Where Does Spurrier Rank?
By Matthew Osborne
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Regardless of how you examine it, Steve Spurrier has pieced together one of the finest coaching careers in SEC history.
Few individuals in the history of college football have even come close to equaling the accomplishments of the legendary Steve Spurrier.
A three-sport star in high school, Spurrier chose to play his college football at the University of Florida, where he was a two-time first-team All-American and won the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1966.
While his status as an SEC football legend was solidified by the end of his outstanding playing career, Spurrier is likely more well-known in the deep south for the work that he has done as a head coach.
Of course, there is no shortage of iconic coaching figures in the SEC. From former coaching legends like Paul “Bear” Bryant and Robert Neyland, to more recent coaching standouts such as Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Nick Saban, the conference has always been home to many of the nation’s best coaching leaders.
With so many legendary coaches in the storied history of the conference, the question then becomes where does Steve Spurrier rank amongst the all-time SEC greats?
Simply off of numbers alone, Spurrier cements his ranking amongst the SEC’s all-time great coaches. In 22 seasons as a head coach at the collegiate level, Spurrier has compiled an overall record of 197-75-2 (71.9%), giving him a career winning percentage higher than SEC legends Frank Broyles, Vince Dooley and Lou Holtz.
His seven conference titles – six of which were won in the SEC – rank him ahead of Johnny Vaught, Pat Dye and Phillip Fulmer.
And those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.
During a 12-year stint with the Florida Gators from 1990-2001, Spurrier’s teams put together an impressive run of dominance in the SEC, the likes of which had not been seen in decades.
In his dozen years in Gainesville, Spurrier won one national championship (1996), won at least nine games in every season, averaged more than 10 wins per season, finished every season ranked in the national top 15 and coached a team which was ranked in the top 25 in 202 of his 203 weeks as head coach (The Gators were unranked in his very first poll). Additionally, Spurrier was named SEC Coach of the Year an astonishing five times during his time with the Gators.
While his 12 years spent on the sidelines in the stadium which he himself nicknamed “The Swamp” were undoubtedly his most successful, a strong argument can be made that his coaching stints at Duke and South Carolina are actually more impressive and noteworthy.
Winning football games is tough. Winning football games at Duke and South Carolina, however, has proven to be a near impossibility for the countless head coaches burdened with the task of attempting to resurrect a pair of programs with a lengthy history of losing football games.
Many experts believed that Spurrier made a poor decision when he accepted his first collegiate head coaching job at Duke in 1987. Prior to his arrival in Durham, the Blue Devils had not been to a bowl game since they played in the 1960 Cotton Bowl, and had been perennial bottom-dwellers in the ACC for the better part of two decades.
It took little time for Spurrier to prove that he could turn the Blue Devils into winners, however. After going 5-6 in his first year at Duke, Spurrier led the Blue Devils to back-to-back winning seasons in the final two years of his three-year stay in Durham, including capturing Duke’s first ACC title in 27 years in 1989. Spurrier was named ACC Coach of the Year in both 1988 and 1989 before leaving Duke to take the head coaching job at his alma mater.
In 2005, after taking two years to try his hand at coaching in the NFL, Spurrier took his already impressive football resume to Columbia, South Carolina in order to lead the South Carolina Gamecocks.
While the Gamecocks had not suffered through the unenviable futility associated with the Duke program, South Carolina certainly was not going to be mistaken for a traditional power when Spurrier took control. In fact, in the 13 years in which South Carolina had been a member of the SEC prior to Spurrier’s arrival, the Gamecocks averaged a paltry five wins per season, despite being led by legendary coach Lou Holtz for nearly half of those campaigns.
Once again, Spurrier wasted little time in turning the tide of a struggling program.
In Spurrier’s first year in Columbia, the Gamecocks, who were projected to suffer through a losing season by most pundits, enjoyed a five-game SEC winning streak for the first time since joining the conference. The program also won in Knoxville for the first time in school history and beat Florida for the first time since 1939.
Year number six of Spurrier’s tenure at South Carolina yielded yet another milestone, as the Gamecocks reached the SEC Championship Game for the first time in school history.
Just last season, Spurrier led the Gamecocks to their best season in program history, as South Carolina won a school-record 11 games, including a victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Through seven seasons in Columbia, Spurrier still has yet to produce a losing football team. That trend is likely to continue this season, as the Gamecocks are ranked as a top 10 team in almost every preseason poll.
Numbers and statistics always tell a big part of the story, but they do not always give you the entire picture.
It is for this reason that may of the coaches considered to be amongst the greatest in history did not necessarily amaze with their win-loss record, but rather left an indelible mark on the sport through their ingenuity.
Spurrier is one of the rare crossover breeds who both boasts an impressive resume as a head coach, and can stake claim to being one of the most innovative coaches of his era.
For proof, you need look little further than Spurrier’s patented “Fun ‘n’ Gun” offense, which relied on a pass-heavy offensive scheme that was very different than what the vast majority of SEC teams were running at the time. Using this unique offensive system at Florida, the Gators became the first team in NCAA history to score at least 500 points in four consecutive seasons.
In the end, it is difficult to say which parameters are best to use when attempting to determine the greatest coaches in SEC history. Do you look at the total number of wins and the winning percentage? Are championships the best measure of coaching prowess?
Regardless of how you decide to examine things, Steve Spurrier has put together one of the most impressive coaching careers in SEC history.
While Spurrier still has some time to add to his legend, there is no doubt that at the end of his career he will be a coach worthy of being mentioned in the same breath of the SEC’s all-time best.