What Gators paid to get McElwain underscores UM’s challenge in finding a coach

Florida has turned around its football program under Jim McElwain, but it cost the Gators plenty.

Consider these numbers as Miami undergoes its own coach search, hoping to find a man who can do what McElwain has done in Gainesville, and as quickly.

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17: Head coach Jim McElwain celebrates after a touchdown by Antonio Callaway #81 of the Florida Gators against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LA – OCTOBER 17: Head coach Jim McElwain celebrates after a touchdown by Antonio Callaway #81 of the Florida Gators against the LSU Tigers. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Al Golden, fired by Miami on Sunday, reportedly had an annual salary just under $2.54 million. That ranked him 42nd among major college coaches, according to USA Today, and seventh in the 14-team ACC.

To get McElwain from Colorado State, the Gators had to pay him an average of $3.5 million over six years but that’s not all. Florida also had to negotiate and agree to pay a major portion of a $7.5 million buyout clause included in McElwain’s contract.

Yes, $7.5 million in penalties for the coach leaving Fort Collins early. When that daunting figure was attached to McElwain’s Colorado State extension in August of 2014, he joked, “The way I look at that, maybe the only chance we have is maybe Bill Gates hiring me.”

Turns out that Florida AD Jeremy Foley played the role of Daddy Warbucks instead.

In negotiating the penalty down ever so slightly from $7.5 million to $7 million and clearing the way for the Gators to get their man, Florida agreed to pay $3 million to Colorado State and to schedule a future game with the Rams in Gainesville with a guaranteed payout of $2 million. McElwain also had to agree to pay $2 million to his former employer over time.

To put it in starkest terms, Golden made less in salary at Miami than Florida paid just to settle McElwain’s buyout clause.

If the Gators beat Georgia Saturday and continue on to represent the SEC East in the conference championship game, you’d have to say that McElwain was worth every penny. Even if they don’t, Florida’s hefty investment in putting the right coach in charge of its football program and making him the 17th-highest paid in America is wise.

It’s also a luxury, just like Florida State paying Jimbo Fisher $5.15 in annual salary, plus tons of bonuses, is a luxury.

[Dan Campbell, true believer, on what he loves most about football]

[The real heavy lifting has only begun for Blake James and UM]

[This 1970 Charlie Tate story proves it’s always taken thick skin to coach the Canes]

Miami will have to be tighter and smarter with its money, not only in hiring a head coach but in paying for his staff.

Along those lines, consider that Tom Herman of Houston is No. 61 on the national coaches’ pay scale ($1.45 million annually). Justin Fuente of Memphis is No. 63 ($1.4 million). Way down the list, at No. 107, is Toledo’s Matt Campbell, at $496,450. He makes the least of any coach whose team currently ranks among the AP Top 25.

I deliberately left Matt Rhule until last because there’s no chance Miami would go after him.

Rhule has an unbeaten ranked No. 21 in the AP poll and he would love a promotion from his annual salary of $648,633, but he’s the coach at Temple, and that’s where Golden made his name before coming to Miami.

 

Go back 45 years and learn that it’s always taken an extra thick skin to coach the Canes

 

Coaching the Miami Hurricanes is not for the faint of heart, as Al Golden quickly learned in the noisy weeks and months that led to his firing on Sunday night.

The same goes for any major program, of course, with the stings of social media and old-fashioned booing to remind a man that nothing is forever.

Former Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Former Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

It was interesting, though, to check the details on the last time Miami had a coach leave in the middle of a season rather than just prior to a bowl trip. Seems like some things never change.

The year was 1970, long before Miami ever took a serious run at a national championship, but even so Charlie Tate couldn’t take it anymore.

After just two games that season he resigned as head football coach and athletic director of the Hurricanes. Tate, who died in 1996 at the age of 77, had some success, including an 8-2-1 record in 1966 and a No. 9 ranking in the final AP poll that year. Still, he didn’t feel appreciated, and at times barely felt he was tolerated.

When he abruptly resigned early in 1970 with an overall record of 34-27-3, nobody knew quite what to make of it.

Here, though, are Tate’s words from an old United Press International story at the time.

“It wasn’t Tech,” Tate said in reference to the 31-21 loss to Georgia Tech that preceded his resignation. “It was a situation I felt like I couldn’t make a go of. I just didn’t have that much control over the situation. It’s tough enough just to line up and play without forcing the kids to win to save the coach’s job.

“I wanted the kids to go ahead and get some fun out of the game and not worry about people like myself.”

Here, though, is where the story circles all the way back to 2015. Tate had been receiving more phone calls than he could believe on his unlisted phone number at home. All of them were angry and some of them he said were obscene.

”It was a bit too much, a little more than I bargained for,” said Tate, who was in the final year of his contract and coming off a 4-6 season in 1969. “For them to be on my back is one thing, but to involve my family is another. I can stomach it. I’ve been in this game a long time, but when my family was being penalized, too, I didn’t like it a bit.

“I thought, ‘If this is what it’s all about, I better take some time to think about it, whether it’s worth it.”

[The real heavy lifting has just begun for Miami AD Blake James]

[Dan Campbell, true believer, on what he loves most about football]

[Steve Spurrier was a furious force on the sidelines, more like a hoops coach]

Tate, a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, recruited Chuck Foreman to Miami at a time when not many African-American players were getting opportunities in the South. Altogether, this was a sad ending for a man known as “Jolly Charlie” because of his boisterous laugh.

Walt Kichefski finished the 1970 season as Miami’s interim coach, going 2-7. Larry Scott, the Hurricanes’ current interim, has five games left in a season that still could lead to a bowl appearance or maybe even an ACC Coastal Division title, but absolutely no assurances go with the job.

In Kichefski’s case, Miami turned to University of Tampa coach Fran Curci to lead the Hurricanes the following season. Curci was followed in rapid order by Pete Elliott, Carl Selmer and Lou Saban, a total of four head coaches in the space of eight seasons, before Howard Schnellenberger finally arrived in 1979 to start Miami toward what would become a dynastic national championship run.

The Hurricanes would like to get back there again, only a lot quicker.

 

 

The real heavy lifting has just begun for Miami and AD Blake James

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The worst seemingly is over for University of Miami football, with a 58-0 loss on national television followed by the midseason dismissal of the head coach who couldn’t prevent it from happening.

There are very few quick fixes, however, when it comes to turning a fouled-up college football program into a fired-up success. On top of that, with a new president at Miami and an athletic director who never has had to make so important a hire, there is not a wealth of experience driving the search to replace Al Golden on a permanent basis.

Former Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau(left) and Damione Lewis (right) after practice in August, 1999. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone
Former Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau(left) and Damione Lewis (right) after practice in August, 1999. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

Long ago it was Sam Jankovich who made these calls. The former Miami AD and long-time sports executive bumped into Jimmy Johnson in an elevator at a coaches’ convention and before long they had talked each other into a Hurricanes partnership. In South Florida, Jimmy was just some guy coming off one good season at Oklahoma State at the time.

The same kind of instincts led Jankovich to hire Dennis Erickson from their shared stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest. Two of Miami’s five national titles resulted from that choice.

Today it’s different. Miami AD Blake James, who was not yet on the job when Golden was hired, is hearing all kinds of things from all kinds of people but the gist of it all is that you’d better get this right.

The biggest name and the best remembered from the early pool of speculation is Butch Davis. He won at a .718 clip as Miami’s coach from 1995-2000 and knows all the particular challenges that come with this school.

In a more recent four-year run at North Carolina, however, Butch went 28-23 overall with a 15-17 record in the ACC. Isn’t that a little too familiar in light of Golden’s 17-18 record against the same league?

[Nobody better than Doug Betters back when a sack was a sack]

[Dan Campbell, quote machine, on what he loves most about football]

[Dolphins’ assistant head coach Darren Rizzi gives his view of Campbell’s debut]

Then there’s the vocal crowd in support of a former Hurricanes player or coach to lead the program. You know, somebody like Mario Cristobal or Rob Chudzinski who really gets the U and is devoted to regaining its glory?

That sounds good, too, but Randy Shannon once fit the same description.

Next comes the list of rising stars at lesser programs, men who likely will be up for openings at USC, South Carolina, Maryland and Illinois. Miami can get the early jump on talking to men like Memphis coach Justin Fuente or Houston coach Tom Herman, who are 14-0 between them this season and ranked in the AP Top 20.

Funny thing is, we could be talking about updated versions of Al Golden, who turned Temple around in the Mid-American Conference and got the Miami job because of it. That’s a scary notion, considering nobody from the outside could ever grasp what it means to be the Hurricanes coach until he’s thrown into the stew.

The expectations are stratospheric. The pressure to wrap up every great South Florida high school prospect is immense. The chatter from former Hurricanes stars is never ending.

That’s where James is now, working back channels to find a new coach while personally living in the brightest spotlight of his life.

My advice would be to go for someone who rings as many bells as possible, Greg Schiano.

He worked at Miami as Butch’s defensive coordinator so that works. He established himself somewhere else as a head coach, winning five bowl games in a long run at Rutgers, of all places, so that works. Even better, he’s still drawing on a $15 million contract from his last job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so that works in favor of a Miami administration that won’t match the war chests of other schools.

The other cool thing is that Schiano, like Butch, is available right now and actually wants to coach the Hurricanes.

I’d like to think that James could move quickly on an obvious choice like that, but then again I’d like to think he would have fired Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, Golden’s old sidekick, by now.

Awkward times all around. Even if the Hurricanes come out of this all right, and probably they will, the real heavy lifting has just begun.

 

Nobody better than Doug Betters back when a sack was a sack

 

Cameron Wake’s four-sack explosion against Tennessee last week was all the more stunning because it came out of absolutely nowhere. The Miami Dolphins had one only one sack total in the season’s first four games.

That 38-10 win over the Titans was packed with big plays of all kinds, of course, including an interception return for a touchdown in which Reshad Jones vaulted himself across the goal line in the kind of high-flying acrobatic move one expects from an actual dolphin.

Doug Betters in 1983 (Palm Beach Post photo)
Doug Betters in 1983 (Palm Beach Post photo)

When it comes to most impactful sack attack, however, my mind always goes to the first game I covered as the Palm Beach Post’s Dolphin beat writer in 1983. Miami was at Buffalo that day and hadn’t made the transition from David Woodley to rookie Dan Marino just yet.

The game turned into a real sumo match with every first down coming as something of a surprise. Consequently, each of the four sacks recorded by Doug Betters were enormous, just as the red-bearded Betters, 6-feet-7 and 262 pounds, was enormous.

Woodley completed 8-of-22 passes for 40 yards, with a long of 8 yards. The Dolphins managed just 177 yards in total offense and Reggie Roby punted seven times.

Still, Miami won 12-0, on four Uwe von Schamann field goals, and a team total of six sacks on Buffalo’s Joe Ferguson.

Betters finished the season tied for third in the league behind Mark Gastineau and Fred Dean with 16 sacks. That spectacular season opener in Buffalo, however, was enough to vault him toward the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The NFL didn’t count sacks until 1982, which makes some of the Dolphins franchise records in this category unofficial, but they’re fun to look at anyway.

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS SACK RECORDS

Season

Bill Stanfill              18.5 (1973)

Jason Taylor            18.5 (2002)

Joey Porter              17.5 (2008)

Trace Armstrong    16.5 (2000)

Doug Betters           16 (1983)

 

Game

Bill Stanfill              5 (1973 vs. Jets)

Vern Den Herder  5 (1973 vs. Bills)

Bill Stanfill               5 (1974 vs. Bills)

Cam Wake               4.5 (2012 vs. Cardinals)

Cam Wake              4 (2014 vs. Titans)

Vern Den Herder   4 (1974 vs. Bills)

Vern Den Herder   4 (1979 vs. Colts)

Doug Betters           4 (1983 vs. Bills)

E.J. Junior                 4 (1991 vs. Patriots)

Joey Porter               4 (2008 vs. Patriots)

Dan Campbell, true believer and quote machine, on the majesty of football

 

OK, so maybe it’s just a little bit early to project that Dan Campbell, 1-0 as interim coach of the Miami Dolphins, will one day have a statue outside Sun Life Stadium.

Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on October 18, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on October 18, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Just in case, however, somebody should keep a copy of these words from Wednesday’s meeting with the South Florida media. Sure would look good on a plaque as an explanation of the Danimal’s philosophy on football.

“I have a lot of respect for men that go out there and put it on the line and make a living with their bodies. The sacrifice, day in, day out. Wake up and you’ve got to lift. You’ve got to eat right and take care of your body. You’ve got to get your sleep. You’ve got to hit each other for an hour and a half.

“I just respect that. When you see men that will do that, who will put in the work and are pros, I have a ton of respect for that. I think they know that.”

– Dan Campbell

 

On second thought, maybe somebody ought to just file this away for some future football movie starring Al Pacino or Denzel Washington or, I don’t know, Harrison Ford as coach.

Beats anything Hollywood screenwriters ever come up with.

Dan Campbell’s right-hand man, Darren Rizzi, gives his view of amazing day

NASHVILLE – We probably won’t be hearing much the rest of the way from Darren Rizzi, the Miami Dolphins’ new assistant head coach and Dan Campbell’s right-hand man.

Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell calls a timeout near the end of the first quarter with assistant head coach Darren Rizzi (left) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on October 18, 2015.  (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell calls a timeout near the end of the first quarter with assistant head coach Darren Rizzi (left) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on October 18, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s the long-standing policy of the Dolphins and most NFL teams that the head coach and the offensive and defensive coordinators be made available to the media on a regular basis. Most of the others are off limits except for special requests.

Well, Sunday’s 38-10 win at Tennessee was about as special as it gets, so I stopped Rizzi on his way to the bus for a brief interview about Carpenter’s debut. Rizzi, Miami’s special teams coordinator, has head coaching experience at New Haven and Rhode Island and he has consulted Campbell on all the basics of the job, during game preparation, during practice and during the game.

There’s some interesting stuff here, including confirmation that Campbell was thinking about going for it on fourth-and-3 at the Titans 7-yard line in the first quarter. Miami took a field goal instead to go up 10-3, but not until kicking around all the options during the first timeout of Campbell’s coaching career.

Asked about what Campbell did right, Rizzi said “Dan did a hell of a job turning this into a 12-game season and having all the focus be about this game and our team and not the four weeks of negative stuff that happened.

“It was just keeping the focus on moving it forward. That was his message, and if today is a judge, he did a pretty darn good job.”

[Steve Spurrier was more like a hoops coach on sidelines, which note everyone got]

[Matt Moore gives Dolphins the kind of QB security other teams crave]

[The comeback of Chris Bosh is as much mental as physical]

Asked if part of his job was tamping down Campbell’s enthusiasm and nervousness, Rizzi said “it was just trying to keep him abreast of game situations. He’s obviously an excitable guy. I thought it worked well today. There certainly were some different things we can improve on, but certainly it was a good start.”

What general advice did Rizzi give Campbell on being the head coach?

“I joked with him when he was named the head coach and walked into his office and sat down that there’s going to be a funnel that comes to this desk that you don’t k now about,” Rizzi said. “Everything is going to end up on your desk, everything from the whole building to game management to non-football issues.

“I thought he did a hell of a job these last few days of focusing down on just the team and the game. It’s baptism by fire, that’s for sure. If anybody can handle it, he can.”

What about the timeout called in the first quarter, and the way it progressed to unsuccessfully trying to draw the Titan offsides for a first down inside the 5-yard line rather than settling for a short field goal?

“It was a collective effort there,” Rizzi said. “Kind of a three-thought process. No. 1, thinking about going for it, and we called a timeout to talk about it. No. 2, take the field goal. No. 3, trying to draw them offsides, because it was still a short-enough field goal.

“Let’s be honest. That first-half timeout, we thought that was a good one to take at that point.”

Also being honest, Joe Philbin probably would have gotten slammed for doing the same thing.

 

Hey, Marlins Man, here’s how you can annoy more people in that spot behind home plate

Maybe you’re just tuning into baseball for the obligatory October dose of postseason drama and you’re puzzled, troubled or amused by the sight of a man in a loud orange Marlins jersey blinking like a beacon in the stands directly behind home plate.

Marlins Man at 2014 World Series in Kansas City (palmbeachpost.com)
Marlins Man at 2014 World Series in Kansas City (palmbeachpost.com)

The Miami Marlins aren’t in the playoffs. They’re not even on anybody’s radar. Yet here is this guy taking up prime spectator space at the ballparks of other teams and basically saying, “Look at me. I’ve got lots of money.”

It’s a variation of the theme from 25 years ago when a guy in a rainbow wig played the same game at sports events across the country, popping up wherever the cameras were and saying, “Look at me, and read John 3:16.”

Marlins Man is Laurence Leavy, a Miami lawyer who does his worker’s compensation cases during the day on the computer and turns into a pumpkin at night. He was a fixture in Kansas City during the 2014 World Series and word is that he sometimes buys tickets for people who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend games. Also, he earned praise in Kansas City recently by covering his Marlins jersey with a shirt honoring fallen firefighters.

Admirable moves, but regardless of motive it probably pays to do a little PR when you’re being so in-your-face with the promotion of a franchise that most people find annoying at some level.

Along those lines, I suggest Marlins Man think twice about taking his act to Wrigley Field.

Cubs fans are good Midwestern stock and generally agreeable, but being in the NLCS has their emotions spiking in every direction. The last time they were this close to a World Series was 2003, when a one-hit wonder team from Miami killed the dream.

[Miami Dolphins have become the Raiders in every way that counts]

[Steve Spurrier behaved like a hoops coach on sidelines and not everyone dug that]

[Jordan Spieth’s spectacular season was about average for Tiger of old]

The Marlins return to competitiveness every so often and are dormant the rest of the time, sort of like those locusts that burst from the earth on a regular schedule but are otherwise unseen. In this erratic way the Marlins have won two world championships in 23 years of trying.

That does not charm longsuffering fans of the Cubs, who were not alive the last time their team won a World Series in 1908 and, no matter how well it’s going today, struggle with the concept that they might actually be alive when it happens again.

The Marlins are no one’s favorite in Ohio, either. The Cleveland Indians last won a World Series in 1948, and when they got a rare shot at rectifying that in 1997 it was a Miami team, then known as the Florida Marlins, that shot them down.

Out of nowhere, take the trophy, back to nowhere. Oh, how that bugs old-school seamheads around the country who never miss an inning with their favorite teams on the radio and expect eventually to be rewarded for it.

For now it makes sense for Marlins Man to stick with haunting Kansas City and Toronto in the ALCS, providing there is any sense in this at all.

If he’s looking to draw the maximum attention, however, Wrigley Field is the place, and for whom should he buy a ticket to join him in that prominent position behind home plate?

Steve Bartman.

Once-proud Miami Dolphins have become the Raiders in every way that counts

So now it’s Dan Campbell in the soup.

So now the Miami Dolphins, once among the proudest and most reliable organizations in the NFL, have become the Oakland Raiders.

Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68), celebrates with tight ends coach Dan Campbell after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during their NFL game Sunday afternoon, Sept. 22, 2013, at Sun Life stadium in Miami Gardens.(Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)
Former Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68), celebrates with former tight ends coach Dan Campbell, now the team’s head coach, after defeating the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 22, 2013. (Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)

Check that, the Raiders are 2-3 at the moment, better than Miami’s record, and the boss in Oakland is Jack Del Rio, not a stupendously successful head coach but one with a decade of NFL experience in the job.

Compare that to the Dolphins, who with the worst kind of timing have chosen their golden 50th season to go all the way back to square one.

Miami’s head coach, temporarily or otherwise, is Campbell. In five seasons beyond the coaching intern stage, he has worked exclusively with Dolphin tight ends. His head coaching mentors have been Tony Sparano and Joe Philbin. Sounds like a guy who needs all the help he can get in setting up a winning program, so here goes.

For an assistant head coach, a right-hand man, the team has handed Campbell special-teams coordinator Darren Rizzi.

For a defensive coordinator he gets Lou Anarumo, who was in the coaching game for 20 years before making the step up to the NFL.

For help in fixing the offense Campbell keeps coordinator Bill Lazor, who to this point has been grasping at straws, with the bonus of Al Saunders in a consultant’s role. Saunders is 68 and a former NFL head coach but this doesn’t seem the stage of life where he’s willing to spend every day at practice and every game in headphones.

They don’t call them consultants for nothing.

[Steve Spurrier was a furious sideline force, more like a basketball coach]

[Jordan Spieth’s spectacular season was pretty much average for Tiger of old]

Of course, there’s a lot of hollering right now about getting tougher and pitting teammates against each other in practice and, as Campbell put it at his introductory press conference, taking this thing to where “it’s all about being primates again.”

If that doesn’t sound like the Raider way, what does?

Here is a shocking numbers, and made all the worse by the fact that Miami was ruled for 26 seasons, and very well, by Don Shula, the NFL’s all-time winningest coach.

Over the last 10 years, beginning in 2006, the Dolphins have had six head coaches, interims included. Only one team has had more coaches over that period. That would be seven. That, naturally, would be the Raiders.

Look now at the list of teams coached by one man over the last 10 years. It’s a stable group, like the Dolphins once were. New England, Green Bay, the New York Giants and Cincinnati.

All right, maybe you don’t think the Bengals are that great of an NFL brand name but, hey, who in South Florida has the right to look down on any other market now?

Bottom line, the Dolphins have really ripped the cord on anything that used to make them special and are caught in a free-fall that could last for years.

The Philbin years might actually start looking good after a while, just as the Dave Wannstedt years do now.

This franchise is going backwards after half a century.

Now comes the scrounging for other team’s properties. Instead of Joe Robbie throwing a first-round draft pick into the pot to get Shula from the Colts, it’s Stephen Ross toying with the idea of robbing Sean Payton from the Saints.

Might as well buy a Raiders jersey now. They’re interchangeable.

Whatever that Dolphins logo once stood for has been reduced to a fresh smear.

Steve Spurrier was a furious force on the sidelines, more like a hoops coach

 

 

Could he coach? Well, Steve Spurrier won an ACC football championship at ever-loving Duke before the Fun ‘N Gun revolution took hold in Gainesville.

Could he cut and slash and dig? The answer here isn’t yes, but rather how deep would you like? Spurrier regularly skewered his rivals with jokes and sarcasm that sprang from the cocky, trash-talking star athlete lifestyle of his youth. It made his enemies hate him, and made sportswriters love him almost as much as Bull Gator boosters did.

Could he last forever? Of course not. Nobody can. Still, when Spurrier told his South Carolina team on Monday night that he was retiring immediately at 70, everybody who follows college football had to take a step back and decide how they felt about that.

It’s fair to say that nobody feels 100 percent great about it, and that includes fellow coaches who gauged Spurrier to be arrogant and mean-spirited at his worst. It also includes fellow coaches embarrassed by Spurrier at his best, when he happily hung “half a hundred” on opponents through a flood of innovative plays that came at defenses from out of nowhere and had officials tossing flags for reasons they couldn’t quite explain.

Characters like this just don’t come along that often, or if they do, they’re not as successful.

112099 Gators coach Steve Spurrier rotates quarterbacks #7 Jesse Palmer and #12 Doug Johnson in game against the Seminoles. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone
Former Gators coach Steve Spurrier rotates quarterbacks #7 Jesse Palmer and #12 Doug Johnson in game against the Seminoles. Palm Beach Post staff photo by Allen Eyestone

Spurrier made a national championship program with real staying power out of a Florida operation that had never produced so much as an SEC title prior to his arrival. Six conference championships eventually came his way, plus a seventh that prior NCAA violations by Galen Hall wiped out.

Spurrier did all of that with a flair that Nick Saban lacks. He did it with a twang that proved he, like Bear Bryant, was born for the SEC and would never be completely happy if he wasn’t dominating the SEC.

He did in the most personal way possible, calling every play from the sidelines and then changing that play right until the last possible second while exasperated quarterbacks asked themselves if there are limits to this genius business. I mean, who acts like that?

We’re not just talking about flinging visors, which actually didn’t happen as much as everyone remembers. Think instead of alternating quarterbacks play after play, which is how Spurrier beat FSU one year. Think of having so many guys going out for passes that Danny Wuerffel was a consistently lonely target in the Florida backfield, taking so much punishment that I’m convinced he won the 1996 Heisman Trophy based on his physical toughness as much as anything else.

Always, you got the impression that Spurrier believed it was child’s play scanning a defense and tossing the ball where the resistance was thinnest. These were his “ballplays,” and no doubt the coach believed he could still run them himself if only his eligibility hadn’t run out in 1966.

This guy was a great multi-sport athlete in his Tennessee high school days. An all-state selection in basketball, among other things. Matter of fact, he behaved more like a hoops coach than a football coach, stomping up and down the sidelines and working officials with dramatic poses and pained facial expressions.

Back in 2001, near the end of his great Florida run, I did a long interview in Spurrier’s office in which my favorite response was to the question of whether he ever had been benched.

“In ninth-grade basketball,” he said, “my coach was the football line coach. I could dribble behind my back, which not everybody did, and I would shoot a fancy hook shot up to the goal every now and then. He thought I was too much of a showboat. That’s the word he used. I was a little upset about getting taken out of the game but after a while he sent me back in.

“I think we won that little old tournament, too.”

Couldn’t leave out that detail, right?

On that same day, I asked Spurrier why he gets under everyone’s skin.

“I’m in the forefront out there, not sitting off to the side with my headsets on, looking like I’m listening. I’m not afraid to put my name on the line every play that’s called.”

It’s an important distinction, one that will come to mind the next time you see a coach at the NFL or college level seemingly off to himself, a spectator set in motion by an occasional flurry of handclapping and nothing more, a robot who can’t even fling a red challenge flag with gusto, much less a clipboard. They’re the ones who give the cliché quotes heading off the field at halftime. They’re the ones that nobody remembers.

Spurrier will be remembered. In fact, we’ll be hearing his voice for decades because of the quirky little phrases he invented. You will hear of somebody being “coached up” and of somebody being “the head ball coach” of this or that team, and few will recall the origins. That’s pure Spurrier, however, and always will be.

So was taking a crack at NFL coaching with the Washington Redskins, which turned into an utter failure, and so was coming back to the SEC to compete with his alma mater, and in the same division no less. South Carolina had never done all that much in football but Spurrier believed he could make an SEC champion out of the Gamecocks just like he did the Gators.

Didn’t quite work. The program enjoyed more success than ever but in the end Spurrier grew tired of falling short, lost the fun in prowling the sidelines. He was the old lion resting over in the corner of its cage, majestic no more.

Was there a time, though, when Spurrier could growl and revel in the danger he represented? Ask anyone who loved him, ask anyone who hated him. Not only when they say yes but, if being honest, they will say that they miss it already.

Spieth’s spectacular season was average output for the Tiger of old

Jordan Spieth just wrapped up one of the greatest seasons in the history of the PGA Tour, with two major titles and five wins overall and a Vardon Trophy to confirm the validity of his Player of the Year award.

Stupendous stuff, but there was a time when this was standard output for Tiger Woods, one crushing year after another.

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08: Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth of the United States walk together during a practice round prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 08: Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth walk together during a practice round prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

At his peak, Tiger really was unstoppable. He will chase forever the kind of efficiency and aggressiveness that made him that way. So will everyone else who is playing this game today or will in the future.

Consider that Spieth won the Vardon with an average score of 68.911 on the PGA Tour. Tiger won the award nine times, and in all but one of those seasons his average was lower than that.

Spieth is ranked No. 1 in the world at season’s end. That’s where Tiger ended up 10 times.

Spieth won two major championships, the Masters and the U.S. Open. There were four seasons in which Tiger won two majors, and in 2000 he won three of them, all but the Masters.

Five PGA Tour victories is a lot for Spieth or anyone else in one PGA Tour season. Tiger won at least five tournaments in 11 different seasons. Five other times he won more.

There is one area in which Tiger matched Spieth in 2015, but it’s not anything he’ll care to remember.

Both of them missed four cuts. Spieth, of course, did it in the course of 25 events. Tiger played only 11.

No matter what happens or doesn’t happen with the rest of Tiger’s career, the grip he once held on the game will never be matched.

We’re not talking mere numbers here. We’re talking sledgehammer certainty in a country club world.