ATHENS — Less than an hour after Georgia’s 52-20 rout of South Carolina last month, Steve Spurrier was asked if that game might have been his final visit to Sanford Stadium.
“No, I hope to come back many times,” the South Carolina coach replied. “Greg McGarity is a buddy of mine.”
Maybe Spurrier was intimating even then that his future trips to Athens could be for social visits with the Georgia athletic director. Maybe not. In any case, the Sept. 19 game apparently marked the final time Spurrier would coach against the Bulldogs, the team he delighted in beating more often — 16 times — than any other coach in history.
Spurrier, 70, announced his resignation Tuesday as South Carolina’s coach, effective immediately. He stressed he was “resigning, not retiring” before adding: “I doubt I’ll ever be a head coach again. I may be coaching a high school team or something. … Who knows what’s going to come in the future?”
Such semantics notwithstanding, Spurrier’s resignation was seen at Georgia and around the SEC as the end of an era.
“When I learned of it (Monday) night, I was in disbelief initially,” said McGarity, an athletics administrator at Florida during Spurrier’s coaching tenure there. “I hate to see him go for college football.”
“He’ll certainly go down as one of the greater coaches in the SEC and the country,” former Georgia coach Vince Dooley said. “He’s also one of the more interesting coaches, I think you’d have to say, that we’ve seen.”
Spurrier is the second winningest football coach in SEC history, trailing only Bear Bryant, and is the winningest coach at both Florida and South Carolina. He coached Florida to one national championship and six SEC titles with his innovative “Fun ‘n’ Gun” offense and coached South Carolina to three consecutive 11-win seasons. But to Georgia fans, he is known mostly as the coach who compiled a 16-7 record against the Bulldogs — 11-1 at Florida from 1990-2001 and 5-6 at South Carolina from 2005-2015 — and delighted in beating and barbing the Bulldogs.
While at Florida, Spurrier famously asked how Georgia could get the higher ranked recruits but “when it comes time to play the game, we have all the great players?” At South Carolina, he said he liked playing Georgia in the second game of the season “because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”
“He’s a master at it,” Dooley said of Spurrier’s penchant for barbs. “He never ceases to amaze me.”
First as a Florida State assistant and later as Georgia’s head coach, Mark Richt competed annually against Spurrier throughout the Head Ball Coach’s tenures at Florida and South Carolina.
“He was fun to compete against because you just never knew what was going to happen or you never knew what he might say,” Richt said. “Some people got a little bent out of shape with a lot of things he said. I never really did.
“What he was saying is what he was thinking, and he wasn’t going to pull any punches one way or another. … I didn’t always agree with everything he said, but I never really took anything too personally when he was trying to have a little fun here and there.”
McGarity said he learned while working at Florida that there was method behind Spurrier’s needling.
“He always had the ability to get under your fingernails if you were on the opposing team, but if you were pulling in the same direction as Steve was, then you understood,” McGarity said. “That was just part of Steve. He was able to do it in a way that irritated the opponents, but I don’t think he ever crossed that line as far as it being overbearing.
“It was just enough to have someone think about it and enough for it to be a factor in some games where it might have been in someone’s head, whether it be a player or a defensive coordinator or the head coach.”
Dooley was impressed by Spurrier as an evolving on-field tactician.
“There was no question he was very innovative in offensive approach in what he did at Florida with some great athletes,” Dooley said. “But he continued to learn, and this is what impressed me as a coach, because when he went to South Carolina he changed a little bit. He didn’t have quite as many of the skilled players … but he got in more to an appreciation for sound football, for running the football, for playing good defense, and he won a lot of games doing that. I thought he did some of his best coaching job right there in Columbia.”
McGarity attributed Spurrier’s success at Florida to his creativity and his ability to develop a winning culture throughout the program.
“Early on, he was so far ahead of his time offensively … that it took the defensive staffs at other schools so long to catch up with him,” McGarity said. “And he was just such a good person to develop a mindset in a program that you should win, that you’re expected to win.”
Spurrier took delight in 1995 when his Florida team defeated Georgia 52-17 in Sanford Stadium, posting the most points ever scored by an opponent between the hedges. Twenty years later, Georgia scored the exact same number of points against what turned out to be Spurrier’s final South Carolina team. Less than a month later, after subsequent losses to Missouri and LSU dropped the Gamecocks to 0-4 in the SEC (2-4 overall), Spurrier decided to walk away.
Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, who went 1-4 against Spurrier’s Gators in 1996-2000, had only kind words Tuesday for the Bulldogs’ longtime antagonist.
“He always went by the rules. I had a lot of respect for him,” Donnan said. “Look at the job he did at Florida and South Carolina, not to mention Duke (in 1987-89). I really think the South Carolina reclamation project was even better than Florida. … Give him a lot of credit. … I know he has left his mark on football.”
MARK RICHT TALKS STEVE SPURRIER RESIGNATION: