So there I was, packing up at the ballyard after Braves-Dodgers, when I saw an email from John Clay, sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Why are you always making Spurrier mad?” he wrote, and I thought … huh?
Spurrier? Steve Spurrier? I’d heard nothing from him since he answered — politely and thoughtfully and at length — a question I’d posed in Hoover, Ala., last Tuesday. (For the record, the question was about his possible retirement.) But that was, I note for emphasis, last Tuesday. A column I wrote about Spurrier ran in last Wednesday’s AJC. I’d had plenty of time since to make lots of other folks mad.
I got in the car and headed home. You know how people say, “My phone was blowing up?” Well, my phone has never blown up, literally or figuratively, because — to be frank — I’m not very interesting. But what happened in the time it took to get from the media lot at Turner Field to Cobb County was as close as this iPhone 5 will get to full-blown Blowing Up.
I got texts, calls, requests from radio stations. I was thinking, “What in the wide world of sports is going on?” (I was also driving in 5 p.m. traffic, which meant I couldn’t do a Google search to find out.) Finally esteemed colleague Chip Towers phoned to say, “Have you heard about this press conference Spurrier had to talk about you?”
And I thought: Steve Spurrier, who’s no worse than the third-best coach in SEC history, had a press conference to talk about … me? Am I hearing this right?
Apparently I was. Apparently — I’ve since done some catch-up Googling — the Ol’ Ball Coach had a bee in in his ol’ bonnet over something I’d said to Josh Kendall, the intrepid journalist who covers South Carolina for The State. Last week Josh asked, “What do you think of South Carolina?” and held out his tape recorder. I answered thusly (and boy do I cringe at the thought of quoting myself):
I think they are a program on the descent, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how long the coach stays. There are some guys you think, “Yeah, he’s going to be coaching when he’s 70.” Steve Spurrier was never one of those guys for me, and it’s hard for me to envision him coaching much beyond this if he doesn’t think he has a chance to win, and I’m not sure he’s going to have a chance to win the next few years the way he’s had it the last few years.
That ran in The State two days ago. I freely admit those are my words, right down to the last run-on sentence. Those sentiments were raised at greater length (and, I can only hope, with more palatable sentence structure) in the AJC of July 15. The headline on that column: “The Great Spurrier Is Surely Nearing An End.“
So that’s what I said/wrote, and I stand by it. What I don’t get is why Spurrier would call a press conference — on a Wednesday afternoon in the dog days of July — to rant (and, having seen the video, I believe that word fits) about it. But that’s the thing with Spurrier: Even at 70 — even after working in Florida, a state overflowing with fine newspapers, and in Washington D.C., for Pete’s sake — he hasn’t grasped that the media isn’t his to control.
I don’t mind that he seemed to refer to me as “the enemy.” (I don’t consider myself as such, but I’ve been called worse — including a barnyard epithet in a postcard written by, er, Steve Spurrier.) I have no recollection of writing that he would “flame out” at Florida. (I never for a minute thought he’d fail there; he was a splendid coach in a bountiful setting, and he did a fabulous job.) I did write that he was cocky and arrogant, but sometimes the shoe fits.
I’m not exactly a disinterested bystander, but — I say again — I don’t get it. How can a man of such accomplishment not know that a certain amount of criticism comes with his high-profile (and high-salaried) job? How can he not have learned that such criticism is best ignored? How can a guy who has spent his adult life tweaking others, from Ray Goff to Can’t-Spell-Citrus-Without-U-T to Free Shoes U. to Dabo Swinney, feel he’s above the fray?
But enough. This is the enemy, signing out.