Q&A with Steve Spurrier: Fierce Georgia rival shares thoughts on Kirby Smart

Georgia football-Florida Football-Steve Spurrier
College football legend Steve Spurrier won the 1966 Heisman Trophy playing quarterback at Florida, but he's best known for his dominance coaching the Gators football team in the 1990s.

GREENSBORO, Ga. — The SEC’s “Head Ball Coach” chuckled and indicated he likes what he sees from Georgia’s Kirby Smart, particularly his sideline apparel.

College football legend Steve Spurrier continues to mix playful fun and jabs into his sharp insights even at 74 years old.

Fact is, Spurrier has lived a life of getting the best out of his players and getting the best of his opponents.

Spurrier and Florida dominated the SEC during his 12-year tenure coaching the Gators. Spurrier won the 1996 national championship along with six league titles, making life miserable on Georgia with an 11-1 mark against the Bulldogs.

Even as head coach at South Carolina (2005-15), Spurrier remained a thorn for SEC East teams, as he was 5-6 against Georgia, 5-5 against Tennessee and 5-5 against Florida.

And, if anyone thinks the game has passed by Spurrier — the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner and seven-time SEC Coach of the Year — they surely weren’t watching the AAF this spring.

Spurrier’s Orlando Appollos went 7-1 and sat atop the now-defunct 8-team league.

Spurrier was ready to hit the links in Greensboro, Ga., on July 1, 2019. Photo: Mike Griffith / DawgNation

Spurrier took a break from the driving range to do a one-on-one with DawgNation during the Arians Family Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament earlier this week:

What are your thoughts on Kirby Smart?

Spurrier: “I told Kirby the first thing I like about him is he wears a visor on the sideline, and I said you’ve got to have some guts to do that, some of those Bulldogs might try to accuse him of acting like that Gator coach a few years back, but nah, a lot of of coaches are wearing visors everywhere now.

Obviously he’s done a really good job, the next thing he’s got to do is beat Alabama, as we all know. Man, they’ve been in position, and when they start beating them, they might can keep doing it, who knows.

How close are Georgia and Alabama?

Spurrier: “They are very even, and the winner is the guy that plays the best that day, it’s as simple as that. The recruiting is good and wonderful, but when it comes down to game time, you’ve got to make plays, and make your kicks and don’t do stupid stuff, and all of that usually determines the winner.

What do you think about the College Football Playoffs?

Spurrier: “I’m a proponent of sending eight teams to it, to tell you the truth, but four is better than two, like they used to do. I guess it’s pretty good, (but) I certainly don’t like committees determining the champs. We’re the only sport in the world that still does that. (Saying) that will probably not get me on the committee ever, but that’s OK. I told somebody the other day, talking about the SEC Championship Game, the first one in 1992, of course, and I told our guys, ‘We’re going to try to win our division, and then we’re going to get a chance to play for the SEC Championship, we don’t have to worry about anybody voting, or any committee selecting us to go play in the game. So let’s try to win that division and go from there.’ So we liked that, and then after that they told you what bowl game to go to, and if you were the SEC champ, you usually went to the Sugar Bowl. That was one thing I liked about the SEC Championship Game.”

What happened with your coaching stint in the NFL with the Redskins?

Spurrier: “The big thing, and why I left after two years, was the owner, and I thought we were going to hire a general manager, and I thought I was going to be in charge of the football team. And the second year, I didn’t even pick the quarterbacks. I said, ‘You mean I can’t even pick the quarterbacks to make the team?’ And they said, ‘Nah, now we’re going in this direction.’ I said OK. So he was the owner and the general manager. He’s out of it now, he acts like an owner now and he allows his people to do it. But that’s the only job I’ve ever had as a head coach where I wasn’t in charge of the team, simple as that.”

How much did you enjoy coaching Orlando in the AAF?

Spurrier: “Oh yeah, yeah we had a good bunch of guys. Man, their attitude was wonderful. Garrett Gilbert, the quarterback, man he is a really good player. If he gets an opportunity in the NFL, I think he’ll play super. And Charles Johnson, our wide receiver, Philly signed him, man, he was our MVP, and he and Garrett on offense. And our tailback D’Ernest Johnson averaged 5.8 per carry, and he caught the ball out of the backfield. So, we had a good bunch of guys with wonderful attitudes and we won some close games. We were 7-1, lost one close one, but we won about three that could have gone the other way, too.

Did you bring any new offensive concepts to the AAF?

Spurrier: “There was a little bit, some ball plays here there and the other, but I’ll tell you what we did do late in the games a lot, we’d get in the old I-Formation and run the blast, or iso play, the toss sweep and the lead draw, and to run out the clock, that was our formation. And the guys did a really good job with just those three basic plays from days gone by. Instead of always being in the shotgun, we got under center and ran some I-Formation plays which really helped us.

What made Roy Kramer such a special SEC commissioner?

Spurrier: “He changed college football, a visionary, I guess that’s what they call these guys that think out of the box a little bit and ahead of the other guys. When he said we’re going to have divisions, and we’re going to have a championship game, and I said, ‘Is that legal?” He said ‘Yeah, if you have six teams on each side.’ I said well how come we haven’t been doing that all along? I guess we had to have (add) two teams to get to twelve (South Carolina and Arkansas), but he said that was legal, and it was like, dang, everybody ought to be doing that, and now they are, except Notre Dame, they don’t have to.”

Will the Georgia-Florida rivalry move from Jacksonville to a home-and-home?

Spurrier: “It’s up the the ADs and Presidents, I guess. Jacksonville loves it and I hope it stays there, but heck, when I was coaching at Florida, I said it’s to our advantage to get on the bus, and they’ve got to get on the airplane, and we’re in the state of Florida, (and) the stadium used to be called the Gator Bowl. It’s a good game for Jacksonville so I hope it stays there”