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Smith: Spurrier balances offense, life off field

COLUMBIA, S. C. – When Steve Spurrier walked into his office here recently—in his trademark visor—he wore a ring which reflected the Gamecocks eleven victories in 2011, a first time achievement for South Carolina.

“That ring,” Spurrier said, “is pretty special. I know it might not mean that much to Florida or Alabama or Georgia, but it was the first time our program had ever accomplished something like that—so we gave rings to our players.”

Spurrier has given the Carolina fan base something to crow about after years of mediocrity. It was on his watch during the 9-5 2010 season that the Gamecocks finally advanced their won loss record past the .500 mark since beginning football in 1892. What he aspires most is to bring the school its first Southeastern Conference championship. Getting to the Georgia Dome (losing to Auburn in the championship game, 56-10 in 2010), has been a one time experience for South Carolina. The Gamecocks can only point to one championship in its history. In 1969 when Paul Dietzel was head coach, South Carolina won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, the school’s lone football title. Spurrier’s body language suggests that he believes his current team can change Carolina’s championship history for the better.

When we met here in late August to talk football, he was in an upbeat mood, reflecting on his career which includes a number of noteworthy focal points like a national championship at Florida in 1996.

Ask him a question, and he gives you an insightful and sagacious viewpoint. Seasoned observers have noted that he has become old school. He likes to run the ball, but Spurrier counters with a quick disclaimer. “We had the athletes at Florida to do both, and I have always valued the running game. You have to run the football to win a championship.”

Coming into Saturday’s game with Georgia, the statistical totals through five games show that Spurrier, the offensive coordinator, has called for 199 rushes (for 859 yards or 171.8 yards per game) and 124 passes (for 1,186 yards and 237.2 yards per game).

When he shows players game tape from his years at Duke and Florida, they often exclaim, “We thought you were a passing coach.” He quickly reminds them that he is an advocate of running the football. “We want to throw it a little and we want to run it a little,” he smiled as he reviewed his philosophy. Passing the ball to open up the running game, he admits to being guilty. As he testifies to his affection for being able to run the football, he throws in a bouquet to his defensive coaches. “You have to play good defense to win, and we want to compliment the defense by moving the ball on offense and you have to run and pass to move the ball effectively.”

While Spurrier admits to stealing from other coaches (like Gus Malzahn at Auburn recently), there was no offensive guru in his life. He watched what the late Bill Walsh did with the Forty Niners, but he developed his own ideas. “I didn’t pick up too much when I was in the NFL,” he says. “When I was in the league, we didn’t even have a one back set.”

The reason his passing offense got acclamation, he says, was that he had the advantage on the defense in his early years. “Nobody disguised their coverage’s like they do now. The game has changed dramatically in the last 25 years.”

Coaching for Spurrier is something to be enjoyed. The way to enjoy it, in his view, is to get away from it. After spring practice, his golf game emerges energetically from its dormancy. You won’t find him isolated with his video tape deck. He is on the golf course. His belief is that a coach won’t get burned out if he takes time off from football. That is why his NFL experience with the Redskins brought him constant frustration.

“When the season gets here in late summer, I don’t get tired of football. The routine doesn’t get to me because I get away from the game in the spring and summer. In the NFL there is always something to do and there are some guys who can sit in a room and watch tape all day long for weeks at the time. That’s just not for me. I rather be outside in that good weather hitting the golf ball.”

Spring is a good seven months away. Spurrier’s clubs are stashed away for the duration. He has a new supply of visors and visions of a championship dancing in his head.

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Georgia still committed to NIT Season Tip-Off, waiting on format http://t.co/EauuWBgyvz #UGA

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