Thursday, December 3, 2015

Steve Spurrier's sudden resignation was all about besting Vince Dooley

The Old Ball Coach's Oldest Enemy

Posted by Karl Brenkert on Thu, Dec 3, 2015 at 4:48 PM

Say what you will about the Gamecocks this year, but there's no denying they've been interesting. How many SEC coaches have ever quit in the middle of the season? On Tuesday, the Old Ball Coach published an open letter to all South Carolina fans with an assessment of the season and his reasons for quitting on the team when he did. While I can't disagree with his assessment of the Gamecocks season, he's not telling the whole truth about why he quit. I've got the numbers to prove it.

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  • Flickr user keithallison

Before we get to the numbers, we have to start at the beginning. All the way back in 1964, Steve Spurrier's sophomore year at Florida. (In those days, freshmen were prohibited from playing on the varsity squad). It also happened to be the year that Georgia hired a young coach named Vince Dooley. After trading wins in '64 and '65, Spurrier and the Gators were an undefeated 8-0 heading into the game against Dooley and Georgia in 1966. Florida had never won a SEC championship and all hopes were riding on the eventual Heisman winner.

Coming into the game, Georgia was also undefeated in SEC play, with their only loss coming at the hands of Miami. The game started well for Florida as they took a 10-3 lead into halftime; however, Dooley employed a seven-man pass-rush in the second half that forced Spurrier to throw two interceptions, including a pick six that gave the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead the Gators never came back from. To add insult to injury, Dooley called a quarterback keeper from the three-yard line with one second left in the game to run up the final score to 27-10. Georgia won the SEC title. The Gators' undefeated season was over. It was a humiliation Spurrier never forgot.

Vince Dooley retired as head coach to become Georgia's full time athletic director after the 1988 season. Two years after he left the sidelines, fate brought Steve Spurrier back to Florida. While they never coached against one another, their rivalry was reborn.

Like the Count of Monte Cristo, Spurrier's revenge on Dooley has been systematic and deliberate. He's not been shy about running up the score. In 1995, when the Cocktail Party was moved because of the Jaguars' renovations in Jacksonville, Spurrier called a flea-flicker in the 4th quarter to make the final score 52-10. After the game he bragged about being the first coach to put 50 on the board in their stadium. In 2011, Gamecock defense tackle Melvin Ingram scored on a 67-yard fake punt in a game South Carolina won 45-42. His career record against Georgia is 16-6. He has more wins against Georgia than any other coach they've played.

Now, flash forward to July 2015 and the bizarre "enemies" press conference Spurrier put on to prove to the recruits he was committed to coaching the Gamecocks. Ostensibly a press conference to chide The State newspaper for printing a column written by a Dooley lackey from Atlanta, most of the media understood it was a press conference meant to reassure recruits. But if you listen closely, you can hear more. He repeatedly references Dooley slights about him over the course of his career. Spurrier's enemy is, and always has been, Vince Dooley.

Which brings us back to the numbers and Spurrier's legacy as a head coach. Spurrier and Dooley both have six SEC titles, one national championship,and one Heisman winner. Spurrier was named SEC Coach of the Year six times, Dooley only five times. Spurrier passed Dooley in total wins back in 2012 and is currently ranked 13th all-time to Dooley's number 16 ranking. So, there could only be one more statistic Spurrier needs to complete his revenge. Winning percentage.

Winning percentage is thought to be a better way to compare coaches from different eras than simply looking at total wins, especially now that the pretense of scholarship has been abandoned in college and teams routinely play 14 games per year. Vince Dooley had a career winning percentage of 71.33 percent while at Georgia. At the beginning of the 2015 season, Steve Spurrier had a career winning percentage of 72.52 percent. At the time Spurrier suddenly retired, his winning percentage had dropped to 71.7 percent Assuming the same 3-9 season, Spurrier's would have ended this season all the way down in Pat Dye territory at 70.77 percent.

Twenty years from now, few people outside of South Carolina will remember how Spurrier retired. Now, all people can say when they look back in the history books, is that Spurrier's name is ahead of Dooley in both wins and winning percentage. Was it classy of him to quit to secure his legacy? I don't know, is it classy to sit the final game of the baseball season to preserve a batting title? It's not unprecedented in sports. Somehow it seems a fitting end for a feud that began with Dooley running up the score back in '66.

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