There’s a million football coaches, but only one “ball coach” and he’s here in Hawaii.
We live in an era of instant legends, but this guy named Steve Spurrier has stood the test of time in football lore. He was at Aloha Stadium on Wednesday, preparing Team Mauka for Saturday’s 7 p.m. fourth-annual Polynesian Bowl high school game. And, yes, it’s true, he wants to win, even though it’s an all-star contest.
In fact, it might be impossible to separate Spurrier from the game he loves so dearly. Early in 2019, he coached the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football before that league fell apart financially, but not before a 7-1 finish and the Apollos being named champions.
“I told my buddies that I’m going to be calling some ball plays next week,” said Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida, in the locker room after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve been trying to coach ’em up this week. I don’t know how we’ll do, but we still have Thursday and Friday.
“We’re trying to teach these guys a little bit about football, a little bit about life, Some of ’em are not the most disciplined kids. You have to blow that whistle about 10 times before they stop talking, and then you have to blow it again because they’re just sort of jabbing around. Not all of them. Just a few.”
So, in a few words, the self-described “ball coach” who is usually wearing his trademark visor is serious.
“My dad taught my brother and sister and I that if you’re keeping score, you’re supposed to try your best to win the game,” Spurrier said. “So hopefully we can get these kids to try their best.”
Now 74, Spurrier led the Florida Gators to the 1996 national championship and his Gators teams also won six SEC banners. He started his head coaching career at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to the 1989 ACC title, and he was also the head man at South Carolina, the Washington Redskins of the NFL, and the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL.
“I won my first ever game (as a head coach) in Tampa in 1983,” he said. “We beat the Boston Breakers 21-17. I still have the ball. I carried that ball off the field.”
Athletically, Spurrier’s biggest moment, he said, was winning the Tennessee baseball state championship as a pitcher and shortstop in his junior and senior years of high school.
“In my college playing days, we didn’t win the SEC,” he said. “We won a Heisman, but didn’t win the SEC, which was disappointing. I played for the 49ers for nine years and won a few divisions, but nothing bigger than that. Most of my success has been in coaching. We were fortunate to have a whole bunch of good players and good coaches with good attitudes and we won those championships with the right attitude and preparation and all that kind of stuff.”
Coaching another team is a possibility for Spurrier, but he thinks Saturday’s game will make him either 1-0 or 0-1 for all of 2020.
“I’ve coached enough, probably,” he said. “You never know. If you’re in good health physically and mentally and all that kind of stuff. It wasn’t hard for me to coach that Apollo team. I did enjoy that. We had a good team.”
When asked about two quarterbacks who are projected to go high in April’s NFL Draft — Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (the former Saint Louis School star) and Heisman Trophy-winning Joe Burrow of LSU — Spurrier didn’t hold back on the praise.
“Both will be very early picks,” he said. “Unfortunately, Tua had that injury, but you can come off of that, a dislocated hip. Time will heal that one. I like everything about them, confidence, the ability to make quick decisions — that’s pretty much what the great quarterbacks have, decision-making and obviously being pretty tough in the pocket and not afraid to get hit. And they throw a very catchable ball. Their guys don’t drop much at all. And they’re playing with good receivers. Danny Wuerrfel, when he won the Heisman (in ’96), he had great receivers, too. You gotta have those guys.”