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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Matthew Gailani
The Story of Steve Spurrier
Sports, from football to basketball, are very popular across the state of Tennessee. The Volunteer State has been home to many athletes and coaches at both the professional and college level. Few, however, are as well-known or successful as the “Head Ball Coach,” Steve Spurrier.
Stephen Orr Spurrier was born in Miami Beach, Florida at St. Francis Hospital on April 20, 1945 to Reverend J. Graham Spurrier Jr. and Marjorie Orr Spurrier. His father was a Presbyterian minister, which meant the family moved a lot. This is what brought the Spurrier family to Tennessee. When Coach Spurrier was young, his family moved to Athens and later to Newport, Tennessee in the eastern part of the state. According to Coach Spurrier in his autobiography, “it was when we got to Athens, Tennessee that my interest in sports began.” He even remembered his father taking him to see the University of Tennessee Volunteers play football in Knoxville.
Steve played three different sports growing up: basketball, baseball, and football. He loved to play at the park with his friends. By the time Steve was in high school, his family had moved to Johnson City, Tennessee. This was a larger city than Athens and Newport and offered new opportunities. While there, Steve played basketball, baseball, and football at Science Hill High School. Steve says he was fortunate to be able to play for what he thought were three of the best coaches in Tennessee history during his time at Science Hill. What Steve Spurrier did not know yet, was that one day he would become a coach himself.
Steve Spurrier high school jerseys for football and baseball, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Steve was a good athlete and some of his greatest success in high school came as a baseball player. He won two championships as a pitcher in baseball in 1962 and 1963. While Steve was good at baseball and basketball, he wanted to play football in college. Deciding where to go to college was a big decision for Steve. Where would he live for the next four years? How many sports would he play? Would he go to school in Tennessee or decide to go somewhere else? In the end, he decided to go to the University of Florida in Gainesville. That turned out to be a good decision. He played quarterback for Florida and even won the Heisman Trophy in 1966. This is an award given to the “most outstanding” player in college football. Over 50 years later, he is still the only Tennessee high school athlete to have won the Heisman Trophy.
Steve Spurrier and his 1966 Heisman Trophy, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
After college, Steve played in the National Football League (NFL) for a while. Steve played for about ten years for the San Francisco 49ers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While he did not play as much as he did in college, he continued to study the game of football. Eventually, Steve decided to try coaching football. He worked hard for many years at different jobs before finally becoming the head football coach at his alma mater, the University of Florida. Steve was such a good football coach that his team won the National Championship in 1996. He was so successful he even had the nickname “The Head Ball Coach.”
Program for Florida vs Vanderbilt from 1956, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Steve continued to coach college football and look for new challenges until he retired in 2015. He won more games at the University of Florida and the University of South Carolina than any other football coach in the history of those schools. When he finished coaching, he was considered one of the most successful coaches ever from Tennessee. In a phone interview, I asked Coach Spurrier what advice he would give to young athletes and students. He recommended playing more than one sport so you can see which you really enjoy. He also said that being part of a team and learning to be a good teammate teaches you valuable lessons you can take with you for the rest of your life.
Autobiography - A book someone writes about themself and their own life.
Alma Mater - The school that someone went to.
Retire - To leave your job and stop working. Usually when you are older.
How many sports did Steve Spurrier play in high school?
What different cities did Steve Spurrier live in during his time in Tennessee?
What year did Steve Spurrier win the Heisman Trophy?
What advice would you give to someone that wanted to be good at playing a sport?
What do you think it takes to make a good coach and leader?
Watch the University of Florida honor Steve Spurrier:
5.52: Identify influential Tennesseans from the late 20th century.
Matthew Gailani is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.