him believe the veteran coach knows he has a good team.
But on Tuesday, Spurrier was actually in vintage form. He called Sumlin an excellent coach and maybe even better "negotiator" based on his new $5 million a year contract. He said he would like to win an SEC title, but "if you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, 'We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC.' He mentioned he had seen former QB Stephen Garcia (now a member of the media) with long hair that "looked like he had joined Duck Dynasty instead of the media."
And he defended his early summer comments about Nick Saban underachieving at Alabama because he has had five No. 1 recruiting classes with just two SEC championships in vintage Spurrier style. He talked about his great respect and admiration for Saban and the program he has built, then slipped in: "I guess fortunately sometimes the team that plays the best is the team that wins instead of maybe who all has the best players."
Spurrier said his 1992 Florida team provided one of the most fun years he ever has had in coaching, but he admits he's having the time of his life at South Carolina right now. The plan might have taken a different turn, but there are no regrets, he said.
"Some people ask, 'How did you end up there?' " he said. "I said, 'I was available, and they were the only ones who offered me a job at the end of 2004. I wanted to coach again. I wanted to go out a winner, not a loser.' … You remember when coaches used to retire? They don't retire anymore. They get fired. That's one of my goals, to not get fired."
And maybe win another SEC title before he goes.
Contact Antonya English at [email protected]pabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_ Gators.