Call it a comeback, resurrection, what have you — The Head Ball Coach is back on the sideline.
Former University of Florida coach and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier is three practices in to training camp with the Orlando Apollos, one of eight charter members of the Alliance of American Football, and Spurrier didn’t shy away from discussing the past, present and future Thursday night during a meet-and-greet for fans at the Hotel Indigo at Celebration Pointe.
With the season just over 50 days away, Spurrier delved into what brought him back after a three-year hiatus from coaching.
“I didn’t care what the money was or anything,” said Spurrier, who added he accepted the job on the spot. As long as his wife of 52 years, Jerri, could settle for a part-time return.
“This is not a year-round deal. We’re not recruiting guys for six months and this, that and the other,” he said. “I know Jerri’s thrilled.”
With her blessing he became the first to sign on, and Spurrier helped announce the first Alliance team in Orlando on April 7. He didn’t shy away from confessing to the assembled crowd of about 150 people one of his reasons for returning to the profession, one that made him a household name across the country: the last go-around, his swan song if you will, didn’t quite go according to plan.
“I didn’t leave South Carolina because I disliked coaching. I left because we had a mess of a team, and I was the head coach and I created it and made a bunch of mistakes,” Spurrier said. “Players didn’t like each other, coaches didn’t like each other, and it was time for me to get out of there.
“No one wants to leave under those circumstances, but that’s the way it happened.”
As the night went on, it became evident Spurrier, now 73, hadn’t lost a bit of his famous wit and humor since leaving South Carolina and becoming an ambassador at Florida.
After he welcomed and thanked the crowd, those in attendance were asked several trivia questions, with the prize being an Apollos T-shirt autographed by Spurrier himself. The second question — “which former Gators running back plays for the Apollos?” — momentarily stumped the audience, giving Spurrier just enough time to blurt out “Emmitt Smith!”
The correct answer was Mark Herndon, who walked in the hotel’s ballroom not five minutes later.
Herndon, a former UF walk-on in 2012 turned scholarship running back, briefly played with the Cleveland Browns before trying out for the Alliance of American Football league. Spurrier, who hesitated to mention other former UF athletes, knowing the roster would soon be trimmed from 75 players to just 55, had clearly already become comfortable with Herndon.
“I think Mark played for the Browns in 2017, during the winless season,” Spurrier deadpanned. An ever-smiling Herndon could simply laugh at Spurrier’s nonchalant crack. While salaries for Alliance players range from $70,000 to $80,000 — far below any salary in the NFL — Herndon, like Spurrier, isn’t in it simply for the money.
“It’s just a great opportunity for me,” Herndon said. “I’m just happy to be here, to be playing football here.”
Spurrier also advocated for an eight-team college football playoff — “then UCF would have a chance,” he said — cracked jokes about former players and recalled his stint as Mr. Two Bits in 2016.
“I did the Apollo aim after Mr. Two Bits. I didn’t know it was the Apollo aim then,” he said. “It’s what Usain Bolt did after he won the 200-meter in the Olympics. No one had ever done that before, not after Two Bits.”
Spurrier made sure to promote the Alliance and the opportunity it presents athletes, saying he hopes the 10-game season will help lead players back to the NFL. And when play commences, there will be a clear distinction between the Alliance and the NFL — in addition to an onus on player safety.
“The Alliance is really emphasizing safety, we really are. There’s no onside kicks. You can have a 4th-and-10, and if you make it you retain possession. No kickoffs. You get the ball on the 25-yard line and start playing. And no extra points,” Spurrier said. “I think this is going to create some different ball plays for the fans. I don’t know about you, but I like to see one every now and then and say ‘Man, I’ve never seen that one before’.”
The Orlando Apollos open the 10-game season Feb. 9 against the Atlanta Legends at Spectrum Stadium. Individual game tickets start at $20, with season-ticket packages starting at $75 for five games and can be purchased at www.orlandoapollos.com or by calling 833-AAF-2019.