South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier applauds during warm-ups in Columbia. (AP File Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
When 68-year-old Rich Brooks stepped aside in January as Kentucky's football coach, handing the keys to offensive coordinator and "coach in waiting" Joker Phillips, it left the Southeastern Conference with an unlikely eldest statesman.
Considered so youthful and brash when he arrived at Florida after leading Duke to a share of the 1989 Atlantic Coast Conference title, Spurrier became an annual headache to Georgia and Tennessee and guided the Gators to six SEC championships in 12 years. Now 65 and entering his sixth season at South Carolina, he continues in his quest of taking Gamecocks to the league pinnacle, yet he recognizes the final chapters of a decorated career soon will be written.
"I'm sort of proud that I've lasted so long and never gotten fired," Spurrier said. "One of my goals in coaching was to be a coach that never got fired, and I think I've got a chance to do that. Hopefully, in four or five years, I'll be able to hang it up on my own."
Though his 35-28 record at South Carolina reflects more losses than he experienced at Florida, where he went 122-27-1, Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to new heights and is scheduled to make $1.75 million annually through 2013. He is the first coach to take the Gamecocks to four bowl games in a five-year stretch, and he is the first in 75 years to go five seasons without a losing record.
Spurrier may not oversee the SEC's dominant program anymore, but respect for him hasn't waned.
"I can remember studying all the things he was doing when he was coaching at Florida and all the things we tried to steal from him to help us win football games," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "I'm glad he's still coaching. He's a credit to the coaching profession and to college football. I'm not sure if I can match that, coaching at 65. I guess I'll have to live that long first."
Said LSU's Les Miles: "I think that's a wonderful position to be in. I looked at Joe Paterno on the field across from me in our bowl game, and I really admired what he's been able to accomplish over the years. Certainly Coach Spurrier has had a remarkable career."
Known as the "Head Ball Coach" during his time at Florida, Spurrier once described himself as the "Ol' Ball Coach" during his 2002-03 stint with the NFL's Washington Redskins. He regrets that reference, because he doesn't feel anywhere close to his age.
Spurrier has had four knee surgeries and two back operations through the years, but he continues to exercise five or six days a week. He had to stop running nearly a decade ago following his third knee surgery, so he often goes for long walks with wife Jerri, who teaches aerobics at South Carolina.
"If we all read the magazines, then we know the way you function and perform in life has got nothing do with your age," he said. "It's got everything to do with your health and fitness. I try to recommend it to everybody, but obviously a lot of people don't listen very well. I enjoy working out and feeling good."
Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson, who is second among SEC coaches in age at 59, believes Spurrier has it right in working out. Johnson said the profession entails early mornings, late nights, substantial travel and lengthy time out in the sun, so staying in some semblance of shape is important.
The league's youngest coach, Mississippi State's 38-year-old Dan Mullen, just knows you're better off not tangling with Spurrier in anything.
"You don't want to compete with him out there on the golf course," Mullen said. "Coach Spurrier is a tremendous competitor. Growing up as a young kid in high school watching college football, I was a huge fan of Coach Spurrier and his Florida teams.
"We have the opportunity to play them not this year but next year, and I think being on the opposite sideline from him will be a pretty tremendous honor."
Despite South Carolina concluding last season with a 20-7 debacle against Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl, expectations are quite high in Spurrier's sixth go-around. The Gamecocks return 99 percent of their passing yards from a year ago, 93 percent of their rushing yards and 83 percent of their receiving yards, and they return 16 of their top 20 tacklers.
The critical game again is against Georgia on Sept. 11 at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the Gamecocks last defeated the Bulldogs in 2000, when Lou Holtz and Jim Donnan were the vying coaches.
Spurrier is just 1-4 against the Bulldogs after whipping them 11 of 12 times when he was with the Gators, but he'll be spending this summer scheming to defeat Georgia and everybody else on the docket. This after everybody had him pegged for strolling the fairways as a retiree by now.
"I never thought I'd coach at 60," he said. "You're in your 40s or 50s, but then all of a sudden it gets here, and it gets here quickly."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...