His Better Half - DatelineCarolina

His Better Half

Steve Spurrier's wife, Jerri, talks about school, life, football

By Chas McCarthy
Edited by Aaron Kidd

While Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier spends his days at Williams-Brice Stadium working toward a Southeastern Conference championship, his wife spends hers on the University of South Carolina campus working toward a psychology degree.

As a grandmother of nine, Jerri Spurrier - who married the Heisman Trophy winner in 1966 when both were students at the University of Florida - is fascinated by what makes young people tick, and that, coupled with a passion for football, is why she has a rapport with the Gamecock football players.

But whether she's catching up with her youngest son, Scott, a USC freshman and walk-on wide receiver on the team, on a campus where she goes virtually unnoticed, or cooking a gourmet meal for athletics department donors, Jerri Spurrier says she is happy to be at Carolina.

And she's certain of one thing: The Gamecocks are destined to be SEC champions.

Q: Describe your emotions during this year's game against Clemson. What were you thinking when the Tigers were driving with minutes left, and what were you thinking when Clemson kicker Jad Dean's field goal hooked left of the goalpost and the Gamecocks won the rivalry game for the first time in four years?

A: We've had such bad luck all year - not bad luck. I shouldn't say that, but the ball just bounced the wrong way all year. It was just like (USC defensive end) Nathaniel Pepper's interception - and run back - and to lose it in the end zone and for them to get in on the 20. It was just a perfect example of what's happened to us this year, and I thought, well, here we go again. But our guys didn't believe that. They kept playing. Every one of our guys kept playing. We out-played them

Q: What's the difference between Columbia and Gainesville, Fla.?

A: It's wonderful here. The people are wonderful here. I don't know. There's just something very warm and exciting. When we first went to Florida, it was kind of the same thing. Florida never won anything. They were eager to win.

Q: What's it like going back to school?

A: I started going back to school when Steve was at Duke. I went to a community college there, and then when he went to the Bandits (now-defunct United States Football League team in Tampa Bay, Fla.), I went to a community college there studying building construction. And then when he went to Florida, I studied economics and then ended up with a degree in physiology. I love health. I'm studying psychology here - either counseling or health psychology or middle school psychology. I like psychology when it comes to kids. I like being able to connect with our players.

Q: Do you see Scott around campus?

A: Yeah. Last semester we would have breakfast together. We both had 8 o'clock classes. So we would have breakfast together. Every once in a while he'll wait for me, and we'll have lunch in the Russell House (USC's student union), which is fun.

Q: I see you're wearing a cap and sunglasses. Is that because people recognize you?

A: No. Nobody recognizes me. Nobody knows me in my classes. I ran this morning, and my hair was soaking wet. I had no choice, so I put my cap on. Nobody recognizes me. I'm a student, and my professors have let me be a student. I'm Jerri, and that's nice. Nobody has any clue that I'm Steve's wife.

Q: Does that make you feel better?

A: Oh, yeah. I'm not going to school so people see me. It's nice that the guys (football players) - I see them in between class - and they say, ‘What are you doing?' You know? And it is nice because I know what it takes to go to the library. I know how hard it is to find a parking place. I know when all these guys have all their problems with everything - I'm not taking 18 hours - but I can tell Steve. It's hard to do this. It's hard to do what they do. So I get to see the student side of our team.

Q: Are you active with the players off the field? How often do you go to practices?

A: Yes. Three days a week.

Q: Do you talk to them afterward?

A: I talk to them after. I talk to them about their grades. I call their mothers (laughs). I go with them to their surgeries. I've offered to go see them when they get in trouble. I spend a lot of time listening to them, and that's like having a mother. And they know I feel that way. They know that if they need somebody that is not a coach - that somebody loves them. And I do.

Q: Are there players that are more open than others?

A: It was funny. When I first got here, you know, nobody looks at you. The whole first year people would go to practice and walk past me with their head down. When I started making them cookies - that helped. Now they all talk to me. Now I hug them after practice. I talk to them when I know Steve is just furious with one or two of them - try to keep them from getting discouraged.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: We have nine grandchildren. I don't have any spare time. I don't want any spare time. I hope I get up every morning at 6 with Steve. I never run out of things to do. Never. I do a lot of things with the coaches' wives. We do a lot of projects. We're doing the adopt-a-family thing. We do a lot of things for the community - not big deals that everybody knows about. But just - all the wives take a little project, and we all take care of somebody that needs it.

Q: Do you like to cook?

A: I love to cook. We're having a dinner this week for fundraising. We invite five or six people who might be potential donors for the athletic department.

Q: What are you going to cook?

A: We're having filet with some mushrooms, and then we're having stuffed salmon with crab and shrimp on spinach and pasta and broccoli - and salad and flan.

Q: Do you have any other hobbies?

A: I run about 40 miles a week.

Q: Do you run with music?

A: No. I think.

Q: Steve Spurrier has said there's no clout to the rumors that he's leaving South Carolina to coach at the University of Alabama. Is it true? Are you staying here for a few more years?

A: Yeah. What's the point of going to a place like Alabama that has already won three national titles? It'll never be good enough. Nobody will ever be Bear Bryant there. And they'll pay big money. I'll tell you, when you take a job with the Washington Redskins and find out there's much more heartache in it than anything you can get back from it, you realize that these kids - you need to watch them grow. You need to watch them mature. You need to see something happen that's wonderful. And that's what we're going to see. When we win the SEC here some day, these kids will believe. They will. I believe. We will win it. How many schools really say that? Not a lot. But we're saying it. So it's a challenge, and I don't think it's going to take as long as we think, either.

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