Head Ball Coach In Winter: A day with Steve Spurrier in his new role at Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The voice hits them about the same time as their first cup of coffee on the third floor of the University of Florida athletic department.

Both arrive with a jolt.

"Mornin'!" shouts the 70-year-old man almost bounding down the hall.

Steve Spurrier says it to no one in particular. At 8:45 on a Tuesday morning, computers aren't the only ones emerging from sleep mode.

"Stevie Mac!" Spurrier then roars to longtime sports information director Steve McClain.

They all know by now the Head Ball Coach has punched in for another day at the office. Entering his eighth decade on the planet, Spurrier has refused to ease into retirement.

His first full season removed from coaching became his first fall as Florida "ambassador and consultant." The title came last summer. His official duties aren't clearly defined. The Associated Press called him "Head Ball Consultant".

But, you know, that's OK. If you ever saw his teams, Spurrier is known for his prowess at winging it.

"[The boosters] just want to hear me talk about football," he said. "I'm not big on asking for money. I'm there as the entertainment."

Whatever the job description, Spurrier takes it seriously this Christmas week as the Gators prepare for Iowa on Jan. 2, 2017, in the Outback Bowl.

That means Spurrier hits the third floor each day at about the same 8:45. One office observer says the first day he came armed with a briefcase, pencil cup and writing instruments. He set them all out on his desk and went to work.

Even now, Spurrier loves drawing up ball plays. He brightened as director of player personnel Kevin Barbay dropped by.

"Oh, I got a couple of ideas, Kevin," the coach says, reaching for a sheet of Xs and Os.

Coach Jim McElwain's staff may or may not use those plays. Does it matter? It's more important that a man who's largely responsible for the entire university's brand feels needed.

"I would say Steve Spurrier's at peace, but he's never at peace," said Buddy Martin, author of the coach's recently released autobiography Head Ball Coach. "He's as close as he can get to it."

At lunchtime, Spurrier works out for 90 minutes. The day ends with him dropping by practice. After that, he and wife Jerri may go out to eat with former team doctor Pete Indelicato.

So far, Spurrier hasn't been seen bouncing off the walls.

"What I do is I give him the next opponent 10 days ahead," McElwain said. "I'll say, 'In your spare time, take a look at the red [zone] ...

"I think it's been hard on him, too, because for how many years, after practice, [was he] going in the lockerroom? Those are things you cherish, talking to the coaches having coffee in the morning."

It's not an act when there is only one human ever to play the role of Head Ball Coach. Just check the nameplate outside Spurrier's office.

No one has to ask what the initials stand for.

hbc-nameplate.jpg
Everyone knows where Steve Spurrier's office is located. Dennis Dodd/CBS Sports

"He loves Gainesville," says his brother, Graham, "and that's where he should be."

This is a glimpse of the HBC In Winter. The hair, the physique don't suggest he's anywhere near 70. But the calendar don't lie. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his Heisman Trophy, the 25th year since his first "official" SEC title and 20 years since the Gators' 1996 national championship.

The team that put him on the coaching map -- a Duke squad that went 8-4 in 1989 -- amazingly still has a reunion every five years.

"It seems like just the other day," the HBC said. "It's amazing how fast it all goes."

On most days, that time is cramped into a small office he shares with personal mementos and the school's bound collection of game programs.

"Right here," Spurrier says, pulling a volume from Sept. 8, 1990. "That was my first game program, Okie State."

Long before there was The Swamp, the Fun 'n' Gun and that famed visor, a roguish, younger Spurrier smiles out to the world from the cover.

The coach still obsesses over that 1990 season. An NCAA bowl ban not only kept the Gators out of the postseason, they couldn't win the SEC. Of course, on the field, they did just that for the first time.

That Florida team finished 6-1 in the SEC, losing only to second-place Tennessee (which went 5-1-1). The Vols went to the Sugar Bowl.

"We got rings 'First in the SEC,'" Spurrier said. "Couldn't put the word 'champions.' We were the most mistreated team in history."

What followed, of course, were six "official" titles, including the 1996 national championship. Counting South Carolina, he is the winningest coach at two SEC schools.

According to Graham, this is first time his brother has been away from a football team since he was seven.

"I was finished," Spurrier said of resignation last October at South Carolina. "When you're finished, you're finished. You can linger around and do a farewell tour, or you can say, 'Hey, maybe one of you guys be an interim coach.'"

Spurrier was criticized for walking away from the Gamecocks in the middle of the season. But what's worse -- resigning then or phoning it in?

It's just a question of finding an outlet for that energy that used to be devoted to calling those ball plays.

"Let's see what Kirby's got ...," Spurrier said, turning up the volume on the flatscreen across from his desk. It is tuned to the SEC Network.

"It ain't easy out there," Spurrier said watching the press conference of Georgia's Kirby Smart. "He doesn't have a quarterback who can run."

Soon after, Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze appeared on the screen.

"It's tough to play that opening game against Florida State in Orlando," Spurrier said. "All summer you talk about it, then you go down there and get your butt beat."

Finally, there is a biting critique of Missouri as coach Barry Odom popped up on the TV.

"All of a sudden, instead of running the ball like they used to, they're a passing team," Spurrier said. "Now they're all sorts of soft. They can't stop the run and they can't run. Bo Schembechler, what'd he say? Running teams are tougher teams."

That's an odd conclusion from the coach who arguably brought the modern passing game to the SEC. But odd is what got all of us here to check out the third floor.

In a way, Spurrier has literally become a tourist attraction. The staff has to be on the lookout for fans who know where his office is located inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"Hey, how we doing?" Spurrier says to a man who appears in his doorway.

The stranger introduces himself at Don Propes, an Alpha Tau Omega pledge brother from more than 50 years ago.

"Am I supposed to see you?" Spurrier asks, glancing at his appointment book.

"Just wanted to say hello to you," Propes said.

"You ATO?" Spurrier shot back.

"Yes," Propes answered. "I wasn't over there much. I was over at the house for parties."

Spurrier smiles and reflects, "I'm glad to have somewhere to go every day."

Dennis Dodd/CBS Sports

This is not a picture of loneliness. This is a man who still attends fourth-grade reunions. Spurrier had them unretire his No. 11 at Science Hill High School in his native Johnson City, Tennessee, so modern-day quarterbacks could wear it.

Spurrier's first full fall without football was taken up with that book-signing tour. His autobiography appeared on the New York Times bestseller list.

"I sign for two hours straight and take a picture with them. They get a book, a picture and an autograph, all for about $25. Pretty good deal right there," the coach said in his usual clipped tone.

Then something profound: "I read somewhere, if you don't write your book, someone else will."

The season opened with an honor so profound that the the cocky, confident coach softened. His name was added to the venue he made famous: Steve Spurrier - Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"That's the biggest honor I've received in my life," he said, voice cracking. "No question about it."

To a whole new legion of fans, perhaps this fall's biggest accomplishment was starring in that Dr. Pepper commercial with Larry Culpepper.

Jerri Spurrier says, these days, her husband is more famous for that spot with actor James M. Connor than anything else.

"It was a long day shooting, like eight or nine hours," she said. "The longer the day went, the funnier they got. It got to the point nobody rehearsed anything they said. A lot of it was ad-libbed."

Hard to believe Steven Orr Spurrier would say anything off the cuff, right?

One half of the power couple that combined for those six SEC titles is also in the twilight of his career. Recently retired athletic director Jeremy Foley has eased into his own office close to Spurrier's.

"It's always good to hear his voice in the hallway," Foley said.

The move seems to have worked for all parties.

"I haven't seen him this happy in quite some time," Martin said. "I know every now and then he has a twinge about coaching, but he likes where he is right now.

"I think Steve is in a perfect place."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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