For a pair of men charged with being the figureheads of two schools that so deeply seem to hate each other, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney actually have a few things in common.
They both have roots that can be traced back to the south. Both spent their college football playing days in the SEC. Both rock variations of the combover. And most of all, they’re both kind of weird.
If you want a barometer for the current state of the college football and an offseason that's nearing the end, look no further than the latest feud between the two.
It is, of course, altogether funny and bizarre like most things involving Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney.
The coaches don’t love each other and the bad blood associated with their in-state rivalry is well documented. It’s so intense, in fact, Spurrier said at SEC Media Days he thinks Gamecocks fans would rather beat the Tigers than win a national title.
At ACC Media Days Monday, Swinney was asked to compare himself to Spurrier, a national-championship winning coach, Heisman Trophy Winner and overall legend of the game.
“He’s from Pluto and I’m from Mars,” Swinney said.
“We’re different. I mean we’re different ages and all that stuff, the way we handle things and run our programs. But we’re similar too. Similar in our values. I have respect for him as a husband, as a father and the job he’s done is amazing.
“The thing I like is he is who he is and I don’t think he’s gonna change anytime soon.”
It’s a pretty benign answer.
Which is why, in an interview with ESPN Tuesday, Spurrier responded in a way only Spurrier can.
“Dabo probably thinks there's only, what, nine planets out there,” he said. “I think I read where Pluto may not be considered one now."
But Spurrier wasn’t finished.
“The only thing I remind Dabo of is his comments three years ago of the real Carolina being in Chapel Hill and the real USC being in California," Spurrier said in reference to Swinney’s 2011 tirade about South Carolina being an afterthought compared to schools with similar names in North Carolina and Southern California (USC).
“Sometimes he forgets he throws some stuff out there also. He wants to make people believe that I'm the only one that throws a little stuff out there."
Little stuff like that or joking about Pluto, though, tends to blow up into national headlines. And lately, everybody's doing it.
In just the last few weeks, college football has become a battle royal for throwing shade and media days have been its arena:
- Maryland football coach Randy Edsall, whose Terrapins officially moved from the ACC to the Big Ten earlier this month, took a shot at his team's former conference while at a Baltimore-based PressBox luncheon in mid-July.
"As a football coach, I feel better. I'm going to a football conference," he said. "I'm not in a basketball conference anymore."
In response, Swinney swung back on the ACC's behalf by reminding Edsall of Clemson's 40-35 win against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl last season.
"I think we just played Ohio State," he said at ACC Media Days Monday. "Aren't they from that conference?"
In an interview with ESPN Tuesday, Alabama coach Nick Saban said he had trouble motivating the Crimson Tide prior to their 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, which he called a "consolation game" compared to the national championship. Sooners coach Bob Stoops responded at Big 12 Media Days by sounding off on the SEC, including this nugget from ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy:
Stoops on Sabans consolation game quote: So if Im not in a national championship game, that means Ive got a built in excuse"
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 23, 2014
At ACC Media Days Monday, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said it was "ridiculous" how some conferences (including the Big 12) don't play in conference championship games. Baylor coach Art Briles got wind of the comments and responded with this at Big 12 Media Days Tuesday, according to NFL.com college football reporter Bryan Fischer:
Art Briles on Jimbo Fisher/title game comments: He needs to worry about the ACC Dont come to Texas telling me how to do my business.
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) July 21, 2014
Sure, a lot of it is petty, trivial and small.
But it makes for great theatre in a sport that's facing unprecedented times and turmoil with the NCAA's expected move toward granting the Power Five conferences autonomy and a new playoff system after more than a decade of using the BCS.
College football is exciting on its own. But the crossfire of words with five weeks before the start of the season simply adds fuel to the fire.
The noise, even if it's meaningless static, lends itself to attention. It's a time for hot-name coaches and budding programs to build, or in a lot of cases, continue momentum.
It's a game of posturing.
With an unchartered postseason, every move, every step, is a chance to gain ground in a rat race for a spot in the sport's four-team playoff.
Jabbing back and forth with other coaches won't necessarily improve their on-field performance, but schools like Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and even Penn State can't hurt themselves by trying to play that game when Big Ten Media Days roll around Monday.
And in a conference perceived by much of the nation as plodding and boring, positioning means so much, especially when it comes to things out of your control like a bad strength of schedule or inherently weak competition in your conference.
"It's just a bunch of talking," Spurrier told ESPN. "That's all it is."
It’s just theatre. It's just entertainment.
And, most of all, it’s good for college football.