Spurrier back in town, is honored as 'Great Floridian'


Florida Gov. Rick Scott hangs out with former University of Florida head football coach and player Steve Spurrier before Gov. Scott presents Spurrier with the "Great Floridian" award at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field on Thursday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 3:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 11:27 p.m.
Shortly before being honored as a "Great Floridian," Steve Spurrier reflected on his humble beginnings at the University of Florida. As a scholarship athlete at UF in 1963, Spurrier was allowed to hold a summer job while taking one summer class. Spurrier's former coach, Ray Graves, arranged for his starting quarterback to work with UF's maintenance department. Through that stifling, sweaty Gainesville summer, Spurrier traded in a football for a hammer and some nails. "We had wooden bleachers back then and I remember replacing those that were all splintered up, or helping out anyway," Spurrier said. "I wasn't a very good carpenter, but I replaced a bunch of those bleachers on the first 20 rows on the home side." Spurrier would then fill those bleachers, first as a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and later as an icon coach for the Gators from 1990-2002. On Thursday, Spurrier returned to the site of his greatest accomplishments to accept the Great Floridian award from Gov. Rick Scott.


The ceremony started at the F Club, then continued outside to the stadium that Spurrier coined "The Swamp" back in 1992. The nickname has stood since. "Good things have happened to me ever since I came to the University of Florida way back in 1963," Spurrier said. "I appreciate Gov. Scott giving me this award." The "Great Floridian" designation is given in recognition of the outstanding achievements of men and women who have made significant contributions to the progress and welfare of Florida. Spurrier is the 71st person to receive the award since 1971. Though mostly reserved for educators, judges and political figures, the award has been given to several former athletes and coaches of late, including former UF quarterback Tim Tebow, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy and former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks. "He's an inspiration," Scott said of Spurrier. "Here's an individual who worked very hard his whole life, one to be a great football player and he did it, winning the Heisman Trophy, and one to be a great coach, and he brought the national championship to Florida. "He's done it across the country and he started right here in this great state. So you want to give it to people who have done the right thing with their lives and they are an inspiration to others." Born in Miami Beach, Spurrier was just a year old when he moved with his family to Johnson City, Tenn. But after a stellar high school career, Spurrier enrolled at UF in 1963. Graves was instrumental in recruiting the self-described "skinny kid from Tennessee." A two-time All-America quarterback, Spurrier passed for 4,848 yards, 37 TDs and rushed for 442 yards in his UF career. He was the school's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966. Spurrier's second act at Florida was as impressive as his first. In 12 seasons as coach, Spurrier led the Gators to six SEC titles and one national championship (1996) before leaving for an NFL coaching job with the Washington Redskins. Spurrier said he felt he returned to coach his alma mater at the perfect time. "The ballplayers were already here, there wasn't much expected of Florida, although we had an excellent team," Spurrier said. "Of course, we won the SEC the first two years and almost won it the third year. "The situation was just as good as any coach could have. I had ballplayers. I had the state of Florida to recruit from and so forth. I had a wonderful 12-year run. I thought it was time to go coach somewhere else. Sometimes I think in coaching, if you stay 10, 12, 15 years, maybe it's best to go somewhere else for a while." After his NFL stint with the Redskins ended in 2004, Spurrier returned to the college sidelines in 2005 to coach South Carolina. Although on Thursday Spurrier wore a lapel with the South Carolina state emblem to the ceremony, he said he considers his ties to Florida strong. He still owns a condominium at Crescent Beach. He met his wife, Jerri, a Fort Lauderdale native, at UF in 1964. The couple have been together since. "Florida is a place I plan to continue to living in," Spurrier said. "I live a little bit here now, but later on, hopefully a lot more. But South Carolina is my home now. And I'm always going to be from East Tennessee, but I've lived in the state Florida longer than any other place." Among those who attended Thursday's ceremony were Florida football coach Will Muschamp, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and veteran UF sports information director/historian Norm Carlson, who launched Spurrier's Heisman campaign in 1966. During the ceremony, Scott asked if Spurrier had ever considered running for public office. Shaking his head while chuckling, Spurrier responded "no." But Spurrier has managed to remain a beloved figure in UF sports history while currently coaching for another SEC school. He said it no longer fazes him when he returns to the opposing sidelines of Florida Field wearing a South Carolina visor. Last season, Spurrier endured his worst loss of the season at Florida Field when the Gators knocked off South Carolina 44-11. "When you're with your team all year long, your emotions are with your guys," Spurrier said. "You don't say ‘Wow I used to coach at this place.' You don't even think about that. You are trying to think about trying to help your team, your players be successful that day. That's really what most coaches think about during the game."

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