During the course of small talk, people sometimes ask Steve Spurrier Jr. if he enjoyed fishing when he was growing up. He says he did, though he went just a few times and only once with his father. On the boat trip, Spurrier Jr. watched his dad and got the impression that the old man never wanted to go fishing again.
A college football coaching icon entering his ninth season at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier can’t stand sitting still. He exercises vigorously every day. While talking in his office chair, he takes notes, preparing his next plan. His wife of 46 years, Jerri, said his calendar has something scribbled on every day. Being married to Spurrier is “like hanging on to the back of a train,” she said. “You just hang on and you go and it’s never boring. It’s always fun. We never stop.”
So you can understand why Spurrier Jr. was skeptical when his dad told him he planned to attend a recent Dr. Seuss musical at a shopping mall that included a performance by Spurrier Jr.’s 12-year-old daughter, Emmaline. Spurrier Jr. didn’t know if Spurrier could handle sitting through the whole scene, with about 90 kids “running all over the place,” as Spurrier Jr. put it.
“Listen, she’s going to have bigger plays to be in than this one,” Spurrier Jr. told his father.
But Spurrier attended anyway, the most famous proud grandfather in the crowd.
“I had to sit still for about an hour and a half,” Spurrier said with a smile. “Just sitting still was a little hard. I’m not used to doing that.”
Spurrier, who turned 68 on April 20, realizes he is in an uncommon position, one that allows him to briefly, and happily, curb his energy and sit through a children’s play.
Three of his four children live in the Columbia area: Lisa King, Steve Jr. and Scott. The fourth, Amy Moody, lives in Florida’s Panhandle. Steve Jr. is USC’s wide receivers coach and Scott is a graduate assistant coach on the staff. Seven of Spurrier’s 11 grandchildren live locally, including all six of Spurrier Jr.’s kids. Another attends Winthrop. Grandkid No. 12 is due to arrive in September, Scott and his wife’s first.
Few coaches enjoy the luxury of picking where they want to work, winning big there and having family around to share the success. Spurrier certainly does not need to continue coaching. His legacy is secure. He is wealthy.
He still enjoys the job largely because he is winning. USC went 11-2 in each of the past two seasons, its best records ever, and Spurrier’s 66 victories with the Gamecocks are the most in school history. But the sharing of it all also keeps him going, still moving as fast as ever.
Every Sunday, Spurrier’s kids and grandkids gather at his house for dinner, while golf or football plays on television in the background. Every Wednesday, they all come to USC’s football complex for a coaching staff dinner, joining the families of Spurrier’s other assistant coaches – a tradition Jerri started after Spurrier first became a head coach in 1983. For Halloween and Easter, the staff holds family parties.
“It makes it very comfortable to continue coaching when you’ve got just about your entire family and grandkids in your hometown,” Spurrier said.
“Once you think about it, if my family was all in Florida doing something else, it would be hard to just try to say, ‘I’m way off doing my own job.’ Maybe especially if you don’t have to.”
Play to win
Spurrier’s father, Graham Spurrier II, was a Presbyterian minister who oversaw several small churches, mostly in eastern Tennessee. Spurrier’s mother, Marjorie, played piano, led the choir and produced the church bulletin. Through all the moves from congregation to congregation, Spurrier’s parents, both now deceased, kept the family close through traditions.
Summers meant road trips to Cherry Grove Beach, located near Myrtle Beach, where Graham’s friend had a little house. Graham loved the beach, and his three children – 6-year-old Steve and his older siblings, Sara and Graham III – looked forward to the trip every year. They packed into the house, slept on the floors, played on the beach, watched the fishing boats head out and come back with loads of fish.
In autumn, Graham and the boys got nose-bleed seats to Tennessee football games. Christmas brought car rides in the Buick, winding along snowy, two-lane mountain roads to visit relatives in Charlotte.
“How Dad ever got across the mountains I’ll never know,” Graham said. “But he always did. It was pretty scary sometimes, but I guess the good Lord was with him. We just had such a tight-knit family. We had to with all the moves we made.”
Spurrier lived in Athens and Newport, small Tennessee cities, before another family outing changed his life. When he was in fifth grade, he and his brother were playing on the ball field at a church camp in Black Mountain, N.C. Their athleticism caught the eye of Sidney Smallwood, who coached basketball at Science Hill High in Johnson City, Tenn. Smallwood inquired about the Spurrier kids, met their dad and told him about a pastoral opening in Johnson City. Soon thereafter, the Spurriers moved to the mid-size city where Steve launched his football career.
If Smallwood hadn’t noticed the boys and they remained in the map dot Newport, “who would have ever known if anyone would have ever heard of Steve?” Graham wondered.
Spurrier’s father showed him not only the value of a close family, but also of competition. At his dad’s funeral in 2000, Spurrier recounted the time his dad coached his Babe Ruth baseball team and asked the players if they believed the saying that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Half the players raised their hands. Spurrier’s father gently corrected them: “The game is played to win, and we’re going to try our best to win the game.”
“He strongly believed the Bible tells us: Run the race to win,” Spurrier said more recently. “He ingrained that in all of us very well.”
Fifty years after arriving at Florida, whose football program he changed as a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and national championship coach, Spurrier now has a quarterback pupil more than 50 years his junior – his 16-year-old grandson, Davis King, who plays at Hammond School. When they throw a football, Spurrier advises Davis on his footwork. When they talk on the phone, Spurrier asks about one of his favorite teaching points: “Did you jump rope today?”
Davis’ brother, Trey, studies theater at Winthrop, and when he was in high school, Spurrier attended his plays. Their mom, Lisa, recently hurt her back and Spurrier kept calling to check on her. When she thanked her mom for telling him to call, Jerri said he did it on his own. Jerri notices him hugging their kids and grandkids more than he ever did years ago.
“He’s actually become a better father the older he’s become,” said his daughter Amy, who has three children. “He is more sensitive to each of us. He calls frequently. He says I love you. We didn’t do a lot of that when we were kids. He kind of grew up in the ‘60s, when those were Momma’s words. He’s much more interested in what each of us is doing in our individual lives.”
Jerri doesn’t think about these changes in Spurrier until she sees him pick up the phone and call the kids and grandkids.
“I think always getting older makes a big difference,” she said. “For so many years, you’re so wrapped up in your own passions. We never really demanded that (outward affection) from him. We always kind of let him do what he does. He’s just much more aware of all people’s emotions than he used to be. He tries harder. He tries to be more compassionate. When the kids were growing up, he may come to some (of their events). But there were always meetings. There was always something.”
Jerri traces Spurrier’s transformation to 2004, when he took a year off from coaching after two rocky seasons with the Washington Redskins. The year off was his youngest son Scott’s senior year of high school, and the Spurriers remained in the Washington, D.C., area so he could finish. They attended all of his games, and Spurrier “was there emotionally every day,” Jerri said.
Yet both he and Jerri still maintain their own lives, independent of the kids and grandkids. Jerri coordinates activities like the team’s parents association breakfast on the morning of the spring game. (She has attended all of his games as a head coach except one, when Lisa graduated high school.) Jerri teaches a fitness class at USC’s student gym. She has two courses remaining for a second bachelor’s degree, in psychology, and hopes to work with depressed and suicidal youths.
“(Taking classes) kind of gets me where I get to be somebody else,” Jerri said. “I do it for me, and I think everybody needs to do something for them.”
For Spurrier, that is football, forever football.
“I dread the day that we’re not doing this, because it’s my life,” Jerri said. “It’s what I do, too. It’s what we do.”
During football season, nobody in the family is around Spurrier more than his sons. Spurrier Jr. sees how football – and winning, of course – keep his father always energized and moving. Spurrier Jr. has never heard his dad say, “When I retire, this is what I want to do.” If the victories keep coming, Spurrier Jr. can’t see Spurrier quitting any time soon. And though having family nearby is nice, Spurrier Jr. isn’t sure if that plays a big role in Spurrier staying in coaching.
“I think if it was not for us, if he was still doing as well as he’s doing, this is what he would be doing,” Spurrier Jr. said.
Spurrier at a glance
Born: April 20, 1945
Position: South Carolina football coach
Family: Spurrier and his wife of 46 years, Jerri, have four children: Lisa King, 45; Amy Moody, 43; Steve Spurrier Jr., 41; and Scott Spurrier, 26. Lisa has two sons: Trey, 19, and Davis, 16. Amy has two sons and a daughter: Jake, 16; Kyle, 13; and Lauren, 8. Steve Jr. has five sons and a daughter: 13-year-old triplets Luke, Gavin and Emmaline; 6-year-old Nolan; and 2-year-old twins Palmer and Hayden. Scott and his wife are expecting their first child in September.