Way back in 2001 I did a long interview with Steve Spurrier for a personality profile on the colorful coach, who at the time was still pestering everyone in the SEC as boss of the Florida Gators.
We started talking about how he used to hang out with basketball coaches at the conference’s annual meetings as much or more than he spent time with his football peers. The way that basketball coaches really dig in on the sidelines to personally and passionately motivate, direct and correct their players really made an impression on Spurrier.
One of the first names he mentioned was Pat Summitt, who Spurrier called a personal friend. Consider it just one more example of the way that Summitt, who died on Tuesday, connected with and inspired the leaders of every sport. Men and women. Celebrities and small-town strivers.
Spurrier’s other major hero from the world of basketball? John Wooden.
This week Spurrier talked with The State newspaper in South Carolina about Summitt, who in 38 seasons at Tennessee won eight national titles and a Div. I record 1,098 games. The two first met at the SEC spring meetings when Spurrier became Florida’s coach in 1990. Summitt also invited Spurrier and his wife Jerri to visit her beach house in Florida’s panhandle, which they often did.
“She (Summitt) sort of always liked me for some reason, and I always liked her,” Spurrier said. “There’s a fact of life that people who win a lot, they admire and respect other people who win a lot. Winners admire and respect other winners. We were both doing pretty well at that time, so we got along very well.”
Summitt was tough-minded, too, or she wouldn’t have been able to stand or appreciate Spurrier’s jabs, many of which were aimed at her fellow Tennessee staffer, Vols football coach Phil Fulmer.
Summitt, whose last name was the perfect tagline, would have been a winner in any walk of life, and more specifically she would have been successful as coach of any men’s basketball team, too.
This is a big loss for American sports, and twice as cruel because Alzheimer’s was involved.
Think of it. A women’s basketball program drawing major attention in the heart of SEC football country. That’s the kind of innovation that not even an improvisational wizard like Spurrier could ever hope to match.