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Don't expect a kinder, gentler Spurrier in NFL

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 6, 2002


Orr is a unique coaching animal. Adored by a few. Loathed by a lot. Artistically appreciated by anyone who knows a football from a Filipino frypan.

That's his middle name. Jerri Spurrier calls her husband "Orr," as do Steve's close friends (oh, yeah, he has some). Bobby Bowden and Phillip Fulmer are prone to use other terms.

S.O.S. is headed to the NFL, where the finest defensive minds frequently will be outsmarted by the creative, combustible, conquering, controversial Gainesville god.

Spurrier's outspoken, harass-mine-enemies, badger-my-QBs, danged-the-textbook style was an S.R.O. hit through a dozen extraordinary seasons as Gators coach.

Will it work in the NFL

What happens if (when?) Steve angrily throws a visor at the feet of his Sunday pitcher who, instead of being some UF sophomore majoring in economics, is a 29-year-old NFL multimillionaire?

Let's analyze Orr.

I've known him since 1964, when No. 11 was a UF sophomore quarterback. Two seasons later, Spurrier's ballfield bravado and clutch touch won a Heisman for the preacher's son, a clean-cut but cocksure mountain kid from east Tennessee.

Never, never, never have I known a more competitive person. Pete Rose compares. Michael Jordan is of a similar mind-set. Playing against Orr in golf can be cutthroat. Challenge him at a poker table and ol' No. 11 tries to rake all your money. In darts, you may become the target. He plays games a lot like Audie Murphy approached war. Has there been a more intriguing free agent afloat in the NFL?

Spurrier evolved into a good but not exceptional NFL player in eight seasons with the 49ers, mostly as backup to John Brodie. Then came 1976, which finished Orr as a quarterback.

Plucked by the first-year Tampa Bay franchise, he absorbed a nasty beating with the 0-14 Bucs, experiencing a less than warm relationship with John McKay, a renowned coach from Southern California who wanted his veteran QB to show zeal for helping younger Bucs. Steve opted to do his personal gig and then run home or to a golf course rather than tutoring Tampa Bay greenhorns.

Twenty-six years ago ... that's the last the NFL saw of Jerri's husband. Orr went into coaching as a Gators assistant in 1978 under Doug Dickey but was fired after one season. Next came Georgia Tech, where Steve was bounced with the 1979 staff of Pepper Rodgers.

Sobering stuff.

Even his closest chums wondered if Spurrier had the willingness to put in the time and effort required for heavy success as a coach. Eventually the S.O.S. competitive drive proved too vociferous, his O's against X's skills too potent and imaginative, his personality too fiery for the original Buccaneer to keep amassing coaching L's and terminations.

Beating odds that even Phil Mickelson wouldn't bet on, Orr became an ACC championship football coach at Duke, the equivalent of winning the Kentucky Derby with a Clydesdale ridden by Warren Sapp. His dedication questioned less.

By November 1989 it became evident Spurrier was coming home to Gainesville as UF coach. I went to Durham, N.C., the Friday before his final game. Orr was busting with excitement over his looming opportunity with the Gators, who were immersed in defeats and NCAA penalties. But first, S.O.S. had one last Duke game against North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Spurrier seldom cares what opponents think. He doesn't mind being hated by other camps. He encourages it. After running up a lopsided win over UNC and coach Mack Brown, who dislikes Steve, the outgoing Duke fellow called his squad back from its locker room for a celebration photo on Tar Heel turf.

Brown seethed.

He's unique, that Orr.

People often ask my thoughts on Spurrier. They know I like him, even while holding my nose at some of his antics. Positives are many. Orr is an devout husband, a wonderful father, a magnificent granddaddy. He won big at UF without being a cheater. Spurrier punished athletes who erred off the field to an admirable degree.

Now we're talking Spurrier becoming an NFL coach, which will cause him to suggest, "Heck, we did pretty danged good with Banditball," recalling the early '80s when he bossed pro athletes with Tampa Bay's team in the USFL. "Ask those guys about me," he says. "We won a lot and had a bunch of fun."

But that was an upstart league. Salaries nominal. Some players were on their way down. Others were kids hoping to earn a leap to the true big time. Spurrier did terrific work. But that was long ago, and it was the USFL.

What now?

Whether it's to be the Bucs, Panthers, Redskins, Chargers, Falcons or some other NFL franchise with ownership hunger for higher rewards, I see Spurrier winning big. Challenging for Super Bowls. In all those NFL precincts, the buzz is huge, mostly in favor of an S.O.S. hiring.

Spurrier will not treat NFL quarterbacks with collegiate tactics used with Rex Grossman, Terry Dean, Shane Mathews and even Heisman honoree Danny Wuerffel in Gainesville. Nor will Orr back off getting across a heated point. He will devise new, more adult ways.

Many adjectives can explain S.O.S. You'll hear "arrogant," "jerk" and "obnoxious" from detractors. Even "crybaby." But never should "dumb" be among the descriptions.

Spurrier is exceptionally smart. Some of his infamous antics with the Gators were by design. Wholly premeditated. If they got across Steve's points, he couldn't have have cared less about backlash.

This chap knows NFL jocks are not 18 to 22. He understands what it means to have loads of money, being a $2-million-a-year coach at Florida. Or lots of acclaim, being in the Heisman club. Steve's 0-14 season with the Bucs and brief assistant coaching stops with the Gators and Yellow Jackets aside, Orr is in no way a loser.

His worst enemies accept that.

Expect him to create loads of NFL yardage, score plenty, win a majority of games, have a few run-ins with players he deems underachieving, but he will be generally well accepted among his NFL bunch. As for the rest of the league, he will become widely disliked, as always.

Orr doesn't care.

-- To contact Hubert Mizell, e-mail mmizell02@earthlink.net or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, Va 22958).

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