TAMPA, Fla. — This open-mic night just happened to take place in the middle of the day on a high school football field.
Every South Carolina Gamecock has a Steve Spurrier impression. Giant offensive lineman Justin Sorenson, a 6-foot-7, 316-pounder from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, offered up his.
It needs work, but just hearing this bearded and balding mammoth squeak out Spurrier’s pinched and blazing staccato was worth the price of admission.
“Everybody likes to imitate his accent. I’m sure I’ll do that for the rest of my life,” Sorensen said after Sunday’s practice. “All right men, all right men, go out there and do good today.”
For the Iowa Hawkeyes, the other half of Thursday’s Outback Bowl matchup, it’s Coach Kirk Ferentz’s whistle that might have them spring out of their sleep five years removed.
“For me personally, no, but I’m sure some of the offensive linemen will,” wide receiver Andy Brodell said.
Ferentz and Spurrier sat in front of their respective helmets, maybe two auditorium chairs apart during Sunday’s joint news conference at the Quorum Hotel.
As far as coaching styles go, they might as well have been a planet apart.
Spurrier went into coaching after winning the 1966 Heisman Trophy while starring as quarterback for Florida. He played 10 seasons in the NFL, finishing his career with the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Until the Lions’ 31-21 loss to Green Bay on Sunday, that Bucs team was the last to finish an NFL regular season winless.
“I wouldn’t wish that record on anybody,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier was 12-20 in two seasons as head coach of the Washington Redskins. Ferentz spent six years as offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens organization.
Ferentz has made countless jokes about his playing career. He played linebacker at Connecticut, where he was a captain and all-academic in the Yankee Conference.
Spurrier joked about the whereabouts of his Heisman Trophy on Sunday.
“Depends on which house you’re talking about,” Spurrier said when asked if he still kept it on his TV. It’s now in his office in Columbia, S.C.
Spurrier is demonstrative and emotional. An old quarterback himself, he’s particularly hard on his quarterbacks.
This season, sophomore Chris Smelley began as the starter. He went into the Louisiana State game with an 8-4 career record, but still found himself benched for LSU, in favor of red-shirt freshman Stephen Garcia, who has the start for the Outback.
“That’s something my granddad was talking to me about. He said, ‘You know, when I grew up the Navy got me ready to be a man,’” Smelley said. “He goes, ‘You’re doing it a different way playing college football up there.’”
Spurrier, who won a national championship as head coach of Florida in 1996, is intense and offers honest, blunt assessments. His style can be intimidating.
Cue the camera shot of him tossing or otherwise flinging his trademark visor.
“He expects a lot,” linebacker Marvin Sapp said. “He’s done a lot, that’s why he expects a lot. He expects you to play to the best of your ability. He expects you to not loaf. I love playing for him. He really drives you, but he encourages you.”
Or, as wide receiver Kenny McKinley puts it, “Coach Spurrier is a cool cat.”
Tight end Jared Cook couldn’t count the times he’s seen the visor fly off his head and onto the turf. Remember, it might not happen on TV as much as it used to, but these guys get full frontal Spurrier in practice, behind closed doors.
“He’s an emotional guy and he loves this game,” Cook said. “That’s what I really like about him.”
Don’t think that it’s all arm-around-the-shoulder and gentle encouragement from Ferentz.
You’ve seen it on the sidelines, when he has a “disagreement” with officials. You can read his lips and, yes, that is what you think it is.
In practice, with no TV cameras, it’s not Captain Kangaroo.
“I don’t think I should go there,” senior tight end Brandon Myers said. “It’s behind practice, it’s behind closed doors. Any coach is going to get after people. You wouldn’t be a good coach if you didn’t.
“You can read lips.”
Said Brodell, “Coach can be soft-spoken and quiet, but at the same time, he can be a tough coach. I think every coach has that side to him.”
Ferentz is well aware of his public persona. From his relationship with Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops, he also has a pretty good idea about Spurrier.
“I think he’s always had that personality,” Ferentz said. “My guess is he was like that as a player. He’s very comfortable, very relaxed, it seems like in all situations, and that’s a great thing. And I guess I’m not.”
This exchange highlights the differences between the two coaches:
Spurrier was asked about his early travels as a coach. He was the one and only head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits, a United States Football League franchise that opened in 1983 and closed in 1986.
One of his offensive linemen with the Bandits was Nate Newton, who ended up as a 330-plus pounder with the Dallas Cowboys.
“People may not know, but we had Nate Newton when he was 285, 290,” Spurrier said.
Ferentz subtly sneaked in, “In eighth grade?”
Spurrier didn’t break stride. He went on rattling off names and numbers from back in the day.
The man had the mic and he wasn’t giving it up.