TAMPA, Fla. — Saturday’s Outback Bowl press conference proved at least one thing: off the field, Michigan coach Brady Hoke and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier hold the same in job title only.
While Hoke spent his session in front of the microphone in his typical reserved, unflinchingly dull manner, his peer, Spurrier, cracked jokes as often as he talked about how his 11th-ranked Gamecocks were preparing for Tuesday’s matchup with the Wolverines.
At one point, Spurrier talked about how his players would probably be enjoying “a few beers” during bowl week, but that he’s not too worried about any serious trouble since he’s recruited “smarter” players recently; at another, Spurrier said he has continued to coach effectively even at age 67 simply because he hasn’t been fired or run off.
And this was before the Ol’ Ball Coach, as Spurrier is affectionately known, answered a question about players to watch out for on No. 19 Michigan’s defense by going on a tangent about uniform numbers. With a smile on his face, Spurrier asked the assembled media if they knew that the Gamecocks had two punters that both wore No. 13.
This is nothing new for Spurrier — he’s been just as affable throughout his 35-year coaching career. And his jovial manner hasn’t impinged on his success in any way, especially during his 12-year stint at Florida, his alma mater.
After five mediocre seasons to begin his stay at South Carolina, Spurrier now has things trending in the right direction in Columbia, having recorded three straight 10-win seasons. It doesn’t appear that he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
“Life’s pretty good as a coach when you can win nine, 10, so forth,” Spurrier said. “And then I got my son (co-offensive coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr.) coaching, I got another son that’s a graduate assistant, a lot of my family is in Columbia. It’s sort of a nice place to be. Health-wise, I think I’m as healthy as I was 20 years ago.
“When I end my coaching, I’m not going to get fired, so if it starts going bad, I’ll resign or something.”
This season, Spurrier has led his team to another solid campaign by successfully weathering the loss of talented running back Marcus Lattimore to injury. The Gamecocks have also overcome several injuries to starting quarterback Connor Shaw, with backup Dylan Thompson filling in effectively when needed. (Spurrier said on Saturday that both quarterbacks would play against the Wolverines in the Outback Bowl, but that he hoped one would emerge to play most of the game.)
The offensive-minded Spurrier has naturally focused much of his attention on Michigan’s defense, which he complimented for being solid against both the pass and the run. But as is the case with every opponent of the Wolverines, Spurrier has had to keep an eye on Michigan’s quarterback situation as well.
Hoke hasn’t made clear exactly how playing time will shake out between junior Devin Gardner and senior Denard Robinson, who is still recovering from a nerve injury to his right elbow. Both will surely see time, but Robinson’s throwing ability, and thus his role in the bowl game, remains a mystery.
Spurrier said his defense, which ranks 12th in the country in yards allowed per game, will have to be ready for whatever Michigan presents on offense and at quarterback.
“Be prepared for the run, the pass,” Spurrier said. “(Gardner and Robinson) both can pass, they both can run. You just go play. Play your assignment, play the best you can. We know Denard is an excellent runner … You got to wrap up and just play the best you can.”
If his time at South Carolina has shown anything, it’s that Spurrier has been willing to change as a head man. Though the former Heisman Trophy winner made his name as a coach at Florida with a “run and gun,” high-octane passing attack, the Gamecocks have been a run-dominated team since Spurrier took over in 2005.
In that way, Spurrier and Hoke actually are similar — the latter coach also wants his teams to establish their identity on the ground. Of course, neither Michigan nor South Carolina has run blocked particularly well this season. With both teams also alike in that they boast excellent defenses, the Outback Bowl could be tighter than prevailing wisdom suggests, even though the Gamecocks are favored.
Count Spurrier among those expecting a hard-fought affair.
“We’re looking forward to an exciting close game with Michigan,” Spurrier said. “We plan that’s the way it’s going to be, so there’s a good chance it will turn out that way.”