HOOVER, Ala. — A buzz surrounds all the coaches and players at SEC Media Days.
But the excitement generated by a few guys is a step above the rest.
On Day 1, Steve Spurrier was Elvis.
A dozen television cameras followed his every step from the moment he set foot inside the Wyndham Hotel. His old swagger was back as he waved to the fans and stopped and spoke to a few old players. “Jimmy Bates,” he said as he saw one of his Florida players from the early nineties. “I didn’t see you at the beach this year. I was there for 12 days, which is way too long. That’s why I can’t retire. Being gone that long, I go a little stir crazy.”
Retirement rumors were rampant a couple of years ago, but no more. Twenty years in the SEC and the Ol’ Ball Coach appears to be having the time of his life.
“I told my wife when I was leaving this morning, ‘This is the 20th year I’ve gone to Birmingham (Hoover is 10 miles outside) for SEC Media Days,'” he said. “Not many coaches have a chance to do that. I’ve been at two excellent places: Florida and now South Carolina. Fortunately we won enough games that they didn’t get rid of the coach.”
He seemed open to all subjects, even the troubles at Penn State.
“Well, obviously it’s a terrible mess, terrible mess,” he said. “The only thing I would say about Coach Paterno, when he coached college football, he did everything right. His teams played fair, fundamentally sound. He was always revered for doing the right things. I don’t want to get into the other side of a terrible, terrible situation. But as a college football coach, I remember him that way.”
With the same drive-by carelessness he used when throwing out his ideas about paying players and restricting the divisional title to include only divisional wins, Spurrier turned on a dime, returning to the subject he loves most: himself.
“My job’s not that stressful,” he said. “Some of these coaches get all stressed out and so forth. I got excellent assistants. I feel like I’m 45, and you make pretty good money.”
And, of course, there are the obligatory swipes at his opponents.
When asked his opinion on the schedule, he couldn’t resist. “You think I made the schedule?” he said. “If I made the schedule, Georgia would be playing LSU, and we’d be playing Ole Miss.”
His haters say he is as arrogant as ever, but no one can fault his optimism. And he has good reason to be. With two of the best defensive ends in the college game and one of the best running backs in the country, Marcus Lattimore, scheduled to return at full speed after missing most of last year with an injury, South Carolina has one of its first legitimate shots at winning the SEC title.
“The goal is to win the SEC,” Spurrier said. “It’s never been done at South Carolina before. It’s easier to win the national championship than the SEC. Ask Nick Saban.”
It isn’t bluster. All his players believe it and with Connor Shaw maturing at quarterback and a solid offensive and defensive line, the Gamecocks will be for real.
In a serious, reflective moment, after letting everyone know that “we’ve got a good team,” he said. “What drives me the most is doing things that have never happened before. It was fun last year to win 11 games. That had never been done at South Carolina. But there are still a lot of firsts out there.