Steve Spurrier ready to bring the fun to Alliance of American Football

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Steve Spurrier stands among his quarterbacks, visor firmly in place, looking down at a sheet of paper filled with plays he scribbled down using a bright green hotel pen.

His wife, Jerri, walks barefoot around the field at Camping World Stadium, taking in practice. She, too, wears a visor and does not miss a beat when asked whether she thought her husband was truly done with coaching when he stepped down at South Carolina in 2015.

"When he stays up all night drawing up plays, then you know," Jerri Spurrier says.

So when the call came last year asking whether he had any interest in joining the startup Alliance of American Football and taking on the Orlando franchise, Spurrier said yes. The Orlando Apollos open their inaugural season Saturday night against the Atlanta Legends at Spectrum Stadium, home to UCF.

Spurrier, 73, is the most recognizable face in the fledgling franchise, and the Apollos have made it their strategic mission to maximize his visibility. His face is plastered on billboards all over Orlando touting the new football team in town. He was recently on the cover of Orlando Magazine, and advertising on the front of the Orlando Sentinel reads, "Spurrier Is Back."

Apollos president Mike Waddell refers to Spurrier as "Apollo I," understanding keenly all the marketing possibilities. Though Spurrier stepped down as Florida coach after the 2001 season to become head coach of the Washington Redskins, he remains beloved among Gators fans. Over 40,000 Florida alumni live in the Orlando area alone, a natural fan base for the Apollos to try to tap into as they begin the difficult work not only of starting up but surviving. Orlando ranks in the top two among the eight AAF franchises in early ticket sales.

Spurrier still serves as Gators ambassador, a role he took after leaving South Carolina, and retains a small office inside the football stadium. Watching the Gators got him back into the coaching mindset, and he started scribbling down plays whenever they came to him. Recent back surgery has slowed down his propensity to play golf, giving him the chance to dive right back into coaching.

Though Gainesville is home base, about two hours north, the Spurriers live in a local hotel along with nearly everyone else on the team. Players lift, eat lunch and practice at Camping World Stadium before returning to the hotel for more meetings.

By his own admission, Spurrier blames himself for the way his tenure ended at South Carolina, regretting the way he ceded control on offense, delegated too much responsibility to assistants and mismanaged his staff on defense. "One day, I looked in the mirror and said, 'You are a lousy ball coach. You used to be a good one but you ain't now,'" he said before a recent practice. "We had players that didn't like each other. Coaches on the staff didn't like other coaches.

"It went bad. It was best for South Carolina to get out of there, and I've always told the athletic director and the president, you won't have to pay me anything like all these other coaches. There's a lot of coaches that don't care if they get fired because they get all the big buyout money. That's not my style, so they definitely understood."

His goal with the Apollos is simple: get back to coaching the way he did at Duke and Florida, and even early on at South Carolina. He turns nostalgic when asked whether his offense in Orlando will resemble what he did during his most prolific days with the Gators, when the Fun 'n' Gun offense revolutionized the SEC.

"Time will tell about that," he says. "I don't think we're going to get it as wide open as we used to be." He ticks off all his star receivers: Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green, Chris Doering, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, Taylor Jacobs. "Those guys could get open and score a bunch of points. We've got a lot of similar plays."

He has a quarterback, Garrett Gilbert, who fits the prototypical Spurrier mold. Describing what it is like to learn the Spurrier offense as a "crash course," Gilbert also said, "When I got drafted here, it felt like I got the best of the bunch. To work with someone who has played this position at the highest level, coached it at the highest level. ... His rep precedes him, so to have that opportunity has been great."

Receiver Rannell Hall said the question he gets the most from friends and family: "Is Spurrier going to air the ball out?"

Spurrier is not new to figuring out how to make an upstart professional team work. He was head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits in the USFL from 1983 through 1985, going 35-21. Between coaching in the USFL, NFL, on the collegiate level and in the AAF, it is safe to say Spurrier has been willing to try it all -- perhaps the only coach with experience in all those leagues on his résumé.

He pauses for a moment to think about this.

"I know I'm the only guy alive that's won an ACC and SEC title," Spurrier says matter-of-factly. "That ACC one was a springboard to what happened at Florida. A lot of people don't realize that. After we won the ACC in 1989 at Duke, when I came to Florida, the players at Florida knew we had talent at all the positions, and so they said, 'Coach, he won one of these championships at Duke; surely we can win one here.' And we won, what, six in the first seven years?"

Looking back on his tenure at Florida and his brief, losing stint with the Redskins, Spurrier says, "I probably should have stayed at Florida, but at that time the mentality of all college coaches was have a run in college, and try to make a run in the NFL. I obviously chose the wrong team to go to. I thought I was getting a different general manager, but the owner decided he was going to be the general manager, and when he picked the quarterbacks, I knew it wasn't going to work. So he did a good job of running me off cheaply."

But his choice to leave for the NFL allowed him to eventually go to South Carolina, where he became the school's all-time winningest coach. He also holds that distinction at Florida. At both places, Spurrier never shied away from throwing barbs at rival team coaches, most especially Phillip Fulmer, Bobby Bowden and Ray Goff. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was no exception. Swinney gave it right back, and the two developed a friendship in time.

They still talk regularly.

"He called me the other day, told me he's going to be watching Saturday night," Spurrier said. "I started thinking a lot of coaches will be watching. What else are they going to do February? Hopefully, it will be a good exciting game. A lot of touchdowns.

"For us."

You know, the Spurrier way.