By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Pat ‘Doc’ Spurgeon – 1929-2022
GS professor, football coach left lasting legacy
SCOTT BRYANT/Herald File Former Georgia Southern assistant football coach Pat "Doc" Spurgeon reminisces about the Eagles' glory days while speaking to the Statesboro Kiwanis Club in 2010.
Former Georgia Southern assistant football coach Pat "Doc" Spurgeon reminisces about the Eagles' glory days while speaking to the Statesboro Kiwanis Club in 2010. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

An English literature professor, one of the most successful football coaches of all time and a beloved father and husband, Patrick “Doc” Spurgeon passed away Thursday. He was 93.

“A number of people have called Dr. Pat Spurgeon a ‘Renaissance Man,’” said long-time friend Joe McGlamery. “Pat seemed to fit the definition because he excelled in so many areas, as an English scholar and professor, as a football coach of exceptional achievement, as a poet, as a painter, a gardener, as a competitor, an intellect and a loyal friend.”

Born in Indiana in 1929, he was raised in eastern Tennessee. Spurgeon graduated from Emory & Henry College in Virginia. He went on to earn a Master of Arts and Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee and arrived in Statesboro as a professor of English for Georgia Southern College in 1963.

Spurgeon became known as a demanding professor of choice for serious students of English literature and one to be avoided for those just fulfilling a degree requirement. Those who made A’s earned them. When he retired from Georgia Southern, the university bestowed the title Professor Emeritus on Spurgeon.

Pat at GSC.jpg
Pat "Doc" Spurgeon is shown in 1984 when he was the head scout and kicking coach for Georgia Southern. (Photo Courtesy Spurgeon Family)

After Georgia Southern hired Erk Russell in 1981 to bring back football, then university president Dale Lick suggested Russell speak with Spurgeon about joining his coaching staff.

“We spoke for three hours and talked about everything but football,” Spurgeon said, in recounting the meeting 40 years later. “I can’t tell you how much respect I had for Coach Russell. A great man and motivator of young men to do more than they believed they could.”

Spurgeon was hired from the faculty to coach kickers and handling scouting of upcoming opponents and at the time, Russell told the Statesboro Herald, “We’re probably the only college with a Ph.D. in English on its football coaching staff.”

Spurgeon would, in fact, sometimes use his appreciation of literature to make a point to his players about why he chose to wear black on the field.

Referencing Christopher Marlowe's 16th century play "Tamburlaine the Great," Spurgeon said on the first day of a siege, the emperor and his soldiers wore white to encourage his adversary to surrender. If there was no surrender, the second day they wore red to indicate blood, particularly their enemies, would be shed. On a third day without surrender, the war attire was black to signal everything would be destroyed.

Spurgeon worked with Russell until Russell retired following Georgia Southern’s undefeated championship season of 1989 and stayed at Georgia Southern for one more season and one more championship. He then joined Coach Jim Tressel at Youngstown State, where they won four national titles, and was with Tressel as a volunteer coach at Ohio State when the Buckeyes won the national championship in the 2002 season.

He retired from coaching college football after the 2010 season, but continued working part-time with several high school programs, including Marist in Atlanta. Spurgeon is in the athletic halls of fame for Georgia Southern, Emory & Henry and Marist.

But Spurgeon came out of retirement one more time.

Former Georgia Southern head football coach Chad Lunsford first met Spurgeon in 2016 and in 2018 talked him into coaching the team’s kickers again. Lunsford said he began to meet with Spurgeon weekly to talk about football and life and they spoke regularly on the phone. Spurgeon, Lunsford said, had a huge impact on his life and he tries to communicate what he learned from Spurgeon with others.

“I made my mind up right then I wanted to be like Doc Spurgeon and share with others and help them to reach their full potential,” Lunsford said.

 

Coffee Club

The 10:30 Uptown Coffee Club was organized in Statesboro back in 1959 by the late Tal Calloway. Spurgeon quickly joined the club after he arrived in Statesboro in 1963 and was a mainstay even as time eroded the places the club met and people left. Spurgeon said Snooky’s was his favorite of the Coffee Club meeting places.

"The time at Snooky's was the highlight of the Coffee Club," Spurgeon said last year. "At that time, we had 16–18 every day. We just as soon be put in jail than miss a day going to coffee. It became such a wonderful and joyful part of all our social lives."

In recent years, Spurgeon would quietly show the many texts, emails and phone calls he received from former players and students thanking him for the positive impact he had on their lives. Some people, he said, he hadn’t heard from in more than 40 years.

Pat-Spurgeon Emory and Henry.jpg
Pat Spurgeon was an all-conference fullback and linebacker for Emory & Henry College from 1949-51. He was inducted into the college's Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. (Photo Courtesy Emory & Henry College)

“It certainly was humbling to hear from people who you had no idea you helped them even a little bit,” Spurgeon told friends. “It makes me appreciate the good fortune I’ve had in my life to possibly help a few others.”

McGlamery offered an example of the obligation Spurgeon felt in his interactions with others.

“In 1992, Pat shared with me a few words he had scribbled on the back of a napkin. He wrote ‘To be all things to all people, at all times, and in all places, and all situations, is a daunting task indeed; it is, however, a task that must be attempted if one is to fulfill his human responsibility,’” McGlamery said. “I observed Pat’s attempts to achieve this formidable goal over and over.

“I have lost a friend, but our community has lost one who made a mighty difference in the lives of many others,” McGlamery said.

Spurgeon is survived by his wife of 74 years, Ann Spurgeon, his sons, O’Dyer (Mary) and Kevin (Barbara), his grandchildren, Kathleen, Rick, Russell, Anna, and Bri.

He was preceded in death by his parents Dallas and Vivian Spurgeon, his sister Jalna Larkey, and his daughter, Anna Kathleen.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Memorial donations may be made to the North Tattnall Middle School Football Program, PO Box 369, Reidsville, Georgia 30453

 

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter