By Joel Poiley
Small wonder Steve Spurrier was named the first coach in the new Alliance of American Football (AAF) in March of 2018.
With a championship coaching and playing pedigree that includes seven SEC championships (six at University of Florida and one at South Carolina) a national title at Florida in 1996 and winning the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Florida in 1966, “The Head Ball Coach” brings his high octane passing offense to Orlando for its inaugural AAF season.
Spurrier, 73, said he was attracted to the AAF for several reasons.
“I really liked the new rules; two-and-a-half hour games, 30 seconds between plays, and I really need a challenge,” Spurrier said.
“We are thankful to represent Orlando and surrounding cities with a professional football team. I am thrilled to be a part of a team, to have the opportunity to compete and to strive to bring a championship to Orlando.
“Coaching in The Alliance will be extremely fair for all coaches and cities. The structure created by [CEO and Co-Founder] Charlie Ebersol and [Co-Founder] Bill Polian should level the playing field with very talented football players disbursed to each team.”
Born in Miami Beach, Spurrier grew up in Tennessee where he was a multi-sport star at Science Hill High School in Johnson City. More success followed at UF, where he started at quarterback for three seasons and was a consensus All-American in 1965 and 1966.
Drafted in the first round (third overall) of the 1967 NFL draft, Spurrier played nine years for the San Francisco 49ers as a quarterback and punter. He concluded his 10-year pro career as the first quarterback for the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976.
After retiring as a player, Spurrier began developing his passing schemes as an offensive assistant at Florida, quarterbacks’ coach at Georgia Tech, and in 1980 he became offensive coordinator for Duke University.
Coaching against the powers of the Atlantic Coast Conference, it was at Duke where Spurrier developed much of his pass-based offense that broke several school and conference records during his three seasons as an assistant.
His first position as a head coach came with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the fledgling United States Football league (USFL) in 1983. That made him the youngest head coach in professional football at age 37. Spurrier’s “Bandit Ball” offense (named after minority owner Burt Reynolds’ hit Smokey and the Bandit movies) resonated with fans and produced a 35-19 record before the league folded after the 1985 season.
Spurrier returned to Duke as their head coach in 1987, where his “Fast Break” offense broke many of the records set during his tenure as offensive coordinator. His 1989 team won the program’s first conference championship since 1962 and most recent to date.
He returned to coach his alma mater in 1990, and his wide-open offense (re-nicknamed the “Fun ‘n’ Gun”) continued to produce, with his Gator teams setting numerous school and conference records. Spurrier became the first Heisman winner to coach a Heisman Trophy winner when Danny Wuerffel won the coveted award in 1996.
Spurrier left Florida after the 2001 season to try his hand in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, but left after two disappointing seasons. He returned to the college game in 2005 with South Carolina, where he led the Gamecocks to three of the four 10-win seasons in program history, as well as the school’s only 11-win seasons, top-10 poll finishes and its only SEC Championship game appearance.
He resigned midway through the 2015 season, leaving as the winningest coach in Florida and South Carolina history, He also has the second most coaching wins in the history of the SEC behind only Bear Bryant. Spurrier was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2017, making him one of four members to be inducted as a player and coach.
UF beckoned again, and in July 2016 Spurrier returned to the Gators as an ambassador and consultant to the athletic department. Capping off his marvelous college career, in September of that year, UF officially changed the name of the Gators’ home field to Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
However, the itch to design “ball plays” and develop players still burns strong, which intrigued him about joining the AAF.
“We are really looking forward to this venture,” Spurrier said, that unmistakable gleam in his eyes.