Fla's Spurrier: Shut Up and Play

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Steve Spurrier is popping off again.

The coach who has riled so many opponents with his quick-witted zingers and high-scoring offenses turned his attack on a team that talks too much trash, hasn't figured out how to tackle and was lucky to escape with a victory.

Of course, he was referring to his own third-ranked Florida Gators.

Spurrier suspended freshman receiver Jabar Gaffney for the first half of Saturday's game against Kentucky for making a throat-slash gesture at the Tennessee bench after his game-winning touchdown catch.

And he issued a gag order on the Gators' other top players.

``We all think they can handle publicity, but historically around here we don't handle it very well,'' he said. ``It happens over and over and over. We've got to stay on their butts, knock them down, because they cannot handle praise.''

Alex Brown did most of the damage last week — in interviews, not the field. He said Tennessee would be in for a long game, and then was barely a factor with one solo tackle and no sacks.

``He had too much attention last week, way too much,'' Spurrier said. ``All you have to do is read the stats to see how he did.''

Brown and the rest of the defensive line were not made available to the media on Tuesday.

Neither was Jesse Palmer.

All the senior quarterback did was lead a 91-yard scoring drive in the final two minutes to lift Florida to a 27-23 victory. It was the kind of performance that could shape his season, and certainly will go down as one of the most memorable in Gator history.

Palmer was named SEC offensive player of the week. A few hours later, he was scratched from the interview list.

``Jesse is off limits because I don't want him to get all the praise,'' Spurrier said. ``Sometimes media attention just does no good for the players. Hopefully he'll still be hungry to try to improve upon his play.''

It wasn't a blanket gag order. Spurrier did make four players available for interviews — a backup linebacker, backup cornerback, the punter and the kicker.

His message to everyone else was simple: Shut up and play. Perhaps that's why even those players who spoke did so reluctantly.

``He said we were way too overconfident and gave Tennessee some bulletin-board material,'' said Jeff Chandler, who made both of his field-goal attempts.

The Gators have always had a swagger to them, especially when they were winning SEC titles with regularity during the first six years of Spurrier's regime. But it's nothing like he remembers when he was a Heisman Trophy winner in 1966.

``If you beat somebody 55-10 and don't get too excited about it, that's a nice kind of swagger,'' he said. ``When guys talk about it all the time, that's not good. Hopefully, our guys will let the other people do the talking and let our play speak for itself.''

Talking was only part of what disturbed Spurrier, who conceded this was the least excited he has ever been following a victory over Tennessee.

The Gators missed countless tackles as Travis Henry bounced along for 175 yards. Spurrier counted at least nine passes that were dropped. And he felt the Vols outplayed Florida for the first time since 1992.

``We've got to realize the other team played with more effort, more want-to,'' he said. ``You always say the team that wants it the most usually wins the game. They wanted it more, but we won the game, a rare occasion when that happens.

``We're going to try our best not to put ourselves in that position.''