COLUMBIA, S.C. - Commercial airlines. Last minute plane tickets. Canceled visits. Information kept under wraps.
South Carolina athletic director Mike McGee says he took every precaution he could to keep his pursuit of football coach Steve Spurrier a secret.
McGee discussed several topics during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, including one that may turn out be the retiring administrator's lasting legacy with the Gamecocks: landing Spurrier.
McGee, who steps down on June 30 after a dozen years at South Carolina, thought before last football season started it could be the final one for coach Lou Holtz.
Holtz confirmed it to his boss on Oct. 31 after a disheartening 43-29 loss to Tennessee. McGee then asked for Holtz's approval to contact Spurrier and follow one national championship coach with another.
"Steve Spurrier can do things for this program I couldn't," Holtz told McGee that day.
The chase for Spurrier was on.
McGee said he called the Ol' Ball Coach that night to get acquainted and gauge interest, although "I didn't ask him the big question" about South Carolina's coaching job.
McGee and Spurrier talked each night that week. McGee arranged to visit Spurrier at his Virginia home.
"I flew commercially," McGee said, explaining that he didn't want the school's jet since those flight logs would have been open to public view.
"I didn't buy a ticket until the last minute," McGee said. "I went up there Thursday night. He picked me up, I went over to his house.... I told him I was bringing him a letter of intent" to coach South Carolina.
McGee and Spurrier met for 2½ hours. McGee had wanted to fly Spurrier and his wife, Jerri, into Columbia the Friday night before South Carolina's game at Florida with the athletic director doubling back from Gainesville, Fla., for the meeting.
"We both got cold feet," McGee says, "not about the job, but about being discovered."
By then, though, McGee said Spurrier was very interested in returning to college football with the Gamecocks.
McGee remembers taking a call from a college president who was vetting a list of football coach candidates. McGee was someone who'd been around, the school president told him, and simply wanted an honest opinion on the top three people on his list - including No. 1 Steve Spurrier. "I was honest with him," McGee says, smiling. "I just didn't tell him what was going on."
The biggest snag for McGee came when Florida let go of head coach Ron Zook, Spurrier's replacement from three years earlier, and set off a flurry of speculation that the former Gator coach might return.
McGee said he told Spurrier that everything he did during his second Florida stint would be compared with how he did things the first time around. "He knew that anyway," McGee says. "But I didn't feel like I was in any jeopardy reminding him."
McGee needn't have worried. Spurrier soon after took his name out of contention and, on Nov. 23, officially became South Carolina's football coach.
McGee said he largely pursued Spurrier alone, unlike the wooing of Holtz in 1998 when the university enlisted the help of Gov. Jim Hodges and Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson - whom McGee identified only as someone "related to a major golf course, a little banking background." Johnson was a longtime executive with NationsBank, now Bank of America.
McGee said since he and Spurrier both coached at Duke that gave them common ground to discuss the job.
Spurrier was more decisive about joining the Gamecocks than Holtz, who turned down McGee several times before finally saying yes.
Salary also was not a hassle. McGee told Spurrier he would not offer him $2 million a year, a figure garnered by several top-name college coaches such as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and former LSU coach Nick Saban. "But I'll give you the best incentive package in the business," McGee told Spurrier.
Indeed, should Spurrier reach every goal in his contract - including winning a Southeastern Conference crown and a national title - he would surpass $2 million.
McGee offered him a base of $1.5 million a season, but Spurrier asked if $250,000 of that could go to upgrade assistants salaries. "We have done that," McGee said.
McGee told Spurrier of his own retirement plans after the football staff was complete. McGee knows he'll miss the excitement of Spurrier's debut season but is ready to head to a family ranch in Colorado to raise quarterhorses and cattle.
"You want people to feel appreciative that you passed this way," McGee said. "We've got that with South Carolina."
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