Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Enthusiasm drives Spurrier

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm" is the famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, but it also could be the life credo for 'the Head Ball Coach', Steve Spurrier.

Spurrier's success on the college football field speaks for itself, and is second only to Bear Bryant in SEC victories. Bryant amassed 159 SEC wins, a record most in this league consider to be unbreakable. Between successful stops at the University of Florida and now at the University of South Carolina, Spurrier has 116.

To put that total in perspective, the next closest active coach in the SEC is Alabama's Nick Saban, who has 64 SEC wins.

Spurrier, who's already the all-time winningest coach at Florida with 122 wins, is just 10 wins away from also becoming South Carolina's all-time winningest coach.

You can't have that level of success at places like Florida, South Carolina and at Duke (yes, Duke University) without having a high level of energy and enthusiasm.

Chris Low of ESPN writes of how Spurrier is even more excited about the future than he is about recalling his accomplished past.

Not only did the Gamecocks win 11 games for the first time in school history, but they also won nine or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time. They swept Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee for the second consecutive season. It was South Carolina's third straight win over bitter rival Clemson, the first time that's happened since 1968 to 1970.

Here's the best news for South Carolina fans: As proud as Spurrier is of what the Gamecocks have accomplished in his seven years on the job, his focus is squarely on the future.

He's as committed as ever to winning an SEC championship at South Carolina.

So while others may wonder how much longer he will keep coaching, Spurrier's attitude is that his work is far from finished.

He's having a blast and doesn't mind saying that he feels rejuvenated in a lot of ways.

"I like being the coach where they've done something for the first time ever," Spurrier said. "It's just a special thrill to do something that's never been done before, and here at South Carolina, we have so many opportunities to do that, so many.

"I knew the history here and what little tradition was here when I took the job, and that's really what was appealing to me. I was thinking, 'Man, look at all these firsts we can achieve.' Gosh, South Carolina had never even won a game in Knoxville in its history, never won in the Swamp, never won 11 games, never won nine or more games back to back," he said.

"The record against Tennessee and Florida in 13 years was one win and 25 losses. Now, we're 7-7 and swept Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee the last two years and are 8-0 against those guys. I think Lou [Holtz] was 3-21 in his six years against those four."

South Carolina's recruiting the past few years has been excellent, and the Gamecocks have been able to keep the best players in-state at home.

When you close down the borders and bring in highly regarded players such as Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman, Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney, you're going to win a lot of games.

That run is set to continue this year with receiver Shaq Roland of Lexington, S.C., committed to the Gamecocks. Roland was Mr. Football this year in the state and rated by ESPN as the No. 5 receiver prospect in the country.

While Spurrier isn't ready to say that South Carolina has it rolling like Florida did in the 1990s when he guided the Gators to four straight SEC championships, he's convinced that the Gamecocks are moving in the right direction.

"We're not quite there yet, but we can potentially be pretty good because the recruiting has gone so well and guys are sticking," Spurrier said. "We still haven't won the SEC, and that's our goal here, to win the first ever SEC championship.

"We've got to avoid that year of taking a step back. History shows that teams that haven't ever won much, once they have that one big year, they go in the jar after that. Lou won nine games one year and followed it up with a 5-7 record after that Outback Bowl win. So I promise you we'll be on their butts."

I reminded Spurrier that he told me three or four years ago that 66 was about as long as he wanted to go in coaching.

He joked that he didn't think he'd even make it to 66 after the Gamecocks' woeful showings in the Outback Bowl following the 2008 season and the PapaJohns.com Bowl following the 2009 season.

"Well, it was a lot more fun coaching this team, and I don't mind saying that," Spurrier said. "The other thing is the recruiting. We're signing good players and more quality kids. It's a better quality of young men. They're on time, doing the things they're supposed to be doing and taking care of the things they're supposed to be taking care of.

"Clowney made a 2.9 his first semester, so he's coming around."

Following a brief pause, Spurrier cracked, "He's going to have three big years for us."

Despite approaching 70, Spurrier said he's in better shape now than he was 20 years ago. And the truth is that he could easily pass for someone in his mid-50s.

"Age is a funny thing," Spurrier said. "As we all know, it's just a number. I read something the other day that 60 is yesterday's 40, so I guess 66 is yesterday's 46. But, health-wise, gosh, I feel about the same. I work out six days a week and try to eat correctly and all that kind of stuff.

"And, hey, I can still remember all the plays and remember everybody's name."

I was always from the school of thought that enthusiasm is infectuous - a leader can project his or her level of enthusiasm onto those around them. If that's the case, look for continued energy, enthusiasm and wins at the University of South Carolina and for Steve Spurrier.

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