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Dr. Patrick (Doc) Spurgeon passes
L-r: Dr. Patrick (Doc) Spurgeon and the late Coach Erk Russell
L-r: Dr. Patrick (Doc) Spurgeon and the late Coach Erk Russell

Dr. Patrick O. Spurgeon, known simply as “Doc” to hundreds of Georgia Southern football players and coaches around the Southeast and in particular, Georgia, passed away on June 23, 2022, in Statesboro.  He was a former English professor at Georgia Southern University, and Coach Erskine Russell referred to him as the “Super Scout” for the Georgia Southern Eagles who helped lead the Eagles to four national championships in 1985, 1986, the perfect 15-0 season of 1989 and finally during Tim Stowers’ 12-3 first season as the Eagle Head Football coach in 1990. 

Doc left the Eagle program after 1990 and joined the staff of Jim Tressel at Youngstown State where they won four more national championships.  As his career was winding down, he went with Tressel to Ohio State where they won an additional national championship. During those years, Coach Tressel sent film weekly to Doc at his Statesboro home to study and provide scouting reports for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He would travel to Columbus during the practice week for big games like Michigan or Michigan State to analyze practices and make follow-up suggestions to the game plans.  When he retired, Doc needed only one more national championship ring to have one for all fingers and both thumbs.

When Loren Smith, the great sideline observer of the Georgia Bulldogs during the Larry Munson era, was told of Doc’s death, he allowed that Doc’s championship resume would make Bill Belichick blink. 

Doc had the ability to see the entire field at once.  I know a local coach who went with him to a high school playoff game to scout a tight end prospect for Georgia Southern in the early 1980s.  During the game while he was concentrating on the tight end, a play broke up the middle of the line for considerable yardage.  

“Boy, that was a nice trap block by the right guard,” Doc commented.

“No, Doc, the guard didn’t pull,” the coach allowed.  “They blocked it straight.”

The argued the point for a few moments and then moved on.  On the following Wednesday, Doc showed up at the school with his game film projector and they sat down and looked at the play again.  The right guard pulled left and made a perfect trap block.  It was not wise to argue with the Super Scout.

Although Doc served as scout, film analyst, and kicking coach, he was an outstanding offensive line coach who strove for perfection.  One of his favorite game photographs was made while he was working with the offensive line at Marist High School in Atlanta.  A photo was taken from the sidelines looking directly down the offensive line from the right side tight end to the left tackle. The O-line precision resembled an air show by the Navy’s Blue Angels. If a string had been pulled from the crown of the left tackle’s helmet to the helmet of the right side tight end, the uniform position they maintained while firing off the ball would have allowed virtually each helmet of the six linemen to touch the string in perfect alignment. Additionally, each helmet was about 48 inches above the surface of the field.  It was low, hard, and uniform.

He delighted in showing the photo to coaches and players alike.  “That is perfection,” he’d say with a grin. 

In 1984 after two losing seasons, the Reidsville High School coaching staff was looking to rebound.  Doc was invited to an August afternoon scrimmage, and he observed from the press box as the Tigers worked out on offense and defense.  Afterwards, he critiqued the scrimmage. At that time, the Tigers were still running the wishbone offense, and Doc sketched out an inside trap play he’d seen another high school run the year before. “That little trap play might fit James Anthony and Eddie Johnson very well,” he commented. 

The Reidsville offensive coach, who happened to be the same individual, who argued with him about the trap play mentioned above, listened and added the new trap to the playbook. For those Reidsville players with good memories, it was called the 42 or 23 cross trap, depending on which side of the center it was run.  James Anthony had over 700 yards for the year running that one play.  When James injured his knee three days before the 1984 region championship game, Everette Sharpe broke a 44 yard run on the 42 cross trap midway the 4th quarter to put the Tigers up and win the region championship. The acceleration and quickness Everette showed on that play probably helped him obtain a scholarship to Georgia Southern in 1985.

Doc understood that evaluating players’ abilities and getting them into the right position was key to winning high school championships.  Unlike college coaches who can recruit players to fit a particular offense or defense, high school coaches have to use available talent. That involves determining what a particular player can do, and then coaching that player to do it well. Oftentimes the offensive scheme has to be adjusted to fit the strengths of individual players or even cover up weaknesses of the same.  Sometimes Doc suggested moving defensive linemen with a particular weakness to the opposite side of the ball just after the offense lined up.  When the quarterback looked around and called time out, the defensive coaches knew where the other team wanted to run the ball.  While other coaches played checkers, Doc played chess.

Doc was close friends with high school coaches all around Southeast Georgia.  When some of their best players of smaller schools were injured, he’d call Tom Smith, the Georgia Southern head trainer, and ask him to evaluate and provide therapy to get them back on the playing field ASAP.  Tom would see them right after the Eagles left for the practice field on Monday or Tuesday, make a diagnosis and suggest techniques the high school staff might utilize. Sometimes high school trainers or parents carried the players to see Tom several days in succession to get the player healed as fast as possible.

Doc was a master of evaluating talent. His recommendation brought Coach Erskine Russell to the 1981 Reidsville Tigers vs. Claxton Tigers football game to watch Monty Sharpe and Warnell Anthony play against Claxton.  Erk was impressed and Monty still holds several records for the Georgia Southern Eagle Offense and owns two national championship rings. Erk came back to see Monty’s brother, Everette Sharpe, play in 1984 against Montgomery County, and Everette became an outstanding linebacker on the 1989 15-0 Eagle National Championship team. Everette has rings for the 1986 championship and the 1989 championship. 

But Doc’s knowledge and talent included all sports, including basketball, baseball, and track.  The late Danny Scott once allowed that if he was coaching marbles, he would call Doc and ask for advice.

Darryl Lewis, a history teacher and football, baseball and basketball coach at Reidsville High School, said that Dr. Spurgeon was the best teacher he had in high school or college.  “He was a great mentor,” Daryl said. “He knew his English Literature, football, basketball, and baseball better than anyone I’ve ever known, and if you paid attention he’d pass it on to you.”

Interestingly, in 1998 there seemed to be an opportunity for Doc to come to Tattnall County High School as head coach, but that never materialized. Those familiar with the situation can only speculate as to how things might have been different. 

Since 1996, Coach Odyer Spurgeon, Doc’s oldest son, has coached football at Reidsville / North Tattnall Middle School.  Odyer has a record of 133 wins and 42 losses including 7 region championships and 6 region runner-ups. Doc spent many enjoyable hours observing, critiquing, and enjoying Odyer’s teams. Instead of flowers, friends and fans of Doc Spurgeon are encouraged to donate to the North Tattnall Football program.  Like everything else, equipment costs are increasing.  Helmet reconditioning currently costs $95 per helmet, and a new Riddell Youth Speed Flex Helmet is $400.  The new Riddell Victor youth helmet is $250. Doc never wanted to keep a young player from participating because of a shortage of uniforms, so the money will be well spent.  Coach Odyer Spurgeon has said this may be his last year, and he hopes to leave the program with uniforms in very good condition for years to come. To donate, send your check to North Tattnall football, PO. Box 369, Reidsville, GA 30453.