Steve Spurrier was one of the best multi-sport athletes in Tennessee history during his playing days at Science Hill High School in Johnson City from 1960 to 1963. As a senior, he passed for 16 touchdowns in football, averaged 22 points per game in basketball and was 7-0 as a pitcher in helping Science Hill to the state baseball championship – and was named all-state in all three sports and all-American in football. While football would be his sport of choice in college, his high school baseball accomplishments topped the list. He recorded a perfect 15-0 record as a pitcher and was a part of two state championship teams. Spurrier went on to win the Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida. As a three-year starter at quarterback, he passed for 4,848 yards and 37 touchdowns. Spurrier played nine seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his final season in 1976. He then was one of the most successful college football coaches, compiling a 228-89-2 record in 25 seasons at Duke, Florida and South Carolina, which included a national championship at Florida. Spurrier also coached the Washington Redskins for two years.
Q: You emerged as a star pitcher in high school, but kept playing football. Why was playing multiple sports important?
Spurrier: A lot of us high school athletes, me and my buddies, played all three sports (baseball, basketball, football) so we just played whatever the season was and went from there. I was actually a lot better in baseball and basketball than I ever was in football until my senior year. In fact, some of my buddies said, ‘Steve, you’ll quit football because you’re not very good in football. You’re a lot better in baseball and basketball.’ But I just kept going out, and, by about my junior year and my senior year, I became the starting quarterback. We put in a pass offense where I got to throw 15 or 20 passes per game, which back in the ‘60s was a lot. We certainly achieved a lot more in baseball than the other sports, winning two state championships, and in basketball we would win the conference championship most years.
Q: While your notoriety has come as a Heisman-winning quarterback and championship-winning football coach, what does it mean for your high school accomplishments to be recognized through your recent induction into the NFHS National High School Hall of Fame?
Spurrier: It means everything to me to come from Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee. I feel like those coaches and that school are very responsible for whatever success that I’ve had as a player and as a coach. I had three outstanding head coaches in football, basketball and baseball. They were all a little bit different. My basketball coach was real active, yelled, encouraged, and was very vocal. My football coach was a little quieter but very strict and a disciplinarian; our guys were tough, our guys came ready to play. And our baseball coach was our history teacher. I never heard him raise his voice. Of course, we won about every game, but he did not get mad and he did not yell and scream. He put the balls and bats out there and said, ‘Fellas, let’s go play.’ We all played together so long that we had a natural chemistry in baseball and it just carried us through the tournaments and somehow or another, every close game we would win. That’s how we were fortunate enough to win those two state championships. I learned an awful lot from all three coaches, which made me whatever type of coach I became.
Q: Describe your thoughts and feelings during the night of the National High School Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Reno, Nevada.
Spurrier: I appreciated the honor of doing the induction speech for all of the inductees. I felt like any of the inductees would have been very worthy candidates also. I told the story about when I was once asked what the greatest game I ever played in was. In the finals of the region tournament in Knoxville, we knocked off a really powerful team that was expected to go all the way, 5-4. I pitched the game and actually got the hit that brought in the run to beat them. The significance of that win is we went on to Nashville and won the state tournament after that, and then the next year we went right on through and won the state tournament in Memphis. So that was one of the biggest wins of my life. People say, ‘Come on now. You kicked a field goal, you won the Heisman Trophy, and you played in the NFL.’ I say, ‘No, no. That high school victory right there led to two state championships and the memory of a lifetime for me, and all of my buddies were on those teams.’
Q: You’ve achieved a lot in your time as a college football player and coach. What moment(s) do you consider to be among your most beloved?
Spurrier: The biggest, I guess, is the national championship that we won in 1996 (Florida 52, Florida State 20), and barely just below that would be the conference championships. We won seven SEC titles and one ACC title when I was at Duke University, which was its first one, so that one was huge. Along the way there were several key games in the course of the season that completely turned our season around and led to a championship.
Q: The last name Spurrier is forever linked to the nickname ‘Head Ball Coach.’ What is the story behind that nickname becoming commonplace in the sports world?
Spurrier: Growing up in Johnson City, for some reason, we would just refer to somebody as a good ball coach. ‘Man, he’s a real ball coach,’ or something like that. To us, a ball coach – it didn’t matter if it was basketball, baseball, football, soccer – some guys or gals could just really coach. I’d make the reference and I think one guy down here at Florida in about 1995 or 1996 started calling me the head ball coach. He’d ask, ‘Are you the head ball coach?’
Q: You stepped away from coaching last October during your 11th season at the helm of the South Carolina Gamecocks. What brought you to make that decision?
Spurrier: I knew my coaching career would be over some day. I didn’t know it was going to be over after six games into last season, but it was obviously inevitable. As a head coach, I had assembled a team that wasn’t going to win and I couldn’t bring it back. I thought the best thing was to let somebody else try to see if he could get the season turned around, and then he would have a chance to be head coach and he would have a chance to save the coaching staff and so forth. I’d lost my enthusiasm and desire to coach. I thought my leadership last season was nonexistent with the team I had and I thought it was best to get out of the way and let somebody else try to do it. I did not like that it happened that way but that’s the way it happened. It was time to move on and I knew nothing was forever. Hindsight’s 20/20. If I could do it over again, I would have left after the 2014 year when we were 7-6 and just won another bowl game for four in a row. I wasn’t smart enough to do that.
Q: You were recently hired at the University of Florida as ambassador and consultant for the athletic department? What will that position entail?
Spurrier: The opportunity to come back to the University of Florida, my alma mater, and be an ambassador/consultant and do a little fundraising is really neat. I enjoy being on a team and it’s really, really nice to be where I met my wife here on campus and be associated with the University of Florida.
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department.