Every year at this time, before the “new” ballcoach plays the ol’ ballcoach, we always try to draw comparisons between the two greatest coaches in University of Florida history.
In my book, as a sportswriter, there is no comparison. I miss Steve Spurrier. I wish he were still coaching at Florida instead of at South Carolina. Not because he is a more enduring coach than Urban Meyer but because he is a more endearing figure.
Meyer will never, ever be as beloved at Florida or in the Southeastern Conference as Spurrier once was. And, contrary to popular perception, this has little to do with Spurrier being a football hero and the first Heisman Trophy winner in UF history.
No, this is more about Urban Meyer’s relationship with Gator Nation than it is about Steve Spurrier’s. More precisely, it’s about Urban Meyer having little connection with the fans who root for the Gators, the booster clubs who support the Gators and the media who cover the Gators.
Then again, we could probably say the same thing about Nick Saban and many other coaches in today’s unsmiling, tightly wound world of college football. Spurrier, in his prime, was a rascal compared to the robots who mostly roam the sidelines today.
At the risk of sounding like a hopeless romantic who wistfully yearns for the golden days of yesteryear, I’ll use myself as an example. I have a million funny stories I could tell you about Steve Spurrier; I don’t have one I can tell you about Urban Meyer.
For instance, I could tell you about the time I went on a two-day booster club trip to do a column on Spurrier’s relationship with UF fans. When the booster club meeting was over one night, the UF contingent went to check into a hotel room in Tampa. One problem: Spurrier’s reservation had been lost and the hotel was booked.
“Bianchi, I’m staying with you,” Spurrier said, inviting himself into my room.
No problem. My room was a double, and I figured it would give me valuable insight into Spurrier’s irascible personality.
Did it ever.
Before the lights went out that night, Spurrier was amazed that I was going to fall asleep without brushing my teeth and gave me a tutorial on dental hygiene. And in the middle of the night, from across the room, he woke me up — Bee-ahn-kee! Bee-ahn-kee! — to tell me I was snoring.
The reason I tell you this story is to illustrate the difference between Spurrier and Meyer. At UF, Spurrier, much like Bobby Bowden at Florida State, was accessible, accommodating and made Florida football fun. He was a great coach and a charismatic figure.
Meyer is just a great coach.
And, these days, I guess that’s all that really matters. As long as Meyer continues to win big, Gator fans will embrace him despite his icy aloofness.
Deep down, Spurrier wanted to be liked by the fans who cheered for him and the media who covered him; I’m convinced Meyer couldn’t care less.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying UF fans don’t love Urban Meyer being their coach because they do. But they love the success; not the person. How could they love the person? How do you love somebody you don’t even know?
Besides the team’s walk in and out of the stadium on game days, there is virtually no connection between Meyer and UF’s fan base.
Meyer is a obviously a coach who believes his job is to win games, not friends. He is a product of what college football has become — a cold, corporate world where programs are run by businessmen instead of ball coaches.
This doesn’t diminish Meyer’s greatness as a coach.
He has given Gator fans what they crave most victories.
It’s just that Spurrier gave them something more.
He gave them wins — and grins.