It was the kind of thing that was bound to go viral. When photos of South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier shirtless and barefoot on the Gamecocks’ practice field spread over the Internet like spring pollen, some people laughed while others shook their heads and groaned. But no one who knows anything about Spurrier was the least bit surprised.
The Head Ball Coach is 68, the oldest coach in the SEC by seven years (Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel are both 61) and he is still doing things his way without a care in the world for what others think. He also shows no sign of losing interest or slowing down.
There are a few nods to age — a paunch that is a bit more expansive than before and a lost name or two that he used to know — but the energy and enthusiasm is as pervasive as ever.
Just watching him burns calories. Forget sitting still, the man cannot stand in one spot for more than a second or two without some fidget or another — a hand hitching the side of his pants or a leg popping up as if he’s been stung by a bee. Spurrier is a man of perpetual motion, an example of work keeping you sharp into your sunset years.
Four football seasons ago the retirement rumors ran rampant. Spurrier tried to quash them, but in his inimitable way, he rambled on like a man lost in a verbal corn maze until those who heard him had no idea what he was saying, much less what he planned to do. The rumors became so pervasive that Spurrier had to make a special call to Connor Shaw, the star quarterback recruit South Carolina was attempting to sign out of Flowery Branch High School (Ga.), to assure him that he wasn’t going anywhere.
“He told me, ‘I’m definitely staying until we accomplish more things at South Carolina,’” Shaw said at the time. “He said, ‘I’m nowhere near retiring.’”
Four years later, that still appears to be the case. Spurrier has won 11 games at South Carolina for two consecutive years, something that has never happened in school history. His 66 wins in eight seasons are the most any Gamecocks coach has ever amassed. But he still has things to do, like winning an SEC Championship at a school no one thought could contend in the game’s best conference.
“That’s the goal every year,” Spurrier said at SEC Media Days this summer. “We start out every season knowing that they’re going to be playing that championship game in Atlanta and that somebody’s going to be in it from the East. We’ve been there once, and our guys would sure like to make it there again.”
He has been a head coach since Ronald Reagan was president, since Czechoslovakia was one country and Germany was two.
He is the same age Bear Bryant was when he retired from Alabama and a year younger than Bryant was when he died, a fact that is hard to believe when you look at the two side by side. Bryant looked old when he was young while Spurrier seems to have a little Dick Clark in him, an agelessness that keeps him perpetually in that 45-to-60 zone.
It is only when you see him with a cadre of grandchildren by his side that you realize his age and that he and his wife, Jerri, have been married for 46 years.
Mrs. Spurrier travels with her husband often, but she has called being married to him, “like hanging on to the back of a train.” But then she quickly adds that, “It’s never boring. It’s always fun. We never stop.”
So, when will Spurrier finally hang it up?
The rumors have quieted for the time being, and Spurrier himself has given no indication that he is ready to leave the gridiron or South Carolina. Three of his four children and seven of his 11 grandchildren live in the Columbia area, and his two sons, Steve, Jr. and Scott, work on his staff.
“It makes it very comfortable to continue coaching when you’ve got just about your entire family and grandkids in your hometown,” Spurrier said in the spring.
He has a place in Florida he visits often and memberships at some of the finest golf clubs in America. He is wealthy and successful and could hang up the coaching visor at any moment and be considered one of the greatest the sport has ever known.
But the reason he doesn’t can be found in an anecdote he recalled at his father’s funeral in 2000. Graham Spurrier, a Presbyterian minister in Tennessee, was coaching Steve’s youth baseball team in the early 1950s when he asked the players if they had ever heard the expression, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
All heads nodded.
“Who believes it?” Reverend Spurrier asked.
More than half the hands went up.
“Well, let me tell you, that’s not exactly true,” the elder Spurrier said gently. “The game is played to win, and we’re going to try our best to win the game.”
Graham Spurrier’s son has done his best to win the games ever since, as a player and as a coach. He will continue that tradition at the end of August with the season opener against North Carolina. That is how he lives his life. And it is why it is hard to imagine the Old Ball Coaching calling it a career any time in the near future.