HOOVER, Ala. — The genius of Steve Spurrier wasn’t in the way he drew laughs from the collected writers Tuesday at SEC Media Days, name-dropping Davy Crockett when discussing the Alamo or divulging a booster taking him to the Bahamas "on his jet airplane, on his yacht, pretty good trip."
At the same time, the genius wasn’t in how he managed to knock South Carolina fan’s mindsets and rival Clemson, by saying his supporters would rather win the in-state battle than the league.
The genius of the Head Ball Coach in his 22nd season in the conference — a record, as he becomes the first man to be at two SEC schools for a minimum of 10 years along with his time at Florida — and 25th overall in the college game, is the way he holds sway.
It’s psychological warfare, fought with the velvet touch of Southern charm, as if Paula Deen had written ‘The Art of War.’
"I would take Steve Spurrier 101 in a second. I’d go back to school to take that class and study Steve Spurrier," said James Bates, a former Gators linebacker under Spurrier from 1992-96, who now works as a FOX Sports South analyst. "I think he’s fascinating and he’s different and he did it his own way and he’s continued to and he’s never apologized for it."
Spurrier’s strength is in how he plants sugarcoated seeds.
He’s done it for years in supporting a playoff, has been vocal in compensating college football and basketball players beyond their scholarships, because, as he said Tuesday: "All of you know I’m an advocate for giving some expense money to college football and basketball players," he said. "Those two sports bring in billions. They deserve a little bit more. I know the commissioner has addressed that. I wish something would happen sooner than we hope it’s going to happen. But that should happen real soon down the road.
It’s come through the guise of a jokester, playing to the crowd and the cameras with more swagger than lecture as he leans on the podium with a crack of a smile on his 69-year-old, tanned face. He presents himself as the entertainer, playing to a crowd expecting more than enough sound bites to fill notepads and tape recorders.
But with the new postseason a reality, and an ever-growing movement for players to get a cut of the money being generated by their exploits, Spurrier has looked like a soothsayer.
"It’s funny because, he does it kind of a jokey, I’m-not-really-that-serious kind of manner, but you look up a few years later and it’s getting done," said South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson. "He has impact with what he says and I think that’s how he coaches."
Criticism isn’t doled out with harshness. As Bates recounts, Spurrier has never been one to motivate through intimidation or rah-rah speak. It’s an off-hand comment, a quip directed at you that can burn much deeper.
"He used to always say ‘It’s not their fault; it’s our fault for putting (our player) out there,’" Bates said. "It’s kind of a funny, laugh it off … Stuff like that, it almost has a backdoor effect.
"It just makes you feel even worse letting down a guy and hearing him whine at you then letting down one of those fire-and-brimstone type of guys."
In psychological terms, it’s categorized as villifying the victim, which to surmise, is putting the victim on the defensive while also masking the intent of the manipulator.
Famously, it didn’t work on Terry Dean. The former Gators QB committed to on Jan. 2, 1990, three days after Spurrier was hired to coach his alma mater. Midway through his senior year, he was the second-highest-rated passer in the nation and a budding Heisman Trophy candidate.
But by season’s end, Dean was listed as the third-stringer behind Danny Wuerffel — who would wind up delivering a Heisman in 1996, the school’s first since Spurrier in 1966 — and Eric Kresser.
"The problem for Spurrier is that when he draws up plays, he knows the plays are going to work," Dean would tell Sports Illustrated in 1995. "When they don’t work, you’re not doing your job."
But over the years, Spurrier has clearly mastered his brand of Jedi Mind Tricks, along with using the same tactics to get his players to learn.
While the amount of coaching Spurrier does on a daily basis is often the stuff of legend — there’s no 12-hour film sessions in his office — a work-smart method he picked up on from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and has tried to emulate.
But don’t call it being laissez-faire about the job in his career’s second act. While the Gamecocks quarterbacks spend most of their time working with position coach G.A. Mangus, Spurrier, a former QB himself, is right there — utilizing the same subtlety with which he scolds.
"He tells you something and it won’t be like he’s yelling at you, but you just remember ‘Oh yeah, he did say that,’" Thompson said.
"At times he’s like a character out of a movie," Bates said. You have to stop and remember: these aren’t just lines that he’s just throwing out there and throwing out there."
In making his 23rd appearance at SEC Media Days, Spurrier opened by taking in the crowd, saying "Ready for talking season. That’s what we’re all doing right now, talking a little bit."
Only for Spurrier talking season never stops. It’s his charm, his method of winning over the masses and his players. Therein lies the true genius of a man whose resume includes a national title, six SEC titles and seven conference coach of the year awards:
He never stops being the Head Ball Coach.
"Steve Spurrier behind close doors is the same as Steve Spurrier in a room of 400 with cameras and microphones," Bates said. "That’s why people enjoy him and that’s why everyone wants to know what’s going to come out of his mouth next. There’s no filter."