HOOVER, Ala. — A few years back I was headed to Commonwealth Stadium to cover a UK football game, and I called home to ask my wife, Little Bear, how the Alabama at South Carolina football game was going.
“South Carolina is winning,” Little Bear said, “but there’s still a lot of ball to be played.”
(That’s one of my favorite reports from Little Bear, up there with the time I called home to get the score of a Louisville basketball game, and she said: “Well, Pitino was really mad at halftime, but now he’s not mad anymore” ... end of her report.)
But back to that college football Saturday a few years back, I interpreted Little Bear’s report to mean that she had just heard USC coach Steve Spurrier interviewed on TV by a sideline reporter as the Gamecocks and Tide went to halftime.
I smile at that memory, just as I smiled Tuesday morning at SEC Media Days when Spurrier greeted some 1,200 media members with this:
“Getting ready for talking season,” he said. “That’s what we’re all doing right now, talking a little bit till we start practice. We got a pretty good team. Most of the magazines have us 9, 10, 11 in the country, something like that.
“We’re looking forward to what happens August 28. We start the season Thursday night, Texas A&M, very good team comes in, Coach Sumlin and his guys. See what happens.”
Here’s a look at other Spurrier-isms from Tuesday: Senior Dylan Thompson takes over for Connor Shaw at quarterback for the Gamecocks.
“He’s a fifth-year player,” Spurrier said of Thompson. “He’s been to all the games.”
Hasn’t PLAYED in all the games, mind you, but has attended them.
Spurrier’s Gamecocks have enjoyed some of their best success in school history of late, going 11-2 in each of the past three seasons.
Spurrier said improved recruiting and improved boosters have played a role.
“When I first got here, we had one person give over a million bucks in the history of the school,” he said. “Now we have 12 or 13. The boosters are very important. Joe Rice is one of our big donors. He took me to the Bahamas on his jet airplane, on his yacht. Pretty good trip.”
Asked how he will prepare for the opener with Texas A&M, a team with a lot of new faces, Spurrier said: “About the same way you prepare for all of them. We watch a little tape, try to generally get their scheme of things ... this, that and the other.”
USC officials announced recently that the winner of the Gamecocks-A&M game will receive a trophy named after James Butler Bonham, a South Carolina-educated hero of the Alamo.
“I heard about it. Read about it,” Spurrier said. “Didn’t know it’s official. I’m actually from Tennessee (Johnson City). I’m sure Bonham did some good things. (But) I always thought Davy Crockett was the hero of the Alamo ... he and those 33 Tennessee guys that came in there and got killed.”
Spurrier had an interesting take on comparing the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry to the value of winning an SEC championship. The latter is something the Gamecocks have yet to accomplish.
“If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say we would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC,” Spurrier said. “Personally, I’d rather win the SEC.”
Spurrier said it’s a shame that some of the conference re-alignments have at least indirectly eliminated some of college football’s traditional rivalries, such as that between former Big 12 rivals Texas and Texas A&M.
“I’m not from Texas, but I think it’s a shame that Texas and Texas A&M don’t play,” Spurrier said. “Two schools that have been playing for over a hundred years, just because one of them joins another conference, get mad at each other, we’re not playing you anymore.
“Florida plays Florida State. We play Clemson. Georgia plays Georgia Tech. We’re in different conferences, but they are in-state rivals. The fans want to see you beat your next door neighbors.”
Spurrier said that when one of his players wants to leave South Carolina early for a shot at the NFL, he never tries to talk the player out of it.
“When a player says, ‘I’m going pro,’ I shake his hand and say, ‘Good luck,”’ Spurrier said. “Once they say they’re ready go to pro, that means they’re tired of school ... ‘I want to get paid to play football.’
“The days of a coach talking a kid into staying is not smart. He could get hurt his last year. Marcus Lattimore, after his second big (knee) injury, he came to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m going to go pro.’ I said, ‘I agree, you need to go pro right now. Don’t get that knee healed back up, and, God forbid, get hurt another season when you’re not getting paid anything.’”
Speaking of getting paid, Spurrier said it’s more realistic than ever that college athletes in football and perhaps basketball, too, will soon get more than tuition, room and board, books ... this, that and the other.
“All of you know I’m an advocate for giving some expense money to college football and basketball players,” Spurrier said. “Those two sports bring in billions. They deserve a little more. That should happen soon down the road.”
Spurrier is 69 years old, though he looks at least a decade younger. He said he still very much enjoys coaching and has no plans to retire.
“Obviously you never know what your path in life is going to lead to,” he said. “When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach NFL for five or six years and retire to a beach and play golf a bunch and travel around, this, that and the other. But that was a bad plan. After two years, the team I was with (Washington), I said, ‘This isn’t for me.’ So the South Carolina opportunity came up.
“Some people ask: ‘How did you end up there?’ I said, ‘I was available, and they were the only ones that offered me a job at the end of 2004.’”
Coaches and players from Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Tennessee also met with the media here Tuesday.
Missouri, LSU and Arkansas are on the slate for today, with Georgia, Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky closing things Thursday.