South Carolina's Steve Spurrier has same old charm, but new-look offense
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Old Ball Coach's still got it -- the Southern charm, the quick wit, the fascinating tangents. He captivates with the best of them.
And of course, he's still got a winner.
But Steve Spurrier has shed one thing: The Fun 'n' Gun offense that brought him early success -- including a national title in 1996 -- at Florida.
Spurrier is in his eighth year as South Carolina's coach, and has elevated the once-downtrodden program to prominence in the nation's toughest conference. The 11th-ranked Gamecocks are 10-2 and will seek their second consecutive 11-win season when they face No. 19 Michigan (8-4) on Tuesday in the Outback Bowl.
But to win, Spurrier has complemented his ferocious defense with an offense that emphasizes ball control instead of explosiveness. South Carolina will rely more on the run than the pass, even with star tailback Marcus Lattimore sidelined by a season-ending leg injury.
And Spurrier, a former quarterback who built his reputation on excellent passing teams, is perfectly OK with his team's new identity.
"Every guy who once was a quarterbacks coach – I guess I’m still the quarterbacks coach – and the guy who calls the plays, he likes scoring," he said during a news conference Saturday. "But when you’re the head coach, you like winning above scoring and a lot of yards.
"Assistant coaches usually love a lot of yards, or defensive coaches very few yards, but the head coaches get judged on the win or the loss. And what we do best is when we run it more than we throw it."
Spurrier won at least nine games in each of his 12 seasons at Florida. He won 122 games -- the most of any coach in his first 12 seasons at a school -- and six SEC championships.
Quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy under Spurrier, himself a Heisman-winning quarterback.
That was the bedrock of those teams.
But Spurrier has changed with the times.
"When I coached a Florida, we had really good passers, and offensive linemen to pass block, and receivers," he said. "We came out and started firing usually the first play through the end of a half.
"But that’s not what we do best here at South Carolina. We’re more successful when we run more than we pass."
That starts with the quarterback, Connor Shaw, who did not play in South Carolina's regular-season finale against Clemson but is expected to start against Michigan. Dylan Thomas, who started against Clemson and passed for more than 300 yards in the win, also is expected to play.
Shaw isn't Denard Robinson, but has ability on the ground. He has rushed 121 times for 339 yards this year.
Michigan has struggled to defend the perimeter against mobile quarterbacks this year, a weakness South Carolina likely will try to exploit.
Lattimore is out at tailback, but Kenny Miles has shown to be a capable replacement. He has 99 carries for 358 yards (3.6 per carry) and two touchdowns.
When the Gamecocks do go to the air, they rely more on yards after the catch than classic Spurrier teams. No starting receiver stands taller than 6-foot, but their speed makes them dangerous in space.
"I was thinking about that yesterday," Spurrier said. "We had one formation where all there were in a row out there, and I said, ‘Dang, we got a bunch of little guys, don’t we?’
"They’re good players, and they know how to get open. We don’t really pay attention to how tall they are, except down around the goal line. We have not thrown the fade much this year."
Spurrier once said he would quit coaching by the time he was 60. He's now 67, going on 68, and his ability to adapt has helped elevate South Carolina into the nation's upper crust
So, how long will Spurrier stick around?
"I think what keeps most coaches going a long time is they don’t get fired or run off," he said. "I haven’t gotten fired or run off.
"(Former Wisconsin coach) Barry Alvarez, every time I see him, I say, ‘I’m going to do what you did: When I finish up coaching, I’m not going to get fired.' So if it starts going bad, I’ll resign or something. One of my goals is not to be a fired coach."
The Old Ball Coach might finally be old, but his job seems pretty safe.
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