Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stevie's Blunder | by Mike

If you had asked me what I thought of Steve Spurrier a week ago, I’d have told you I admired the man's transparency. In a sport filled with people claiming to be something they’re not, Spurrier was remarkably honest. He didn’t pretend to respect Bobby Bowden or Tennessee. He didn’t deny that he enjoyed running up the score. He was successful, he knew it, and he wasn't afraid to tell you. His forthright nature was refreshing.

Yet the release of the coaches’ ballots this week presents an instance where some mystery surrounds Spurrier’s motivations. As you’ve assuredly heard by now, Spurrier gave Notre Dame its lowest ranking in the entire poll at 14. (Two spots below Texas Tech, of all people!) While one normally knows where one stands with Spurrier, I’m not sure why he voted this way. This forces me to resort to the first principle of the internet – when in doubt, resort to baseless speculation. With this axiom in mind, here are a few possible reasons for Spurrier’s vote:

The Man's Own Words. When asked to explain his vote, Spurrier said:

Somebody said we had Notre Dame lower than anybody else. I said, ‘Well, they didn’t even put us in there. So what’s the big deal?’
Of course, Spurrier is not so much attempting to explain his vote here as minimize its significance. Yet his comparison is inapt. Only eleven coaches voted for South Carolina at all, and the only coaches who voted South Carolina above 24 were Spurrier and his former DC Bob Stoops. Weis wasn't exactly an outlier. The question remains why Spurrier did take an outlier position with regard to Notre Dame.

The Sugar Bowl. Following the 1991 season, Spurrier’s third-ranked, SEC champion Gators faced off against Lou Holtz’s 18th-ranked Irish. Jerome Bettis rewrote Notre Dame’s bowl records (150 rushing yards on 16 carries for 3 touchdowns) en route to a 39-28 Irish victory in the heart of SEC country. Thus most remember this game for the performance of the Irish offense and overlook the manner in which Holtz exploited Spurrier’s greatest weakness – his hubris. Holtz’s defensive scheme called for the Irish to drop practically the entire defense into coverage, knowing that Spurrier would not abandon the passing attack on which he prided himself. Although Notre Dame dropped as many as nine defenders into coverage during much of the second half, Spurrier could not bring himself to call running plays. (This despite the presence of the SEC’s leading rusher in the Gator backfield.) Spurrier just had to prove his team could pass against anyone, and this obstinance played right into Holtz’s hands. Does this humbling still haunt Spurrier?

John Latina. Last December, Spurrier hired the former Ole Miss offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for his Gamecock staff. In hiring Latina, Spurrier was adding a coach who had sent ten offensive linemen to the NFL at Ole Miss and who sported a truly majestic moustache. Shortly thereafter, however, Latina would leave Spurrier to join Charlie Weis’s staff. Does Spurrier harbor a grudge because Latina valued the opportunity to work with Coach Weis more highly?

Jimmy Clausen. The über-recruit from the class of 2007 is said to be considering both Notre Dame and South Carolina. If Spurrier could land Clausen, he would have the opportunity to run his system with a quarterback who received more high school accolades than either Danny Wuerffel or Rex Grossman. However, Spurrier can’t feel too confident recruiting against the man who transformed Tom Brady from a sixth-round quarterback befouled by what passes for QB coaching at Michigan into a two-time Super Bowl MVP and who has made Brady Quinn the early frontrunner for the 2006 Heisman and a top NFL Draft choice. Did recruiting concerns figure into the man’s calculations?

The Unforgiven Slight. Back in August, Weis was asked whether he thought Spurrier would succeed in his return to college football after his failure in the NFL. Perhaps Weis was a little too blunt in his response for Spurrier’s taste:
Well, first of all Steve's a great coach. I think one thing that's a little different, though, is those defenses in the NFL, they'll figure you out in a hurry now. I mean you're just sitting there, and every time they blitz, you're going to throw a slip screen. That's what he did. Everyone in the league knew it. He was going to throw a slip screen and everyone would be playing the slip screen.
The good folks at EDSBS have described Spurrier’s “long memory and sense of Old Testament justice.” Are we witnessing another of Spurrier's famed grudges?

What was Spurrier thinking? Tell us what you think, but beware the black helicopters and computer viruses.