Use all the metaphors you care to -- Lion in Winter, Senior Statesman, whatever. Steve Spurrier has been coming to SEC Media Days for a long time, but he no longer feels like the main attraction.
It was different a couple of years ago, the first SEC Media Days for your humble correspondent. He kept reporters laughing during a lively session. It might not have been quite the same as when he was at Florida, slinging the ball all over the field and talking about Free Shoes University and how difficult it would be to spell Citrus without UT. But it was still enough to make it clear that Spurrier was the star.
It seems different now. The pictures on the big screen to the side of the podium look older now, even if Spurrier himself seems younger than the pictures. And he was not even the liveliest session on Thursday -- though it's hard to see how anyone could have surpassed Robbie Caldwell's ruminations on turkey insemination.
Someone asked Spurrier about that, and he blew it off -- as he should. He is, after all, a football coach and not a comedian. But the question still came up: Was he worried about losing "your title as most quotable coach in the conference"?
No, I'm not worried about that at all. I don't think I've won enough games lately to have any outlandish quotes. If you win a bunch of games, it's pretty easy to give all the answers up here. But we haven't won enough. I'm just another ball coach trying to win a whole bunch of games that we haven't quite done yet.
So Spurrier's presentation was unquestionably quieter and focused on a topic that didn't come up much in his years at Florida: Hope.
Until we prove we can play on a consistent basis, we just got hope. We've got to go earn our way to believing that we can be a top SEC team. But again, we do have players with wonderful attitudes that will give us a chance this coming season.
That hope rests on a few things: QB Stephen Garcia, who was not chosen for Media Days duty and about whom Spurrier seemed unimpressed; a run game that has stalled out; and an offensive line that might be somewhat responsible for the first two problems.
Spurrier sounded slightly more optimistic about the line, which will be more senior than it has in a while. It will be up to Shawn Elliott, Spurrier said, to take linemen that are physically able to do the job and turn them into an SEC-caliber line. Elliott is the third man in as many years to have that responsibility.
His players say Spurrier remains the same -- that he still wants badly to win and hates losing. Cliff Matthews:
Nothing has changed. A loss is a loss. He takes it hard. ... Coach Spurrier has been the same. The only thing that has changed has been the players and their attitudes.
And that is ultimately Spurrier's hope. He believes that players who work hard will play better -- good enough to reach the SEC East title that the Gamecocks have yet to achieve. But even if they miss it again this year, Spurrier says he doesn't feel as weary as the pictures might suggest.
It's sort of funny how you keep coaching, you feel about the same way as you did five or six years ago. I'm alway's asked, 'How much longer you going to coach?' I always have the same answer, 'Four or five years.' I said that when I was 50, 'Four or five more years.'
As we know, those years go fast. If you're fortunate enough to be in good health, this, that and the other, and your enthusiasm is still up for it, certainly you've got a chance to continue on. I'm pumped up about this year. I like our team.
And then he repeats himself -- "I like our team." It's not clear whether he's trying to convince the reporters or the man who once wowed them so easily.