Spurrier vs. UF no longer surreal

Muschamp praises HBC's legacy

This Saturday marks the seventh meeting between South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and his alma mater. (Photos by The Gainesville Sun and The Associated Press/Photo illustration by Adam West)

Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 4:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 4:40 p.m.

In those first few games that Florida faced the former head ball coach and Gator legend, all kinds of emotions flowed. The atmosphere was tense and intense, and maybe even a little anger hovered on the UF side.

Time seems to have changed all that.

As the Gators prepare to take on Steve Spurrier for the seventh time, Florida-South Carolina kind of feels like any other SEC game on the schedule for both schools.

“It probably was (a special feeling playing Florida) the first year,” Spurrier said. “Now, this is the seventh game, so I think all that is just our team against their team, and so forth.”

Florida coach Will Muschamp is saying basically the same thing.

“Well, I think so,” Muschamp said when asked if the game now is just about Florida vs. South Carolina. “I think everybody in the Gator Nation appreciated what he did for our school and what he did here. He did an outstanding job starting as a player and then as a coach.”

Those first few games against Spurrier were strange, awkward, surreal. But seeing Spurrier wearing a Gamecock visor lacks the shock value it once did.

To illustrate how ordinary this game week has become, Spurrier and Muschamp have had some friendly banter back and forth through the media about a story Muschamp has told several times about trying to walk on at UF back in the early 1990s.

Muschamp, who spent his early years in Gainesville rooting for the Gators, said he and his family traveled from Rome, Ga., to Gainesville to talk to Spurrier about walking on at Florida. Muschamp said Spurrier didn't show up because he out on the golf course. Muschamp eventually walked on at Georgia and became a defensive captain.

Spurrier offers a different version.

“I think he made that story up, to tell you the truth,” Spurrier said. “I don't remember anybody telling me Will Muschamp was going to come by and I was supposed to talk to him.

“I think he was just jiving with all you people. But I could have been playing golf that day if it was sometime in April, May or June. He may be right on that part.”

Muschamp changed his story after hearing Spurrier's side of it.

“I drove down here, looking at the university,” Muschamp said. “Of course, being from Gainesville, my folks had a lot of friends over here that are still here.

“Naw, Coach Spurrier, I kind of exaggerated that there when I got asked the question. Jamie Speronis (a longtime Spurrier aide) was probably supposed to be here. Maybe he wasn't here. I don't know. I blame it on Jamie. I exaggerated a little bit. Blame it on Speronis, how about that?”

Muschamp was laughing when he kiddingly put the blame on Speronis, who actually was not in charge of the UF walk-on program at the time.

Muschamp is clearly comfortable facing the former HBC.

His players are, too, because many of them were only in second or third grade when Spurrier coached his last season at Florida in 2001.

“That was too long ago for me (to remember),” redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose said Tuesday. “He's just the head coach at South Carolina to me.”

Debose has no memory of Spurrier's coaching days at UF, and Debose grew up in Florida.

Sophomore offensive guard Kyle Koehne grew up in far-away Indiana. He's said he's aware of Spurrier's legacy at UF, but that's about it.

He said going against Spurrier is not a major deal to the current UF players.

“I don't think it's as big as it was probably a few years ago,” he said. “But everybody knows Spurrier was a big deal here. He's a good coach and he'll be good to go against.

“I watched the Gators a good amount (growing up) when they were winning, but I didn't really know too much about Coach Spurrier.”

The one Florida player who has a strong connection to Spurrier (and the Spurrier era at UF) is quarterback John Brantley, whose father played quarterback for Spurrier at UF in 1978 when Spurrier was an assistant coach under Doug Dickey for one season.

Spurrier tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit Brantley to South Carolina five years ago.

“Yeah, there was definitely interest (in playing for Spurrier),” Brantley said. “I grew up watching his era and him and my dad were pretty good friends.

“There was always an interest there, but he made me love Florida so much (as a kid growing up) that's why I decided to come here.”

Certainly, there are conflicting feelings about Spurrier around Gator Nation. Many still love and appreciate everything he did at UF. Others will never forgive him for taking a job at one of the Gators' Eastern Division rivals — or for that Gamecock celebration on Florida Field last November when USC clinched the division title.

To the current UF players, Spurrier is yesterday, and yesterday's gone.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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