Dealing with Spurrier part of Morris' job
By Nick Bowton
Ron Morris won't turn 60 for another seven years, but he already knows what he wants for that birthday.
Morris wants to beat Steve Spurrier in a half marathon.
Odd request? Maybe, but it's one Morris feels comfortable making. He explained why this past weekend when he returned to his hometown for the annual National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association awards weekend in Salisbury.
Morris started his journalism career as an intern at the Post. Now he has Spurrier on speed dial.
"I think he recognizes the value of the local columnist," said Morris, a columnist at The State in Columbia, S.C., and South Carolina's Co-Sportswriter of the Year. "I get access to him that nobody else gets. I can pick up the phone and call him any time I want, and he'll return the call."
One of those phone calls led to Morris' birthday wish.
Spurrier got hired at South Carolina in December of 2004. He turned 60 years old in April of 2005. In between, he decided to select a local media member and challenge him to a 60th-birthday fitness face-off.
Spurrier chose Morris, as the two had remembered each other since Spurrier's days at Duke and Morris' days as a journalist in Durham.
Morris still remembers the first itinerary he received from Spurrier's secretary. It didn't seem too tough ó 20 minutes on the treadmill, some time on a StairMaster, some light weightlifting.
Then he got an ammended itinerary a week later. And another one a week after that.
By the time Morris met Spurrier for their fitness challenge, the work-out regimen was up to about 300 push-ups, 300 sit-ups, weightlifting, running on a treadmill, clmbing on a StairMaster ó and 60 laps around Williams-Brice Stadium on a bicycle. Spurrier's wife, Jeri, joined them.
"So we get on the StairMaster, and every time we get on a new piece of equipment, I'd set it up how I wanted it to run, and he'd reach over and jab it up some more," Morris said. "(Jeri) kept saying, 'Steve, don't do that to him.' We went about halfway through the bike ride, and I said, 'I can't make this. I'm done.' So I bailed out, and then I got in on the last two laps. We came in at the end of it, and he said, 'I think I'm gonna go a few more.' He went 30 more laps.
"So I always tell people it was typical Spurrier ó he was running up the score on me."
Morris plans on returning the favor when he turns 60. Spurrier will be 70 by then, and Morris said Spurrier doesn't run as well as he rides a bike anyway ó hence the half marathon.
Spurrier might not like that idea as well as he enjoyed his own, but it's not uncommon for him to disagree with Morris. The two had their first disagreement back in the mid-'80s when Spurrier was an assistant at Duke.
Morris was in Atlanta to cover Duke's game at Georgia Tech, and he was staying in the same hotel as the team.
"I bet he's forgotten," Morris said. "He cornered me in the lobby there at the hotel ó the Marriott Marquis in north Atlanta ó and he was furious that I had misquoted him. I said, 'Steve, I don't think I did. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have it on tape up in the room. Do you want me to go get it?' He said, 'No, OK. Maybe it was just misrepresented.' I said, 'That could have been. I don't know. But I didn't misquote you.' He said ó and I'll always remember this because he's said it again several times ó 'All right, we'll just have to disagree. I got it off my chest. We'll just have to disagree on it, and I'll forget about it.'
"And the next time I saw him, after the game, it was as if that had never happened. He's real good about that."
Spurrier's also good about being "brutally honest."
Morris said Spurrier, if he doesn't like what a beat writer has written, will poke fun at the reporter during press conferences, saying things like, "Oh, there's old Negative Rick there."As for Morris? If Spurrier doesn't like something he's written, he'll call Morris and let him know about it.
"He reads everything that's written about South Carolina football," Morris said. "I think when he gets to the office in the morning, he reads the Greenville newspaper, Charleston, Columbia, USA Today. All the sports sections. Then, at least with me, if he reads something he doesn't like, he calls ó that morning.
"You'll get a call on your cell phone; it'll be 6:30, 7 in the morning. The last one that he didn't like he said, 'Yeah, that was a real bullcrap column there this morning.' "
Spurrier, of course, got over his initial discontent with that column, and Morris said Spurrier understands that the local columnist won't always agree with him.
They've gone through a couple of periods in which Spurrier wouldn't talk to Morris, but Spurrier has come around each time. After all, if he didn't talk to Morris, he'd have to find a new work-out partner.
"I did see in the Sporting News a couple weeks ago, Matt Hayes had a note about Spurrier that said Spurrier had challenged all reporters to work out with him and everyone declined," Morris said. "Not true."
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or email@example.com.