Steve Spurrier recently sat down with Spurs & Feathers Executive Editor Brian Hand to talk about Gamecock football and much more.
Spurs & Feathers: During this past spring you made it readily known that you consider Columbia, S.C. your home now. What is it about Columbia that makes it so special?
First off of all, I have pretty much my entire family here. Only one daughter, Amy, and her husband and three children live in Panama City (Fla.), but other than that my other three children are here and their children so nine of my 12 grandchildren are also in Columbia, so just about my entire family is here. I'm going on 10 years. This is our school. This is who we work for. This is the University that's been very good to me and life's pretty good here. Right now when my coaching days are over, I hope to keep my house here as well as the house on the beach in Florida. That's the plan right now.
Spurs & Feathers: You have let it be known that you have no plans of stepping away from the Gamecock football program in the near future. Is winning that elusive SEC championship what still drives you or is it just as much continuing to keep South Carolina among the elite in the nation? Or a combination of both?
It's a combination of what else you going to do in life? I'm not the retiring type. Some people try to make as much money as they can to retire and obviously I've been fortunate enough if that was my goal in life I could retire and be okay, but being in the action, coaching the team, running the offense, calling plays, trying to teach our guys to be good citizens, to be the best they can be and see them become successful. Those are the fun things in life for me. I tell people also that back when I was 45, 55 that when my coaching days were over I'll really get my golf game in good shape and I'll play golf five, six days a week. Well I've learned that once you get in your 60s sometimes that golf games not as good as it once was. Every time I have a bad round in golf somebody says coach don't give up your day job and I tell them I'm not planning on giving it up anytime soon.
Spurs & Feathers: You talked about it obviously after the conclusion of the spring, but just over a couple months later did you accomplish everything that you wanted to during the spring?
I think so. We don't treat spring practice as extremely important as some coaches do. We practice doing our plays and trying to avoid the big collisions. I believe that our players are smart enough to know that when we're going against Texas A&M, Georgia, our opponents now this is different. This is not practice. This is a real game. There's an old saying you play like you practice. I don't believe that's true in football because you cannot practice the hits and the collisions that are going to happen on Saturday or Thursday night during the games. I'm a little different probably than most coaches. I think our players appreciate that. I don't think they like clobbering their teammates. I really don't. So anyway we maintain good camaraderie, everybody likes each other. There's no offense vs. defense, nothing like that. We're all in this together. We believe that has helped us win a whole bunch of close games around here.
Spurs & Feathers: Obviously you cannot have as much interaction with your team during the summer, but from your vantage point as the head coach what is the most important part of the summer preparations?
This is a time that some of the young guys can pick up on our offense and our defense. They've actually changed the rules where our coaches can meet two hours a week with the players. Actually coach (G.A.) Mangus told me he had the quarterbacks going to meet 30-45 minutes today (Wednesday, June 4). So that's a new rule, certainly all the coaches around the country will utilize that.
Spurs & Feathers: Last year you had one of the youngest teams in the country and yet still picked up your third straight 11-win season. This year you have to replace arguably the greatest quarterback in school history along with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Yet expectations are extremely high. It seems like any way you look at it South Carolina is just reloading year in and year out. Do you feel like entering year No. 10 you are finally at a point where you have the quality depth you coveted when you first took over the South Carolina job?
I don't worry about depth as much as sportswriters do, but we do have a lot of players ready to play. We were the youngest team. Hardly anyone knows that we only had four seniors starting (last) season. We had Jimmy Legree, Chaz Sutton and on offense Ronald Patrick and Connor Shaw and, of course, Bruce (Ellington) came out early (with) Victor Hampton and Kelcy Quarles and, of course, Jadeveon (Clowney). So we had four come out early and we basically lost eight real good players there. We do have a lot of guys back and we'll be preseason top-10. I saw that we were picked to win the SEC East (in SID preseason poll). The sportswriters pick it out there in July at the SEC Media Days. Maybe they'll pick us. I don't know. We certainly have a chance. Gosh, we had a chance the last three years and we've gone 6-2 in the conference and beaten the team that won it, but they'll go 7-1, so you've just got to give your opponent credit there.
Spurs & Feathers: You’ve obviously had a bunch of draft picks since taking over at South Carolina, but what it does it mean to your program to have this year’s No. 1 pick in Jadeveon Clowney?
I think it helps a little bit. Obviously Jadeveon was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school. I think that was huge for us and we won 33 games since he's been here. I think we've won 33 since Bruce Ellington started playing and 33 since Connor Shaw started playing a while also. So those players have really, really played well for us and we'll see how the next guy in line can do. Certainly we believe Dylan Thompson is extremely capable of playing at a very high level and he's going to get obviously his chance to really, really have a big year.
Spurs & Feathers: Obviously Clowney and Bruce Ellington were selected, but seemingly early-entry surefire draft picks Kelcy Quarles and Victor Hampton for example were not drafted. You’ve been a big proponent if they feel they are ready to leave then they should. Do you still hold that same feeling after this year?
My feeling is the players that think they're ready to go, need to go and I try to never encourage a guy to stay. To me if a coach tells a guy to stay and then he stays and gets hurt or stays and has a bad year then he's going to blame the coach. You told me to stay, now look at me. I could have gone out my junior year, made a whole bunch of money and this, that and the other. So I believe the coach should stay out of it. I really do. Mostly NFL people say if you're not a first-round pick you should have stayed and worked your way into the first-round. With injuries and this, that and the other I sort of think if you're within the first three to four rounds it's okay to go. Hopefully in this new restructuring of the five major conferences our players will have a little bit better quality of life and will have the expense money to live a little bit better and maybe they won't be enticed to leave with a year of eligibility.
Spurs & Feathers: SEC Commissioner Mike Slive noted that he feels that if the NCAA five power conferences don’t receive the autonomy they desire with the new NCAA reform on the docket he would be in favor of a so-called NCAA Division IV. Are you in favor of this or do you think something just needs to change altogether?
Everybody knows that I've said they deserve a piece of the enormous amount of money that's coming in with football and basketball. When I speak of college athletes, I always try to mention the basketball players. Obviously in the SEC football brings in more, but in some of those other conferences basketball is bigger than football. Those are the two sports that bring in the money. Most of the athletes in those sports are not from high-income families. They are from middle-to-lower income families and they need some money. They need some money in the pocket like most all the other students on campus have. Hopefully we can make that happen, although I'm still waiting and seeing when it's going to happen. All they're doing is talking about it. Hopefully it will happen in 2015. It's not going to happen this year. They said nothing's going to happen this year. I made a suggestion why don't we give 75 football players $200 per game and give their parents $200. Let them designate their parent or their guardian because they've got hotel bills, they've got food, gas and all kinds of expenses just to go watch their son play. Of course, that fell on deaf ears. All my suggestions do. That's not much money at all. That's $30,000 a game just to give 75 players $400. Just do it, but I don't set the rules. All I can do is make suggestions.
Spurs & Feathers: Lots of great things happening within the SEC and nationally with the implementation of the SEC Network this year and the start of the college football playoff. Are you pleased with how things in your time as a head coach? Could you have envisioned the type of money and other things involved now when you first started as a college head coach?
No. I don't think any of us could have 25-30 years ago. Huge difference. I mean, huge difference. I think my coach at Florida made $25,000-$30,000 a year, something like that. Now I think every SEC coach makes at least $2.5 million and now (Nick) Saban's up to seven (million). I just believe we need to share this tremendous amount of income with the performers. There's a saying that college football and college basketball and horse racing are the only three big sports you don't have to pay the performers. To me, you got to pay the performers a little bit.
Spurs & Feathers: Finally, there is a little ways to go before the start of the 2014 season, but do you feel you have a team that can compete for the SEC Championship and a spot in the college football playoff?
I don't know. We've got to wait and see. We certainly are capable. We've won 11 games with all these guys pretty much. All you got to do is look around at these other schools that were picked in the top-10, one or two injuries, lose one or two and (it can) turn around and go bad. Try not to make many predictions. Our goals will be very similar to always and we'll see if we can reach them.
**Photo by Allen Sharpe**