I laugh about it now, but back in the 1990's, when I took football that other people played way too seriously, it wasn't funny.
Steve Spurrier, in an effort to keep his players loose and carefree, was a master of getting into his competitor's head. By doing that, of course, he stayed in their fans' head as well.
Coach Spurrier is a master at managing pressure. Better said, he is a master at soaking the pressure up, away from his team and onto himself.
All coaches try to put on a calm demeanor around their players. They try to demonstrate how outside pressure does not affect them.
Some are better at it than others. The best coaches absorb the outside distractions from their players and won't allow them to get caught up in the hype.
What is the idea behind this? Glad you asked.
By teaching the players to ignore outside influences—especially those things they cannot control—they keep the pressure down. Pressure causes people to tighten up, make bad decisions or play too conservatively. A loose team normally performs better than one that is feeling the pressure.
In Coach Spurrier's case, he will often make comments directed towards his team's biggest opponents to get in their head. A good case in point was Free Shoes University, instead of Florida State University, when referring to FSU back in 1994.
Spurrier used that name once in front of reporters when referring to FSU shortly after an unfortunate incident occurred, involving some FSU players. The reported incident was about some players receiving improper gifts from a sports agent.
The agent wanted the athletes to allow their agency to negotiate the player's NFL deals after graduation. The whole thing came out and the players were caught.
Several FSU football players were accused of allowing this sports agent to take them on a $6,000 shopping spree—a definite violation of NCAA rules. Part of the purchases made were expensive sneakers, thus Free Shoes University was coined.
It also happened that Florida was in the midst of losing three out of four games to FSU between 1990 and 1993. Both teams were top-10 contenders, trying to win their conference championships—and more. The incident occurred in 1994, before the scheduled FSU-Florida game.
Coach Spurrier threw gas on the bad publicity fire by announcing to reporters that FSU now stood for "Free Shoes University." He explained that it seemed FSU players were always coming up with expensive things that Florida players couldn't afford. The coach wondered aloud if there may be other improper giving and receiving going on at the school?
The Free Shoes University comment caused a firestorm in the media. It also drew sharp criticism from Florida State officials, including legendary coach, Bobby Bowden.
To make a very long story a wee bit shorter, Florida went to Tallahassee late in the year ranked No. 4 and the underdog to FSU. They wound up tying the game with Florida State 31-31. At the time, there was speculation that FSU played tight and Florida loose.
Spurrier did the same type things with other big-time rivals. Tennessee seemed to handle the little Spurrier jabs worse than any other school.
During the 1990s the Citrus Bowl was the official destination for the SEC East team that finished second. Spurrier often said you can't spell Citrus without UT.
From 1994 through 1997, Peyton Manning was the Tennessee starting quarterback. During this period, the Vols' record was 40-9. Four of the losses were to the Florida Gators.
After the 1996 season, Manning announced he was going to forgo his almost certain position as the first person taken in the NFL draft. He wanted to come back and play his senior season at Tennessee.
Upon hearing the news from a reporter, Spurrier immediately had something to say. It was that Peyton came back because he wanted to win that MVP trophy for the Citrus Bowl for the third year in a row.
Florida beat them that year, too (33-20).
There were some years where the Gators had the better team. But for the most part, these two were neck and neck. UT even went on to win the SEC championship after losing to Florida in Peyton's last season.
The point is, UT and its players and coaches were always tense going into the Florida game. Florida never was.
Mainly because it had a coach who turned the tables on the pressure game long before it was ever an issue for his team.
South Carolina fans, your team is in the best of hands when they play their biggest games.
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