TAMPA — When asked what has continued to stoke his fire for coaching college football, Steve Spurrier simplified the equation.
“What keeps most coaches going is that they don’t get fired or run off,” Spurrier said in his trademark Southern drawl, eliciting laughter. “So, I haven’t got fired or run off.
Then, the eighth-year South Carolina coach did a little math.
“We’ve averaged 10 wins in the last three years, so life’s pretty good as a coach when you can win nine or 10 games,” Spurrier said.
Sure, the South Carolina football coach brings down the house with his dry delivery. And yes, he isn’t afraid to make a colorful comment that could be perceived by some as a slight and maybe by others as simply self-deprecating.
The 67-year-old coach, even with his down-home Southern disposition, isn’t simply flying off the cuff.
There’s a certain method to his charm-based madness.
“He’s very calculated in what he says,” said Todd Blackledge, a college football analyst for ESPN. “He doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers. Then, aside from his comments or quips or sideline antics, he’s an outstanding football coach.”
Spurrier’s Gamecocks (10-2) face Michigan (8-4) on Tuesday in the Outback Bowl, and personality-wise, Spurrier is sharp contrast from Wolverines coach Brady Hoke, who typically remains guarded with the media when discussing just about anything involving his program.
Though Hoke may offer a glib quip here and there, typically as a means to deflect a question, Spurrier seemingly takes a devil-may-care attitude, whether it’s discussing his past, his future, his relationship with the media that covers South Carolina or even his team’s uniform numbers.
“We changed some numbers the other day,” Spurrier told the media, as he broke into a sly grin. “But we’re going to keep it a secret. Did you know you could do that? Change numbers?
“We also have two punters with the same number, did you know that? You can do that. Whoever’s punting is gonna be No. 13.”
But, he added, “the names are gonna be different on the back.”
Spurrier’s smile didn’t disappear.
Growing up in northwest Ohio, Jordan Kovacs only saw Steve Spurrier from a distance, usually on his television while watching Southeastern Conference games. He saw the persona that helped Spurrier become one of college football’s more fabled modern coaches.
"When you talk about some of the best coaches in college football, he’s at the top of the list, isn’t he?" Kovacs said.
"He just seems like a clever, witty little guy. He seems like he’d be a players coach and he seems like a lot of fun to be around."
South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger got a different perspective of Spurrier. An up-close one. When Swearinger first arrived at South Carolina, he didn't know much about Spurrier, other than the coach’s gregarious reputation.
“He’s the Ol’ Ball Coach, and that’s all I’d ever heard,” the senior free safety said, referencing a nickname Spurrier bestowed upon himself while coaching at Florida.
He found that as a coach, Spurrier motivated him. Not through inspiring methods, but through button-pushing tactics. Spurrier, Swearinger said, found his weaknesses and used them against him.
“There’s been times where he’s called me out, and I felt offended by it,” Swearinger said. “But I wanted to work harder at whatever I was working on. He’s a competitive coach and I’m a competitive player, and that’s what it is, a competition.
“He pushes a lot of players’ buttons. When he pushes those buttons, it makes us want to work that much more harder, to prove him wrong. That’s why he’s the coach he is today.”
In 23 seasons as a college head coach, first at Duke, then at Florida before arriving at South Carolina in 2005 — a stretch abbreviated by two seasons coaching the NFL’s Washington Redskins — Spurrier is 207-77-2 and won seven SEC titles and a consensus national title at Florida in 1996.
The Gamecocks have made seven bowl appearances in eight years under Spurrier, and while South Carolina isn’t the juggernaut that Florida was, Blackledge believes the key to Spurrier’s longevity as a coach is his ability to adapt.
At Florida, Spurrier’s teams emphasized their strengths in passing and pass-blocking.
At South Carolina, the run is what has defined the Gamecocks.
“He realized at South Carolina, ‘this is what we do well, and this is what’s going to give us the best chance,’ ” Blackledge said.
In the end, Spurrier said, he knows he will be judged on wins and losses as a head coach.
Saturday in Tampa, he made one thing clear.
“When I watch all the coaches that are finished, they usually get fired,” Spurrier said. “[Wisconsin athletic director] Barry Alvarez, every time I see him, I say, I’m going to do what you did. When I end up my coaching, I’m not going to get fired. When stuff starts getting bad, I’ll resign, or something. One of my goals is not to be a fired coach and not to take money for doing nothing. When I go out, I’m going to go out. That’s just important to me.
“Not real smart, probably, but that’s just something I think that you should do.”
Until that day comes? Plenty of bon mots and plenty of button-pushing remains for "The Ol’ Ball Coach."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.