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Ole Sports Writer Defends The Ole Ball Coach

By Buddy Martin
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Columnist Buddy Martin on South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

If you’re too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too bald, too ugly, too young or too old, too outspoken or too shy, you’ll understand this column. You know what it’s like when friends or critics constantly hammer away at your vulnerabilities with that form of bullying.

I fit at least two of those categories and it offends me when I’m the butt of those disparaging jokes. I really don’t care for the self-imposed byline above, “Ole Sports Writer.” So please remove it now. I just put it there to prove a point, but I don’t like it — just as Steve Spurrier doesn’t care for the term “The Ole Ball Coach.”

Oops, what’s that you say? I’m stuck with “Ole Sports Writer” because it has been in print? Well, I guess that disparaging nickname will no doubt surface every time I write a controversial column. Such as the one I’m unpacking now.

First, full disclosure.

Admittedly, I’m rooting for Spurrier to be in the news and his Gamecocks to win because I’m co-writing his autobiography, due out next summer and yet to be officially titled. So there’s a financial incentive for me. However, I’d root for him anyway because of our friendship of over 40 years, my appreciation for his contributions to the football program at my alma mater, my deep admiration and respect for Steve – plus the fact that I’ve adored Jerri Spurrier since I first met her.

I say bravo to the Head Ball Coach for firing a shot across the bow at his “enemies” Wednesday in an impromptu press conference and calling out certain members of the media for what he feels is an unfair characterization of him as a washed-up, senior-citizen coach.

Having reached the age of 70 a while ago, I know how Spurrier feels.

What would infuriate me the most would be their suggestion of onset senility or saying my program was in decline, which is exactly what was between the lines of some things written and said about Spurrier in the 48 hours following his verbal blast.

Some even suggested Spurrier was Nixonian in his calling out of his “enemies.”

Just to set the record straight for those who thought Spurrier was off his rocker for quoting Attila the Hun, I can assure you that he refers to the ancient warrior’s strategies constantly and has done so throughout his career. In fact, he keeps the book “The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” on his desk.

One of his favorites is:

“It is a simple truth that the greater your accomplishments (your victories), the greater opposition, torment and discouragement your enemies will throw in your path. Expect it! Don’t become a victim of it.”

What I saw Wednesday was Spurrier throwing off the “torment and discouragement” that his “enemies will throw in your path.”

Just Spurrier being Spurrier.

That said and out of the way, we can argue among ourselves about Spurrier’s timing of the impromptu press conference, his motivation behind it, what he said and why. Frankly, however, the suggestions by some critics that Spurrier was not only “over the top” but “lost it” because he is getting old smacks of pure age discrimination and the worst sort of ageism.

By the way, “ageism” in the dictionary is defined as “stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic …”

We all know the underlying theme when a coach is asked over and over if he almost quit last season, if he’s going to quit anytime soon and whether he can turn around the Good Ship Gamecock after the stormy seas of a 7-6 campaign.

So far in 2015, the USS Gamecock has made it through Ana, Bill and Claudette. But the National Weather Service may have to call an audible. Seems the fourth named storm of 2015, Danny, is still looming, but maybe now forecasters will want to skip ahead to the 19th letter of the alphabet to “S” as in Spurrier instead of Sam, because of something that just blew through Columbia S.C.

"I just want our fans to know that we're going to have a good team and recognize that it's our enemies saying these things about Spurrier being washed up and we're not going to be heard from again,” the Head Ball Coach said. “Gamecocks out there need to know that I'm going to be here five or six more years, and away we go."

Funny, I took some of those comments as positive, a coach trying to figure out how to right the ship, fire up his players and inspire his constituency. Some talk-show hosts, callers and writers made it sound like he was a doddering old fool trying to hang on to the vestiges of a career that once was.

They obviously don’t know his track record or much about his temperament.

The Grantland-Come-Latelys might have wondered if Spurrier was just an old fart grasping for attention and that he was full of angst because his AARP card expired.

First off, I love his fire, his competitive spirit and willingness to make bold, brash statements. This is an era when 95 percent of his contemporaries hide behind the cloak of “coachspeak,” afraid to mutter anything that’s not from page 34 of the coaching manual.

Spurrier has been doing this since I’ve known him. In fact, I vividly recall the day in the mid 1990s at his scheduled press conference when he asked us to bring our tape recorders to a table in the front and turn them off. Then he proceeded to rip into us because of what one writer wrote, quoting a player’s negative comments about the program.

Did I like what Spurrier did then? No. Did I disagree with it? Yes. But measured against the hundreds of choice quotes, honesty, candor and funny things he delivered over the years, plus the opportunity to cover a national powerhouse, I certainly could live with it.

And let’s be honest here — those of us in the media have profited greatly in one way or another over the years for the cottage industry that is The Head Ball Coach.

So kudos to “The HBC” for coming out swinging.

I support the first amendment and respect the rights of journalists to write or say whatever they wish as long as it’s semi-accurate and not in poor taste. Columns, of course, are opinion and not fact. And for over nearly a half century in the newspaper/radio/TV business, some of the biggest brouhahas have been about headlines.

So let me start with the one in USA Today over the work of national football columnist Dan Wolken:

“Steve Spurrier's rant makes him seem petulant, and, well, old.”

Cheap shot. First off, what would Wolken know about old? He admitted on Paul Finebaum’s SEC Network Show that “I was 15 when he won the national championship,” which by my math puts Wolken in his mid-thirties. To me that’s a kid. (No disrespect — I know some really talented young people.) But I’ve got expiration dates on my can goods older than that.

So if somebody wrote about Wolken’s column, would this headline be fair?: “Dan Wolken’s rant about Spurrier makes him seem immature, and, well, like a teenager.”

In all honesty, Spurrier has enjoyed a honeymoon relationship with most media members and the ones I know would rue the day that Steve retires.

Let’s not make this personal, however. I can completely understand why some writers would ask questions that they asked. What we really don’t know is what those writers really believe or are saying to their friends.

I can tell you, unequivocally, that the majority of them I spoke to at the SEC Media Days suggested that Spurrier would not be able to turn things around in Columbia and might even retire after this season if he doesn’t have a winning record. That was conversationally, not in print or on the air.

Three people asked if I agreed. I told them that after dozens of hours of interviewing him for the forthcoming book, I felt Spurrier wouldn’t want to leave the program when it was down. And I never got that indication at any point that he had an exit strategy of any kind, but I will admit that nobody knows what is on Spurrier’s mind and that he’s going to do whatever he feels right when the time comes.

What may have prompted the so-called “rant” was a headline in the July 15 Atlanta-Journal Constitution over Mark Bradley’s column. It apparently just got a bit too much after an endless stream of questions at SEC Media Days and then the ESPN blitz at its “Car Wash.”

The headline: “The Great Spurrier is surely nearing an end.”

And the line Spurrier abhorred from Bradley was: “Beyond numerical age, there’s creeping reality: South Carolina, which Spurrier through force of will pushed to the cusp of an SEC title, appears in decline.”

It was the word "decline" that probably irked him the most.

And when part of that story or a quote from Bradley appeared in The State, Spurrier’s hometown newspaper, The HBC took umbrage.

As I said to my Facebook friend, a former publisher, maybe they should be glad Spurrier is one of the few coaches who still really cares about what’s in the newspaper.

So my fellow wordsmiths – and I use the term loosely – I realize some of you are bemoaning the fact that you saw Spurrier’s “rant” as some kind of apocalyptic blowback and, like me, would hate to see the end of his era anytime soon.

Fret not, because I like the Vegas odds of Steve Spurrier being around for a long time to come and coaching successfully. And after he came out firing this week, I like those chances even more.

Buddy Martin - Buddy Martin is a veteran columnist, talk show host and author. A longtime observer of college football, Martin is heard weeknights on the Buddy Martin Show on ESPN Coastal Georgia and WMOP/WGGG in Ocala/Gainesville Fla. and the Southern Pigskin Radio Network, where he also co-hosts The Terry Bradshaw Show. Buddy won an Emmy while he was with Terry at CBS as an associate producer. More of Buddy's work can be found at where his show is streamed live. Buddy's most recent book is Steve Spurrier's autobiography "Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football" published by Blue Rider Press. He also wrote Urban Meyer's authorized biography, "Urban's Way," and Terry Bradshaw's autobiography "Looking Deep." Contact him at, Facebook/The Buddy Martin Show and @Buddyshow on Twitter.