We all have that family member, whether it be a grandparent, parent or uncle who has reached an age of no longer stifling opinion in public. Steve Spurrier has never been one to hold his tongue. Add that he’s 66 years old, and almost assuredly at his final coaching stop in South Carolina, and the Ol’ Ball Coach has no trouble stirring the pot.
It’s only April, but after reading Spurrier’s comments on Nick Saban and Georgia to ESPN.com SEC blogger Chris Low, I had to double-check the calendar to remind myself it wasn’t fall. After all, Spurrier was talking trash at mid-season form:
“I sort of always liked playing [Georgia] that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”
“[Nick Saban]‘s got a nice little gig going, a little bit like (John) Calipari. He tells guys, ‘Hey, three years from now, you’re going to be a first-round pick and go.’ If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they’ve always won there at Alabama.”
“I think [the best coach in the SEC]‘s Saban. He’s considered the best. Les Miles is considered one of the best, when you look at number of wins. I believe you’re as good as your record. You are whatever your record is. Don’t give me any excuses or that you can’t win at this place.”
Spurrier’s assessment of Georgia has some validity. Consider the Bulldogs will be without All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree when the Bulldogs open 2012, and surely Spurrier would rather draw them in Week 2, as he had last season, rather than October like the coming campaign.
However, we all know the analogy of glass houses. His assessment could be construed as a thinly veiled shot at Mark Richt. Then again, maybe it’s a backhanded commendation of Richt’s willingness to bench players who violate team rules. Regardless, it’s a difficult subject to broach when South Carolina has had its own noteworthy suspensions under Spurrier. Quarterback Stephen Garcia was in constant turmoil before his dismissal last season.
All in all though, there’s enough ambiguity to Spurrier’s Georgia comments to leave open to interpretation. His assessment of Saban is much less vague.
Spurrier is one of the great college football coaches he references to Low. He led Florida to a national championship, and has established a South Carolina program that once struggled mightily in the SEC to the point it’s at now as an annual contender. However, Saban’s done much Spurrier has not. He has multiple national championships; three, to be exact. And Saban has won them at two different programs.
Further, while the Alabama brand name carries with it a rich tradition and mystique, Saban inherited a difficult situation. Hit with NCAA sanctions in the 1990s and coaching misfires early in the 2000s, UA was a rebuilding project not unlike South Carolina when Spurrier arrived.
The slight of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari is a fitting analogy, though. Calipari has had success at multiple stops, like Saban; is coming off a national championship season, like Saban; and while he benefits from the history of his program like Saban, inherited a rebuilding project…like Saban.
In that sense, the comparison to Calipari is the only part of Spurrier’s statement I find agreement. Even in complimenting Saban, there’s a hint of derision. Spurrier calls him the conference’s best coach, yet adds the qualifier “he’s considered the best.” Perception is reality in a lot of circles.
Ultimately though, there’s a grain of salt to be taken. Spurrier is a smart coach, and this is gamesmanship. Message board dwellers froth at the mouth, and bloggers like myself attempt to play equal parts psychologist and linguist.
The Ol’ Ball Coach has one of his most talented rosters since coming to Columbia, and could get a crack at Alabama come the 2012 SEC Championship. And until then, Spurrier has one figure to hold over Saban: 35-21.