The way the story is told, Steve Spurrier was coming to coach Duke in 1987 and Anthony Dilweg was fretting about their first encounter.
Dilweg had been the Blue Devils punter and backup quarterback the previous season. Against North Carolina, in the last game, he faked a punt and fired a pass.
The problem wasnt so much the pass but that the fake punt was all Dilwegs doing. No coach made the call. Dilweg just decided to chuck it. And Duke lost the game.
So there he was, facing the new coach, waiting for the question.
Spurrier came up and asked me if Id done it on my own, Dilweg said. I said a quick prayer to myself and said I did.
He said, You know what, I really like that. You were trying to win the game, werent you? I like that attitude.
And why not? It was brash. It was unscripted, unexpected. It was football in an attack mode.
It was so much Steve Spurrier.
Twenty-five years later, Spurrier still likes that attitude, that boldness. It helped him win Dukes last ACC title and a national title at Florida. These days, he has a top 10 team at South Carolina and is looking to pick up his 199th career victory Saturday when the Gamecocks host East Carolina.
In a recent conversation, Spurrier was talking football, as is his wont, and about the passing of time when he was asked how he has changed as a coach over the years.
Oh, people like to say I run the ball more these days, Spurrier said with a light chuckle. But we ran the ball when I was at Duke from 1987 to 89. We had Randy Cuthbert, and he was a 1,000-yard rusher for us in 89.
The biggest difference might be Im a little smarter in how to handle off-the-field things like player/coach relationships. Weve changed the offense a little bit. With time, you do make changes.
People ask me all the time, where did you learn offense. I always tell em I learned it at Duke University.
Were going to put it in the air
As Red Wilson recalls, he had the perfect pitch for Spurrier.
Wilson was Dukes coach in 1980 and looking for an offensive coordinator. Pepper Rodgers had been fired at Georgia Tech and Spurrier, Rodgers quarterbacks coach, was available.
Wilson, now 86 and living near Pinehurst, met Spurrier at a practice at Dunwoody (Ga.) High, noting Spurrier was sitting up in the bleachers in shorts, suntanning himself. Now he wanted to hire him.
I told him to come run the offense, Wilson said. I said, If anything goes good youll get the credit; if anything goes bad Ill take the blame. Less than 24 hours later, he called back. He said he was ready to move.
So it began a Spurrier/Duke relationship.
A couple of weeks later he came in my office and said, Heres the playbook, what do you think? Wilson said. He said, Coach, were going to put it in the air.
With Spurrier calling plays and quarterback Ben Bennett flinging passes, Duke scored a lot the next three years. It was an interesting time at Duke, what with basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff just down the Cameron Indoor Stadium hallway from the football offices.
"Fifteen yards apart. We saw em all the time," Bennett said.
But then came another call: from the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League.
At 37, Spurrier couldnt say no. He became the youngest head coach in pro football.
Rich McGeorge, who played at Elon before a long NFL career, was an assistant for the USFLs Birmingham Stallions before joining Spurrier and the Bandits in 1985.
I remember one day in Birmingham someone joking, Whats Steve Spurrier doing today, on a golf course somewhere? McGeorge said. I said, If he is, hes out there thinking of another play that will kick our butts.
He was always one or two steps ahead of everybody. And at game time, oh, my gosh.
Spurrier and the Bandits won. But by the end of 1986, the USFL had folded. Soon, Duke and Spurrier reunited.
Getting Duke to believe
Spurrier said in is first press conference there was enough talent at Duke to compete and noted, Anything less than a winning season is unacceptable. Of Blue Devils fans, he said, My goal is to make em as excited about football as they are about basketball.
Again, pretty bold. Duke finished 5-6 in 1987 but beat North Carolina 25-10 in the final game. But the Devils were 7-3-1 the second season and then 8-4 in the third as Spurrier was named ACC coach of the year both seasons.
He injected us with confidence, wide receiver Clarkston Hines said.
The Blue Devils, with Dilweg at quarterback and Hines catching passes, shared the 1989 ACC title with Virginia and went to the All American Bowl, losing to Texas Tech.
It was a milestone season. The ACC championship was Dukes first since 1962 and the bowl its first since 1961.
It was a fun time, Spurrier said. We had some wins they still talk about today.
The 1989 North Carolina game, to name one.
The photo says it all
Steve Spurrier isnt hard to spot in the photo. Hes taking a knee, close to the front of a joyous group of players. Hes smiling. Oh, yeah, hes smiling.
The Kenan Stadium scoreboard has four zeroes on it. Three denote the time left. The fourth denotes Carolinas scoring total. Under Guest is 41.
Spurrier tried to downplay the photo, saying, "We took the picture because we were the ACC champs and that meant a lot."
Some at UNC still seethe about Spurrier and the picture. The 41-0 victory had Spurrier running every trick play he had against Mack Browns outmanned Tar Heels.
North Carolina had six turnovers and we messed up three or four times, Spurrier said. We could have scored more points. It could have been 65-0.
McGeorge, then on the Blue Devils staff, said, Steve wanted to score 100 that day.
It would be Spurriers last win at Duke, his third consecutive win against UNC. He soon returned to Florida, to his alma mater, where he won the Heisman in 1966.
Spurrier won big with the Gators: six SEC titles and the national championship in 1996. No one wanted to play Florida in The Swamp.
There would be a two-year sojourn back to pro football, when Spurrier coached the Washington Redskins in 2002 and 2003, going 7-9 and 5-11.But Spurrier belonged in college football. And soon he was back.
Same ball coach, just older
McGeorge, who coached 12 years with Spurrier, isnt sure when the Ol Ball Coach thing started.
Steve always talked like that, McGeorge said. He was always saying ball coach or ball yard. Thats just him, coming from Tennessee. He said it before he was a head coach.
Steve really hasnt changed a lot. He has that air about him where you either like him or you dont. Hes always known his personnel, what they could and couldnt do, and never puts em in situations they couldnt handle. Like most coaches, hes both a coach and teacher and he likes to see results.
As Spurrier put it, Theres no substitute for wins.
At 67, Spurrier stays fit physically even if his knees have gone bad. He still wears the visor, still likes his golf.
Ill bet hes still practicing his putting in his office, or simulating a golf swing and then saying, Oh, my back! McGeorge said, laughing.
Hes still coaching and teaching, still getting results, at South Carolina.
In our eight years here it has been fun to do things that have never been done before, Spurrier said. When we won at Tennessee, it was the first time in school history. When we won at Florida at The Swamp, it was the first since 1939. First time weve won the (SEC) Eastern Division. First time wed won 11 games.
Every time we win a big game, it seems like its a first.
Dilweg once asked Spurrier when he would stop coaching, saying Spurriers reply was, When the kids are not coachable. He hasnt reached that point yet.
And there will always be that attachment to Duke. Spurrier used to give Duke a vote in the coaches preseason poll every year, regardless of the Devils record, but stopped in 2008 when he was convinced it was hurting the integrity of the poll.
Maybe so, but voting for Duke was so Steve Spurrier.