Twenty-five years after his debut at Duke, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier aims for his 200th win tonight
COLUMBIA — On the evening of Sept. 4, 1987, Colgate University football coach Fred Dunlap received a visitor at the hotel where his team was staying in Durham, N.C. The visitor was one of Dunlap’s former players, now working as an associate athletic director at Duke.
Here’s a look at what could make the difference when No. 8 South Carolina hosts Alabama-Birmingham tonight at 7 on FSN:
SEEING THE PICTURE
USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward preached to his players this week that UAB tends to tip its hand about plays with the formations it uses, just as Arkansas did. Ward hopes the Gamecocks can defend the Blazers better than they defended Arkansas, which had UAB coach Garrick McGee as its offensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011.
CONTINUED O-LINE SUCCESS
USC relied on passing in last week’s win over East Carolina. If the Gamecocks do it again this week, they will need continued strong pass protection from their offensive line, especially if quarterback Connor Shaw recovers from his bruised right (throwing) shoulder in time to play tonight. Troy threw for 191 yards against UAB, which bodes well for USC’s offense.
NOT LOOKING AHEAD
Missouri comes to town next weekend as USC starts the meat of Southeastern Conference play. The Gamecocks should beat UAB, but can’t anticipate the Missouri game until Sunday.
UAB has Arkansas’ offense, but not its talent. UAB threw 34 times in a loss to Troy – the Blazers’ only game so far – which means USC could very well increase its interception total.
USC 42, UAB 10
--- Darryl Slater
WHO: No. 8 South Carolina (2-0) vs. Alabama-Birmingham (1-0)
WHEN: Today, 7 p.m.
LINE: South Carolina by 33.5
As the two men caught up, Dunlap’s former player talked excitedly about Duke’s new football coach, who would make his college head coaching debut the next day against Colgate. He was a bold man, this 42-year-old coach, and he had already impressed Duke’s athletic director, Tom Butters, with a response during his job interview. Butters asked the coach, “What’s the most exciting thing to you about the game of football?”
“You know the answer to that,” Steve Spurrier replied. “It’s when the other team punts.”
Butters loved Spurrier’s brash, pass-oriented offensive approach, which Spurrier used from 1983-85 as coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits in the USFL. When the league folded in 1985, he returned to Duke, where he had been offensive coordinator from 1980-82.
The college coaching world knew his name because he won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as Florida’s quarterback. But he was not regarded as a rising star when he took over at Duke.
“He was unknown as a coach,” Dunlap said. “I didn’t know much about him. I didn’t know anything about his personality.”
Dunlap learned quickly. Spurrier’s first play as a college head coach was a flea-flicker. It gained just 3 yards, but Duke accumulated 487, including 373 passing, in a 41-6 win over Colgate.
“Hopefully, we sold some tickets with that first play,” Spurrier told reporters after the game.
Twenty-five years, hundreds of play calls and thousands of sold tickets later, Spurrier will try to win his 200th game as a college head coach tonight when South Carolina hosts Alabama-Birmingham. He would be the 22nd coach in Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I, history to reach 200 victories.
Spurrier downplayed the achievement and said it really already happened, in 2006, when he beat Kentucky for his 200th victory, counting his years in the USFL and NFL.
“There are a bunch of dudes who have won 200 games,” he said. “I don’t know how you brag about that too much.”
But few did it like Spurrier, whose swashbuckling offensive approach made him stand out immediately.
“Not many people were doing what he was doing in that first game,” said Dunlap.
At Duke, they called it Airball — five wide receivers, empty backfields, deep passes. His undersized players loved the change from Steve Sloan’s ground-and-pound because “it had just gotten to the point at Duke where it was hard to run anybody over,” said Steve Slayden, Spurrier’s first quarterback.
Slayden never saw a coach like Spurrier. He would spot Slayden on campus and say, “We’ve got a new play we need to go over.” He even made up plays at halftime. Once, against North Carolina State, Spurrier went for it on fourth-and-6 from his own 24-yard line. Stunned, Slayden yelled to the sideline that it was fourth down. Spurrier shouted back and threw his visor. He knew it was fourth down. He wanted to go for it anyway.
“He’s different from most that I know,” Butters said. “He’s got that air about him. He is one of the great competitors of our time.”
Slayden was a senior in 1987, and after the season Spurrier took him golfing, just the two of them. Slayden tapped a putt to within a foot of the hole. He reached down to pick it up. Spurrier looked at him and said, “Are you going to mark it or are you going to finish?” Spurrier wanted to make Slayden earn every stroke.
Spurrier spent two more seasons at Duke, where he went 20-13-1 before moving to Florida, where he revolutionized Southeastern Conference offenses and won seven league championships and one national title. He has won 112 SEC games, second only to Bear Bryant’s 159.
Tonight, when Spurrier attempts to add another milestone, Butters plans to watch from his home in Durham. He said he will think about the day Spurrier walked into his office and told him Florida had offered him a job and a salary that dwarfed the $95,000 that Butters said he made at Duke. Butters knew Spurrier couldn’t stay, and that he had bigger goals to chase.
“Steve, let me explain something to you,” Butters told Spurrier. “You’ve got an itch that needs to be scratched. You have no choice but to take the job.”
A few minutes later, Spurrier left Butters’ office. College football would never be the same again.