If you scour the Gators blogosphere, you'll typically find two perspectives on what for Gators is a popular topic, the question of whether Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer is the greatest Gators coach. On one side, you have the fan that argues that Urban Meyer is either in the process of or perhaps even already has surpassed his austere predecessor. This interlocutor claims that Meyer has built a dynasty in Gainesville that surpasses, or at least will if it continues for another few years, even the heights achieved by Spurrier. This fan will cite Meyer's two national title in three years, and will point out that Spurrier, while he dominated the SEC, typically managed to bungle national title opportunities somewhow. This fan might also point to Spurrier's failings in the NFL and at South Carolina as indications that Spurrier might not be all he was cracked up to be.
The pro-Spurrier contingent, on the other hand, will claim that Meyer is simply guiding the ship that Spurrier built. This fan will claim that Spurrier's greatest achievement is that he built Florida from the ground up, while Meyer already had a powerhouse program on his hands when he arrived. This fan might also point out that Spurrier had to deal with other challenges not faced by Meyer, such as a Florida State program at its peak and an unlucky national title matchup against what might have been the greatest team ever, the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. These factors, for the Spurrier contingent, excuse some of Spurrier's perceived shortcomings.
Continue reading after the jump.As is usually the case in these discussions, there are subjective factors that seem to correlate to how the objective data is presented. First of all, the pro-Spurrier fans tend to be a bit older. These are fans that can possibly remember seeing Spurrier play and can certainly remember the struggles of Florida football in the years leading up to Spurrier's arrival. For these fans, the memories of Spurrier's Heisman and his first SEC titles are unforgettable glory moments for the Gators that give Spurrier a special place in their hearts. These also, regardless of age, are the types of alumni that really value the fact that Spurrier is a Florida man. Meyer fans, on the other hand, are typically younger. It's now been 20 years since Spurrier arrived on the sidelines in Gainesville, and lots of younger fans only know Florida as a powerhouse. To these fans, the program-building point isn't as important. They say that the comparisons should be all about numbers, and Meyer has Spurrier beat in national titles and could eventually surpass him in SEC titles if he keeps his current pace up.
So, who do I--the outsider--think is better? I'm going to have to take the easy way out, actually. To me, comparing these two guys is like comparing apples and oranges, for many of the reasons enumerated above. On the one hand, Spurrier deserves a lot of credit for building Florida's program to where it is today. Even if any coach in the state of Florida enjoys decided recruiting advantages, the fact remains that Florida was alwyas a middle-of-the-pack SEC team at best until Spurrier arrived. The Gators weren't a bad program, but they consistently lost to more powerful rivals such as Georgia and Auburn. Spurrier changed that almost immediately, winning a series of SEC titles and a national title in the early to mid-nineties. On the other hand, it would be hard to argue that Meyer is now surpassing Spurrier's level of dominance. A lot depends on whether Meyer can maintain his current pace in the future--and if he stays in Gainesville, which I think he will--but the possibility of a third national title in four years would qualify the Meyer regime as a veritable dynasty. Spurrier never quite achieved that sort of success, although he came very close. It's hard to say which accomplishment is greater. Moreover, we can never know certain things about the two. Could Meyer have built Florida up like Spurrier did? Could Spurrier have achieved the kind of dominance Meyer has achieved is he didn't have to recruit against powerhouse Florida State and Miami programs? These are questions that will never be answered, so we're stuck with idle speculation at this point.