-- Steve Spurrier spent two frustrating seasons with the Washington Redskins and another out of football altogether. So when the coach who revolutionized the way the Southeastern Conference plays football returned to the league's preseason news conference as South Carolina's new coach on Wednesday, a packed room of reporters was there to greet him.
"I appreciate all of you guys hanging around," Spurrier told about 600 reporters in a hotel ballroom in suburban Birmingham. "I figured everybody would be gone by now. I've missed you guys, even the ones that didn't always write nice things about us."
Clearly, Spurrier is happy to be coaching in college football again. After losing 20 of 32 games with the Redskins, Spurrier quit after the 2003 season. He remained in northern Virginia last year, watching his youngest son, Scotty, play his senior season of high school football. But after playing too many rounds of golf, and watching the Redskins struggle to another 6-10 record under Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs, Spurrier returned to coaching in the most unlikely of places. South Carolina has won one conference championship and three bowl games in more than 100 years.
With Spurrier back and three other new coaches joining the league, the SEC issued more than 700 media credentials for the three-day preseason event, and more than 20 radio stations broadcast live talk shows from the hotel's lobby. Even though his Gamecocks are expected to endure another mediocre season, Spurrier was clearly the center of attention.
"It was a lot more fun hanging around the SEC, instead of in that other league I was in for a couple of years," Spurrier said.
Spurrier's return to the SEC overshadowed the introduction of new Florida coach Urban Meyer, who directed Utah to a 12-0 record and a No. 4 national ranking last season, and Mississippi Coach Ed Orgeron, an assistant on Southern California's teams that won national championships the past two seasons. Spurrier's presence also diminished the controversy surrounding Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer, who skipped the event last year, partly because of his role in the NCAA's investigation of Alabama's football program.
"When I first heard he was coming back, I was like, 'Oh, crap,' " said Fulmer, who often was the subject of Spurrier's jokes during Spurrier's 12-year tenure at Florida, where he won seven SEC titles and the 1996 national championship. "I think he brings a lot of personality to the conference. I don't have any advice for Steve -- he has all the answers anyway."
Last year, Fulmer addressed the media via teleconference from Knoxville, after deciding not to attend the event. Fulmer said he had received threats after it was revealed that he assisted the NCAA in its investigation of Alabama, which led to the Crimson Tide being placed on five years' probation in 2002. SEC Commissioner Michael Slive fined Fulmer $10,000 for skipping the media event.
"I haven't seen the commissioner yet, but if you see him, let him know I'm here because it can be expensive if you don't show up," Fulmer said.
Meyer, who chose the Florida job over a lucrative offer from Notre Dame, might have been overwhelmed by the media attention. Four years ago, as a rookie head coach at Bowling Green, Meyer walked into the Mid-American Conference's preseason news conference and there were about 30 reporters in attendance. Meyer said he wasn't asked a single question during the event.
"After a while, I just walked out of the room," Meyer said. "This is a lot different."