For a generation of rival SEC fans, Steve Spurrier was the bogeyman. He was brash and arrogant, and he completely upended the stablished order of the SEC. He changed the internal power dynamics of the conference, how we played football in the SEC, and the national perspective.
He was Bear Bryant for Generation X.
Let's look at the state of Florida's program when they hired Steve Spurrier. The Gators weren't exactly a bad program, nor were they one of the SEC powers. Florida had never won 10 games in a season and it had one only one SEC title in its history, in 1984. However, the 1984 team committed a litany of NCAA violations and the school was officially stripped of the title the following year. Florida again faced NCAA probation in 1990. That's when Steve Spurrier walked in the door.
He took over a program with an empty trophy case and now on its second NCAA probation in half a decade. Florida's out of conference in-state rivals were also busy competing for national titles while the Gators floundered, trying to keep up. Spurrier surveyed this situation and immediately started winning. A lot.
Spurrier would go 9-2 in his first season at Florida, playing at the probation. That served notice, but no one could really have expected what came next. Florida won four of the next five SEC titles, losing only the inaugural SEC championship game to the eventual national champions, Alabama.
From 1993-2001, Florida would win at least 10 games every season except once. Florida went to seven of the first ten SEC Championship Games. Florida went from a sleeping giant to the single most dominant program in the SEC, as Spurrier turned the Eastern division into his own fiefdom.
He didn't do it quietly either. Spurrier ran his mouth almost constantly, and fired off such famous smack talk as "You can't spell Citrus without UT." He joked about his golf game, cracked wise about his rivals, and seemed to delight in not just beating the hell out of you, but then pointing to the scoreboard afterwards.
When Spurrier arrived, the South's football was as conservative as its politics. Running backs were the stars of the conference, as were dictatorial head coaches trying to chase the ghost of the Bear. Pat Dye and Johnny Majors shared the conference title in 1989 with starting QB's of Reggie Slack and Andy Kelly, respectively. This was still the conference of Herschel and Bo.
Florida had its own star runner in 1989, but Emmitt Smith left for the NFL as Spurrier arrived. So instead of trying to build a team to beat the Bear, he quickly built a modern offense for a new era. Thus, the Fun ‘n Gun was born.
The worst thing for LSU fans was that in 1990, we were enduring the last year of the Mike Archer era and in 1991, the program would hire Curley Hallman, arguably the worst coach in the history of football. Making it even worse, legend has it that Spurrier wanted the LSU job back in 1987, but LSU hired Mike Archer instead.
So every blowout win, every snide cutdown, every beautiful play call, every SEC title... there was a very real feeling in Baton Rouge that it could have been, no, should have been ours. While enduring the Dark Ages of LSU Football, we had to watch the Guy We Should Have Hired completely transform the SEC.
It didn't help that Spurrier's Florida teams beat the ever-living hell out of LSU. Aside from 28-21 miracle in 1997, Florida beat LSU by the scores of 34-8, 16-0, 28-21, 58-3, 42-18, 28-10, 56-13, 22-10, 31-10, 41-9, and finally, 44-15.
And then, just as suddenly as he built a powerhouse, Spurrier walked away. On January 4, 2002, just days after an Orange Bowl demolition of Maryland, he quit.
His encore performance wasn't quite as impressive, but he took over a South Carolina program that had never had much success, and he built a solid winner. The Gamecocks never had a losing season under Spurrier, a decade long era of success that doubled the program's previous longest streak of consecutive non-losing seasons of five.
It did take him longer, but he eventually got South Carolina near the elite of the SEC, as the Gamecocks had three consecutive 11 win seasons from 2011-13, but he could never get over the hump and win the SECCG.*
Still, he kept cracking wise and taking names right up until the end. He was no longer a fearsome presence like he had been in the 1990s, but he was still a talismanic figure for a generation of fans. He was the guy who made the SEC fun again. He won a lot, but he also never lost sight of the fact that football is a game, and games are supposed to be fun.
College football is a little less fun today than it was yesterday. Spurrier may have been a villain to some, but he was always entertaining.