The sudden retirement of Steve Spurrier as South Carolina’s coach ends a truly innovative era in football — pro and college. He introduced the Fun ’n’ Gun offense, and Tuesday said that while he was “resigning” and not retiring, he believed it was time for him “to get out of the way.”
The Head Ball Coach will be remembered mostly for work on the sideline, although he had a great college career in his own right. He just never panned out in the pros. And he’s not the only football coach or baseball manager who made his name on the sidelines, rather than on the playing field. In baseball, for example, four men reached the Hall of Fame as managers but were mediocre players. Still, they had cards as players. And so did Spurrier.
The former 49ers quarterback never minced words as a coach, but you had to admire his honesty and integrity — plus, his creative football mind. Well, not everyone was smitten, labeling him “Steve Superior” and criticizing his snarky comments — he once called FSU “Free Shoes University” and jabbed Tennessee by noting that you can’t spell Citrus Bowl without UT.
Love him or hate him, Spurrier went 228-89-2 at Duke, Florida and South Carolina, including a 122-27-1 mark and a national title with the Gators. He also went 35-19 with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL, but was less successful in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, going 12-20 in two seasons.
Although he was a Heisman Trophy winner at Florida in 1966, Spurrier never matched his college playing success in the pros, throwing 40 touchdowns and 60 interceptions in 10 seasons.
Spurrier made his football card debut in the third series of the 1972 Topps football set. The third series is a difficult one to complete, and Spurrier’s card (card No. 291) does command a good price. Of 450 cards sent to PSA for grading for the ’72 Topps card, six were deemed gem mints. Seven were graded SGC-96.
A high-number Spurrier In Action card from the same set (No. 338) also is scarce. There also are seven SGC 96 register among 40 sent to the grading service; there are three PSA-10s out of 400 sent in for grading.
Here are some other players who became bigger stars after their playing days.
Jim Harbaugh — Michigan’s new coach was known as “Captain Comeback,” and was one pass away from leading the Colts to the Super Bowl in the AFC title game on January 14, 1996. In that 20-16 loss, Harbaugh’s desperation pass into the end zone nearly found its way into the hands of receiver Aaron Bailey despite three Steeler defenders in the area. Bailey was unable to hold onto the ball and Pittsburgh went to the Super Bowl. But that last drive was Harbaugh at his best, moving Indianapolis 56 yards in 85 seconds while converting a pair of third down plays and a fourth down.
Harbaugh played seven years in the NFL, throwing 129 touchdowns and 117 interceptions but was a much better college player when he toiled for Bo Schembechler.
He took the 49ers to a Super Bowl before returning to his alma mater several months ago. His rookie card is a 1989 Topps Traded card (No. 91) and is plentiful at very low cost.
Tom Landry — Landry’s credentials as an NFL coach are impeccable, with five Super Bowl appearances and two titles. He went 250-162-6 in 29 seasons, but take away the Cowboys’ growing pains in their first few years as an expansion franchise and the record is much better — 225-116-1 from 1966 through 1988.
Landry was not a bad player, spending six years in the NFL as a defensive back — mostly with the New York Giants. His rookie card is from the 1951 Bowman set, card No. 20, and there are two PSA-10s and nine PSA-9s out of 515 cards sent to be graded.
Landry also had Bowman cards in 1952 (small and large) and 1955. Prices vary but solid quality examples of all four can be found on eBay for $100-500.
Marty Schottenheimer — The former coach of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins was a linebacker in the AFL for the Buffalo Bills and for the AFC’s Boston Patriots from 1965 to 1971.
The only card he appeared in as a player was on card No. 3 in the 1971 Topps set and there are dozens to choose from online at $1 and up.
Schottenheimer won 200 games as an NFL coach and had only two losing seasons in 21 years. He won eight division titles and went 14-2 in his final season (2006) before losing to New England in the first round of the playoffs. Twice, Schottenheimer took Cleveland to the AFC title game but lost both times to Denver. The first time came in overtime and was memorable for “The Drive” by John Elway. The second was because of “The Fumble,” when Earnest Byner seemed headed for the game-tying touchdown with 1:12 to play, but was stripped of the ball at the 2-yard line by Jeremiah Castille.
Baseball Hall of Famers Tom Lasorda, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson and Whitey Herzog made their mark as managers, but they did play sparingly in the major leagues. Here’s a look:
Tom Lasorda — A left-handed pitcher, Lasorda was a mainstay in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor-league organization. He had double-digit victory seasons six times in the minors and had a 136-104 record, but he only managed an 0-4 mark as a major-leaguer with Brooklyn and the Kansas City Athletics. All four losses came in Kansas City.
As a manager, Lasorda was much more successful , carving out a 1,599-1,439 record in 21 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He won four National League pennants and a pair of World Series titles, and was a two-time N.L. manager of the year.
Lasorda’s only mainstream card was in the 1954 Topps set, card No. 132. Out of 1,279 cards sent to PSA, only one has been classified gem mint, while there are 17 PSA-9s. Of 244 cards submitted to SGC, the top grade is 92 and there are five examples of that. Those are pricey but Lasorda rookies run $30 and up at the lower levels.
Fun fact: Lasorda actually pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers — but it was for the Pacific League Coast franchise in 1957, a year before the Brooklyn club moved west. A 1957 PCL popcorn card set features a lean, trim Lasorda going into his windup.
Tony La Russa — He ranks third in major-league victories with 2,728, trailing only fellow Hall of Famers Connie Mack and John McGraw. He and Mack are the only managers to pilot more than 5,000 games, and remember — Mack owned his team. Owners who manage rarely fire themselves. He has won pennants in both leagues and six overall, with three World Series titles. He and Mack won World Series titles in three different decades and pennants in four decades.
La Russa’s baseball card debut came in the 1964 Topps set, with card No. 244 being his rookie card. He also was featured in the high-number seventh series in 1968 (No. 571) and had a mid-series card (No. 451) in the 1972 Topps set. A total of 748 of his rookie cards have been submitted to PSA for grading and only two have been classified as gem mint. On the SGC side, three cards out of 105 have been graded at 96. Even high-grade examples are under $250 with lower grade cards less than $25.
LaRussa also appears in the 1968 Topps set.
Bobby Cox — The man who would guide the Atlanta Braves to 14 straight division titles broke into the majors as a 27-year-old with the New York Yankees in 1968. He played two seasons in the majors as an infielder, mostly at third base, and had a .225 career average.
Cox spent nearly a decade in the minor leagues before playing 135 games for New York in 1968.
Thirty-three of his rookie cards from 1969 (card No. 237) have been graded by SGC, with four attaining a 92. One out of 428 cards submitted to PSA graded out at gem mint.
Cox’s rookie card climbed steadily in value and jumped even more after his Hall of Fame election. It was adorned with a rookie trophy, naming him as a member of the 1968 Topps All-Rookie Team. He never made it big as a player, but won 2,504 games as a manager, leading the Braves to five World Series and winning it all in 1995.
Cox appeared on a few other Topps cards as a manager in Toronto and Atlanta from the late 1970s through the end of his career. Other than his rookie card, most are no more than a buck or two.
Sparky Anderson — George “Sparky”Anderson only played one season in the majors, appearing in 152 games for the 1959 Philadelphia Phillies. He was an infielder, but he made his mark managing the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. He became the first manager to capture World Series titles in both leagues, and won five pennants and three World Series crowns.
Anderson won 2,194 games in 26 years of managing.
His rookie card in 1959 has modest value, but the far more attractive 1960 Leaf high series card has more bang for the buck. There are three SGC 96 cards out of 190 cards submitted for Anderson’s Topps rookie card. PSA has one gem mint out of 1,536 cards sent for grading. For the 1960 Leaf card, there are 133 PSA cards graded with eight as high as 9. The highest grade of the seven cards submitted to SGC was an 88.
Anderson also had a 1960 Topps card and a Venezuelan version. He also appeared on a few minor-league issues with interesti
ng names: the 1960 Shopsy’s Frankfurters set, and the 1961 Bee Hive Starch collection.
Fun fact: Anderson and Lasorda were teammates on the 1957 P.C.L. Los Angeles Dodgers squad.
Whitey Herzog — Dorrel “Whitey” Herzog has the most player cards of the Hall of Fame managers listed here, starting with his 1957 Topps rookie card with the Washington Senators and ending with his 1963 Topps card, when he played for Detroit.
He managed for 18 seasons, winning three pennants and a World Series title with St. Louis. He also won three straight division titles with the Kansas City Royals.
Eighty-three of his rookie cards were submitted to SGC, with the highest grade being a 96 (0ne card). There is only one PSA-10 among 726 cards sent to the grading company.
Except for that ’57 Topps issue (nice shades by the way, Whitey), you can own most for under $5.
It’s a shame Earl Weaver never had a major-league card as a player. But then again, he never made it to the majors until he took over as manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 1968.
But that’s another story.