A popular topic of discussion on Wednesday’s ACC coaches teleconference call was a topical SEC coach, Steve Spurrier.
Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney responded to questions about his decision Monday to resign from coaching the remainder of South Carolina’s season.
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher wasn’t asked on the conference call, but he said during that week that Spurrier is one of the game’s all-time greatest coaches. He added how much he enjoyed his battles as an Auburn defensive coordinator in the early 1990s against Spurrier’s Florida teams.
Cutcliffe’s responses expanded the most, and he fielded a second question. Beamer also provided a lengthy answer. But Swinney offered the blandest words, which isn’t surprising.
Spurrier not only repeatedly frustrated Clemson in their regular-season-ending state rivalry game, he did it with biting quips. He loved to point out Death Valley is LSU’s Tiger Stadium if he heard someone refer to Clemson’s Memorial Stadium as Death Valley.
Spurrier had won five straight games from Clemson from 2009 through 2013 until the Tigers won 35-17 last year over a down South Carolina club that finished 7-6. Two of South Carolina’s recent wins were at the expense of higher ranked Clemson squads. In 2013 in Columbia, the No. 6 Tigers lost to No. 10 South Carolina, 31-17. In 2012 at Clemson, No. 13 South Carolina beat No. 12 Clemson 27-17.
“Well, he was great for college football in general, and he was great for South Carolina,” Swinney said. “And he was great for the Clemson/South Carolina rivalry. No question his status of who he is and then success that he had elevated that game tremendously.”
Short and sweet. Next question. Nothing personable.
Beamer spoke about how much Spurrier taught his son Shane during four years on his South Carolina staff from 2007 to 2010. Beamer is believed to be hanging onto the Virginia Tech job despite the program’s decline with the hope his son can succeed him. Shane has been on his father’s staff since 2011 and is the Hokies’ assistant head coach.
Beamer highlighted how Spurrier turned around programs at Duke, Florida and South Carolina. Duke was a perpetual loser, while Florida and South Carolina were underachievers until Spurrier turned them into consistent winners.
“I think what he’s accomplished is tremendous in the college football world,” Beamer said. “I got a lot of respect for him, and I appreciate what’s he’s meant to the game. He’s kind of a different guy that’s certainly added a lot to college football.”
Alabama coach Bear Bryant once said when he dominated football in the South in the 1960s that if Florida ever got a coach, it would be powerhouse. That happened when Spurrier’s alma mater, where he won the 1966 Heisman Trophy, brought him home in 1990. Spurrier won his first SEC title by 1991 and six in all in 12 seasons. He won a national championship in 1996 before his ill-fated decision to leave for two lost seasons with the Washington Redskins in 2002.
Much to Clemson’s chagrin, his failure at Washington opened the door to South Carolina to hire him in 2005.
Cutcliffe offered the most generous words and longest responses. A reason for that is Spurrier captured an ACC title in 1989. When Cutcliffe took the Duke job in 2008, he used Spurrier’s success as a bar to set. The Blue Devils won the 2013 ACC Coastal crown and are in contention this year as the No. 25-ranked team with a 5-1 overall mark and 2-0 ACC record.
“My only emotion is the sadness of it,” Cutcliffe said. “I liked having him. He helped me raise the bar. That was something you wanted to try and reach, the kind of consistency that Steve Spurrier reached in his career. So just a little saddened, but I’m happy he’s hopefully doing what he wants to do, whatever that is. I haven’t talked to him, but I just think college football lost one of the best of all-time.”
Spurrier has maintained his affinity for Duke. When South Carolina would play North Carolina, he would like to point out his record at Duke beating North Carolina. Duke honored its 1989 ACC championship with a 25th anniversary at the start of the 2014 season that Spurrier took the time to attend.
“I had him visit briefly with our team,” Cutcliffe said. “I talked with him prior to taking this job, and you could sense and hear his respect and passion for the university. There’s no question he has a fond spot in his heart for Duke.”
Steve Spurrier has long been gone from the ACC, but he’s not forgotten.