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Steve Spurrier Recalls a Young Joe Cirulli in Gainesville

Steve Spurrier Recalls a Young Joe Cirulli in Gainesville

Everybody, stop what you're doing. I have a big announcement about Club Industry.

No, not that announcement. I'm talking about how we're in the running for another gold Eddie Award from FOLIO: magazine.

I hinted about this a few months ago when I told you about our success in this year's ASBPE Azbee Awards. Well, we recently found out the Lifetime Achievement Award profile of Gainesville's Joe Cirulli is now a finalist for the Eddie Awards. If we come home with the gold on Dec. 5, it will be our fourth consecutive gold Eddie Award in the (deep breath here) business-to-business, recreation/sports/outdoor single article category (whew!).

South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier once owned a health club in Gainesville, FL, in the early 1970s. In fact, his club was the first one Joe Cirulli worked at when he arrived in Gainesville 40 years ago. (Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics.)

I texted Cirulli last Saturday night, but not about the award possibility. (I took care of that earlier.) It was about the all-important Southeastern Conference football game I was watching. Joe's Florida Gators had a surprising lead at halftime over Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks.

As you may recall from the profile, Spurrier, the legendary Florida Gators quarterback who later served as their head coach, co-owned the first health club Cirulli worked at in Gainesville 40 years ago this fall. I got a chance to talk to Spurrier for Cirulli's story and still have that interview. I decided to listen to it again this week and discovered a lot of material we hadn't published.

"You're doing an article on Joe Cirulli, huh?" the Head Ball Coach asked in his familiar drawl when he called me back that day in August 2012. "I didn't know [Cirulli] all that well back then. He was one of the guys that got hired to supervise the workout room and the towels and all this, that and the other. I think he actually … did he say he slept in his car at times back then? (Yes. Yes he did.) So he's come a long way. I forget who said it, but the way you measure a man in life is not where he is but how far he came to get there.

"And Joe came a long way from those early days at Steve Spurrier Health Club. We went broke after about three years. We actually had too big of a building there. We had a men's side and a women's side—separate facilities there. And after a while, we sort of folded up."

At the time that he got into the health club business, Spurrier was still a quarterback for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.

"One of the guys in Gainesville, FL, had the idea—fitness was just now kicking in pretty good about 1970, '71—and Gainesville had nothing. There was a beautiful building on NW 23rd Street that was available. It used to be a construction company. He put together about 10 people—I think we came up with about $10,000 each—to get started and borrowed some money. And away we went. It did OK for a while, but we had a bunch of different managers, and I was still playing pro football. I just sort of leant my name to it. I wasn't in operations at all.

"So I remember [Cirulli] a little bit, but not real well. I got to know him much better later when he built the facility there in Gainesville. I came several times. My wife also taught an aerobics class there. Joe is a hands-on manager. To be successful, he has to be there all day and probably part of the night, too. Obviously, he's a smart businessman. There's not a lot of waste, not a lot of excess spending in getting members. He's a good salesman as well as a smart businessman."

Back to Saturday night's game. Had the Gators maintained their 14-6 lead, it would have been great news for my Missouri Tigers. With a South Carolina loss, a win in either of the Tigers' next two games or a Georgia win over Kentucky this weekend would give Mizzou the SEC Eastern Division title. Pretty exciting stuff, and something hard to imagine in just our second year in the league.

But as soon as I excitedly texted Cirulli on Saturday night to tell him he had an extra Gators fan in Overland Park, KS, South Carolina scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-3 play (fourth-and-3!) to cut the lead to 14-13. I painfully had flashbacks to South Carolina's touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 15 in overtime that tied its game against Mizzou last month. The Gamecocks eventually won that game and ruined my 40th birthday in the process. (Speaking of birthdays, happy early birthday to Cirulli, who turns 60 next month.)

Anyway, the Gamecocks scored another touchdown against Florida in the fourth quarter and went on to win 19-14. So now my Tigers have to win at Ole Miss on Saturday and beat Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M on Nov. 30 to win the division title. It won't be easy, but at least Mizzou controls its own destiny.

The same cannot be said for our Eddie Award prospects, as those are in the hands of the judges. But as with my Tigers, I like our chances.

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