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Spurrier pulling for Bucs as well as Gators

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 21, 2018 at 6:15 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Put East Tennessee State on the list of teams Steve Spurrier pulls for on college football game days.

Now back as a consultant at the University of Florida, he’s obviously all in for the Gators. However, Spurrier has other teams such as South Carolina and Duke — he was head coach at both schools — he wants to succeed. The other team he actively cheers for is the university in Johnson City.

Spurrier feels ETSU hired the right man as head coach in Randy Sanders. The two have often been on the opposing sidelines, with Sanders an assistant at Tennessee, Florida State and Kentucky while Spurrier coached at Florida and later South Carolina. But Spurrier has respect for Sanders and the kind of coach he happens to be.

“I’m glad that Randy is here at East Tennessee State,” Spurrier said Friday during a reunion of 1962 and 1963 Science Hill state championship baseball players at the Peerless. “I pull for East Tennessee State all the time like I do South Carolina and Duke, where I coached. My hometown university is one you have to pull for. And I think Randy will do a super job here.”

He feels the University of Tennessee also made a solid hire with former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as head coach. Spurrier, who is the all-time winningest coach at both Florida and South Carolina, has a 228-89-2 record as a college head coach. It is expected to be another tough season for the rival Vols, but Spurrier, who won six SEC championships and the 1996 national championship as a head coach, added the experts aren’t always right.

“He will do a good job, but they may be a little light on talent,” Spurrier said. “They may be better than people think. Sometimes, you don’t think you’ve got much and a new coach will come in and tell the guys they have a chance and all of a sudden… That happened to me at Florida. I had a good team, but nobody knew it but me, and we won the SEC that first year.”

Spurrier, usually one of the most colorful characters at SEC Media Days, wasn’t around this time to needle the opposition. Although Georgia is the clear favorite for the SEC East title, he believes his old programs have a shot against the Bulldogs.

“I don’t think Georgia is a shoo-in (for the SEC East),” he said. “Florida and South Carolina, a lot of people can beat (Georgia). Alabama will be favored over there (in the West), but Auburn can challenge them. It will be a good contest all the way around.”

The respect Spurrier has for Alabama coach Nick Saban is obvious. As a guy who excelled in three sports in high school, Spurrier sees qualities in Saban that he believes would make him successful in any sport. Saban’s record of 127-20 during his time at Alabama is slightly better than the 122-27 mark Spurrier put up at Florida.

“What you learn in any sport — whether it’s baseball, basketball or football — you keep trying the best you can,” Spurrier said. “You try to keep your emotions at a high level where you don’t say we’ve lost or we’ve got it. That’s why Nick Saban is so good. He’s got great players, but there’s a temperament they play at. You look at the success of his assistant coaches. The only problem in the SEC is everybody can’t win.”

Spurrier, 73, will be back on the field coaching again soon. Back in April, he was named the head coach of the Orlando franchise in the Alliance of American Football, an eight-team league scheduled to kick off in February. In the meantime, he’s still working at the University of Florida and getting in a few rounds of golf. Recently, he played Addie Baggarly, another former Science Hill athlete turned Florida Gator, for “The Johnson City Championship.”

“I met Addie at the Gator golf day,” he said. “When I saw she was from Johnson City, I started talking to her. One day I’m out there playing and she was on the practice range. I told her, ‘Addie, we’re going to play one hole for the Johnson City championship. We both hit good drives and I hit it in there about 12 feet, and she hit it in there about eight feet. I missed my putt and she made it. I told her that Addie is the champ of Johnson City. She’s a good player.”

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