If you've checked the various SB Nation blogs this week, you've noticed a number of hypothetical posts discussing what it would be like to have past Heisman winners play for their favorite teams. The posts are inspired by the new feature on NCAA Football 2013 that allows you to put a handful of past winners on current teams (which is highly entertaining, I might add). For my version of this post, I want to take a slightly different angle and propose we consider how a former Heisman Trophy winner would've impacted a different program, not so much because of his play on the field, but for the way he became a program building coach that loved to win with a previously underachieving program. So, here's my wish: Steve Spurrier's 1966 Heisman season happens as a member of the Louisville Cardinals, not so much for what it meant that season, but for the chance for Spurrier to work his 90's magic at Louisville 25 years later as head coach.
Steve Spurrier won the Heisman in 1966 after putting up rather pedestrian statistics by today's standards (2,012 yards, 16 TDs). That year, Spurrier narrowly beat out Purdue's Bob Griese by leading the Gators to a 9-2 record and a trip to the Orange Bowl. He sealed his Heisman by stepping in for the team's kicker and hitting a game winning field goal to beat Auburn. In 1966, Spurrier would've had to do something quite extraordinary to win the Heisman at Louisville. With the Cardinals playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, for head Frank Camp (arguably the best coach in the school's history to that point), and playing at tiny Parkway Field near what is now the Speed School of Engineering on campus. It's probably safe to say that Steve Spurrier would have had no chance to win the Heisman at Louisville in 1966.
I want Spurrier at Louisville in 1966 because I want Spurrier at Louisville in 1994 when Howard Schnellenberger left the school and it joined Conference USA two years later in 1996. Few coaches have been quite so fiercely loyal to their alma mater the way Spurrier was at Florida in the 1990s (routinely running it up on Georgia to pay them back for previous defeats, scoring once more late against Mississippi State to get some payback for the equipment manager getting hit by something thrown from the stands a few years before) and his style play combined with the talent on hand changed the SEC forever. While Spurrier wouldn't have had many of the SEC caliber players at Louisville that he had at Florida, he still hypothetically would've gone through the 1990s and early 2000s with quarterbacks Browning Neagle, Chris Redman, Dave Ragone, Jeff Brohm, and even a little Stefan Lefors. There's no reason to think that if Spurrier could win big and put up big numbers with Dave Brown and the talent he had at Duke that he couldn't do the same with arguably better players that Louisville had in the 1990s.
It would've fit the Spurrier persona to enjoy participating in helping Louisville reach a number of firsts like he did at Florida, helping the Gators win their first SEC and national championships. Would he have raised Louisville's stature to that level in 10-12 years as head coach? Probably not. But he would've reveled in winning at previously unheard-of levels, ushering the Cardinals into a new football stadium (moving to the current home, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in 1998), and likely speeding up what was already a rather quick ascension from independent, to Conference USA, to Big East.
FInally, I would have loved for Spurrier to be Louisville's coach because even more of his biting humor and penchant for running up the score would've been directed at in-state rival Kentucky. Spurrier was once asked about his offense having played so del against Kentucky and replied "It's just Kentucky." Spurrier's hatred of Bill Curry and therefore Kentucky is well known (and so is Kentucky's hatred for Spurrier). That's why Spurrier never hesitated to run up scores like 73-7 and 65-0 against Kentucky when he was at Florida (or 54-3 last year at South Carolina). For Spurrier to have the opportunity to exact some revenge on Curry on the Louisville sideline would be glorious. Perhaps instead of "Free Shoes University" or "You can't spell Citrus without U-T", those quips would've been directed at Kentucky instead. You think Spurrier would've had something funny to say about UK going on probation for buying players when he quipped about Alabama's scholarships being "worth more than the ones we were offering"?
This is just a fun exercise. If Spurrier comes to Louisville out of Tennessee in 1966, perhaps he never becomes the head strong, score-settling coach that he became and flourished as while he was at Florida. But if he had, Louisville fans would've loved every second of it.
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