GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Steve Spurrier was suspended once in his 31-year coaching career. It didn’t keep him from calling plays.
To the knowledge of very few, Spurrier kept coaching during his one-game suspension in 1988, shuttling Duke University’s golf club director back and forth to the coaches’ box with suggestions on a piece of paper that helped beat rival North Carolina.
Spurrier, who recently retired from coaching, randomly revealed the wild caper this week for the first time during an interview with CBS Sports.
The story was kept so quiet that Duke golf director Ed Ibarguen, who was shocked to become Spurrier’s runner that day, never told anyone what happened — except for his wife.
“I can’t believe he’s bringing this up,” Ibarguen said. “He’s crazy.”
Sitting in an office this week at Florida as the Gators’ new “ambassador and consultant,” Spurrier’s eyes lit up and he chuckled as he recalled sending Ibarguen about four times — twice each half — to the Duke coaching box where running backs coach Carl Franks called the plays that day. This was Spurrier’s second season at Duke. He was still several years away from famously revolutionizing the offense at Florida, but he was no less competitive at Duke where he would shout audibles to the quarterback from the sideline.
ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan suspended Spurrier for the season finale on Nov. 19, 1988, against the Tar Heels because he publicly criticized officials about a call that cost Duke its first bowl bid in 28 years. A week earlier, NC State tied Duke on a field goal to earn a Peach Bowl invitation after the Blue Devils were penalized for defensive holding. Spurrier told reporters the penalty was “the worst call in the history of Duke football.”
According to a 1988 story by the Fayetteville Observer, Corrigan told Spurrier that ACC rules allowed him to be with his team for up to one hour before the North Carolina game started. The article said Spurrier had to leave Wallace Wade Stadium for the game, and he couldn’t have contact with the Blue Devils by telephone or walkie-talkie or talk to them at halftime. (Spurrier said this week that Corrigan told him he could speak at halftime.)
Spurrier and Ibarguen (pronounced EYE-bar-gwen) watched Duke’s season finale together from the trainers’ office on TV and by looking out onto the field. Spurrier said he provided “suggestions” on play calls to Franks.
“Most of them were, ‘Carl, run the damn ball occasionally,'” Spurrier said. “I could see most of the field. I’d give him some messages — run this, run that or whatever because I had a runner. Eddie said he’d sneak in the press box a little bit, look around, and under the table he’d give Carl notes. He didn’t want anybody to know about that. I used to scare him.”
Franks said he was shocked the first time a folded piece of paper arrived as he was trying to call plays.
“I get someone tapping me on my shoulder and here comes this piece of paper, and I open the paper up and it has a play on it,” Franks said. “I turn around and said, ‘Who sent this?’ There’s the golf coach. I see Eddie standing back there and I realize what’s going on. The only problem was the golf coach was usually several plays late.”
This was no easy trek for Ibarguen, who shuttled back and forth about two times each half. Ibarguen had to travel about 400 yards and then up four flights of stairs.
“I was in good shape back then,” he said. “He wouldn’t send me back right away. He’s sitting there, and another bad play happens, he runs over to his desk, scribbles things on a piece of paper. By the fourth time, I’m going, ‘Jesus, I’m exhausted.'”
Ibarguen’s role in the caper is the most amusing. He swears he had no idea what he was getting himself into that Saturday afternoon.
For starters, Ibarguen was a recent UNC graduate with friends on the football team, and he was worried they would discover he was shuttling plays for Duke’s suspended coach. He also fretted about losing his job if they got caught. Ibarguen was hired only seven months earlier as the Duke golf club director, and he quickly became friends with Spurrier on golf outings.
According to Ibarguen, Spurrier’s secretary called him two days before the UNC game and extended an invitation to watch it in Spurrier’s office. He figured it would be a party with lots of people. Instead, just the two of them watched the game over drinks and snacks as Spurrier correctly identified nearly every UNC audible before the play happened.
“I’m sitting there learning more about football than I’ve known in 20 years,” Ibarguen said. “All of a sudden this play comes up. We had the ball. [Duke quarterback Anthony] Dilweg calls an audible and it’s the wrong audible, and we failed to make it on third down. [Spurrier] is like, ‘God dang it.’ He goes over to his desk and scribbles something down on a piece of paper and says, ‘Run this off to Carl Franks up there.’
“I said, ‘What?’ He says, ‘Yeah, run it up and give him this.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘Jesus, this is crazy.’ So I haul ass over to the top of the building and run up to the coaches’ box, knock on the door, Carl Franks is calling the offensive signals, and I said, ‘Here, this is from Coach Orr [Spurrier is sometimes called by his middle name].'”
As the game continued, Duke committed a couple more plays that frustrated Spurrier, who drew up more plays for Ibarguen to send to Franks.
“I told him, ‘I think what we just did, I don’t think that’s condoned,'” Ibarguen said. “I honestly don’t think he had any intention of doing it. He was just going to sit in his office and watch the game. But he’s so competitive that he could not bear to sit there and watch this going on and not get in the middle of it.”
Ibarguen never looked inside the folded pieces of paper. “I did not want to know what was going on,” he said.
Franks, who is now Bethune Cookman’s running backs coach, said he likely called the plays Spurrier sent.
“I’m sure if he sent a play I was going to call it,” Franks said. “There were a few things about someone cutting a route short and the quarterback cutting his step shorts. Sometimes it was a play that would have been great for the down and distance, but if Eddie didn’t get there in time, I’d wait for that situation again later. … [Spurrier] kidded me with me afterward and said, ‘Who thought I would have to tell my running back coach to run the ball more?'”
Duke rallied to beat North Carolina 35-29, the second of three straight times the Blue Devils won the Victory Bell during Spurrier’s three years at the school. After that 1988 win, Duke didn’t get to celebrate with the Victory Bell at home again until 2012.
Duke clinched the 1988 game with a difficult, late-game catch for a first down by John Rymiszewski, who made only 14 receptions all year. A picture of Spurrier hugging Rymiszewski that day is featured in Spurrier’s new book, “Head Ball Coach,” but Spurrier said he never publicly explained his secretive play-calling.
Corrigan was only in his second year as ACC commissioner in 1988. He came from Notre Dame, where the president, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, made clear to every coach not to criticize officials and to abide by rules. The decision to suspend Spurrier was met with backlash by other ACC coaches, but Corrigan believed the officials were taking too much public criticism.
All these years later, Spurrier still gets mad discussing the defensive holding call against NC State.
“I’ve never seen the call before or since — been around football a long time,” Spurrier said. “You’ve got to take up for your players when they’re not treated fairly.”
Corrigan, who retired as ACC commissioner in 1997, laughed when told the details of how Spurrier managed to coach during his suspension.
“That’s funny. He’s doing what a coach would do,” Corrigan said. “Years later, he always told me, ‘You think you got me, but you don’t know what I did.’ He wouldn’t tell me what he did. I said, ‘I know one thing. I was at the game and you were not on the sideline.'”
Many years later, Ibarguen attended a speech by Spurrier in which he made an off-handed remark about the 1988 deception without providing specifics.
“I did a double take like, what in the hell is he bringing that up for?” Ibarguen said. “I told my wife, ‘Look, I’m never talking about this to anybody.’ I never told [Duke athletic director] Tom Butters. I never mentioned it to a soul. But I guess at this point, what the hell?”
Source: CBS Sports / Steve Spurrier reveals the one time he was suspended and secretly kept coaching