Spurrier remembers Duke coach who gave him his break

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier during his days as an assistant at Duke.

Steve Spurrier has always paid homage to the coaches who helped him launch his legendary career. 

One of them was former Duke coach Shirley "Red" Wilson, who died last Friday at the age of 95. 


“Just a wonderful, wonderful man,” Spurrier told the Sun. “I was extremely grateful to Coach Red Wilson for giving me an opportunity.”

Spurrier started his career in 1978 as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at his alma mater, but wasn’t retained when Florida fired coach Doug Dickey. 

Georgia Tech’s Pepper Rodgers, who coached Spurrier in his freshman and sophomore seasons at UF, hired him as QBs coach, but that staff was let go a year later. 

Spurrier had landed his first two coaching gigs through Gator connections and was now looking for his third job in as many years. That’s when Wilson came calling. 

“I was in Atlanta and he called me about his offensive coordinator position at Duke University,” Spurrier said. “I interviewed on a Monday morning and got hired Monday night.”

Spurrier had never been an offensive coordinator before, although he called some plays during the second half of his one season at Georgia Tech. After being hired by Wilson, Spurrier inquired about his philosophy and preferences on offense.  

“I remember asking, ‘Coach, what’s your terminology, what’s your playbook?’ Coach said, ‘I don’t have one. It’s all yours. I want you to call the plays.’ I mean, what an opportunity of a lifetime for me,” Spurrier said. “It was amazing. Very seldom does a coach in his third year get to be an offensive coordinator.”

Why did Wilson give Spurrier, a first-time coordinator, full reign to call the offense? 

“I’m going to tell you why,” Wilson explained in a 2019 interview. “A coach at Tennessee told me the smartest coach he’d ever seen was Steve Spurrier.” 

Wilson allowed an innovative Spurrier to begin laying the groundwork for what would become the Fun ‘n’ Gun offense, which revolutionized the SEC and college football. 

The Blue Devils had the nation’s No. 4 offense in Spurrier’s third year as coordinator and Duke wide receiver Chris Castor was named the 1982 ACC Player of the Year. 

That success propelled Spurrier to his first head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. He returned to Duke as the head coach in 1987 before getting hired by UF. 

“I just want the Gators to know I would never have been the coach at Florida without Red Wilson hiring me,” Spurrier said. “I always gave him a lot of credit for whatever success I would have down the road.”