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Steve Spurrier and the old band hope to replay their greatest hits with the Orlando Apollos

They have danced together on Bourbon Street after winning a national championship.

They have cried together at the funerals of loved ones and former colleagues.

Their wives and lives have been intertwined; their sons and daughters have grown up together.

And, now, the legendary band — Steve Spurrier and the ABCs (Assistant Ball Coaches) — is back together again for one last encore performance as a coaching staff with the Orlando Apollos in the new Alliance of American Football. Spurrier, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, linebackers coach Jim Collins and offensive guards/centers coach Jimmy Ray Stephens all were part of Spurrier’s SEC-dominating, national championship-winning staff at the University of Florida.

“It’s good to have the old band back together again,” says Collins, who’s been with the Head Ball Coach since Spurrier’s Duke days in the 1980s. “I don’t think there’s any question we can hit the same high notes we used to.”

He laughs loudly.

“In fact, I think we could be like the Eagles and go on tour right now!”

Not coincidentally, Spurrier and the ABCs will begin their reunion tour starting Saturday night when the Apollos launch their inaugural season at UCF’s Spectrum Stadium against the Atlanta Legends (liftoff is 8 p.m.) And, as long as Collins has brought up the Eagles, couldn’t we say Spurrier and his former assistants are sort of like a lyric from the iconic rock band’s most famous song?

Coaching is an inescapable part of who they are. As a passion and a profession, it’s sort of like they have checked into the Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

“If you enjoy something and you’re good at it, then why shouldn’t you come back and do it again?” Spurrier says of him and some of his old coaches returning to the sidelines. “I think we all still love coaching, and we’re all pretty good at it.”

The Alliance likes to bill itself as the “League of Opportunity” for players who dream of someday playing in the NFL, but it’s also a league that gives young coaches their first big chance, experienced coaches one more chance and older coaches one last chance.

Spurrier’s Apollos staff is a testament to all of the above. He’s given former players — ex-UF receiving great Willie Jackson (wide receivers coach) and former UF All-American cornerback Lito Sheppard (safeties) — their first major coaching jobs. He’s hired other former NFL players and coaches such as defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat, a 14-year NFL veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys, former Tampa Bay Bucs Pro Bowler Donnie Abraham (defensive backs) and offensive tackles coach Todd Washington, who played on the Bucs’ Super Bowl-winning team and coached on the Baltimore Ravens’ 2012 season Super Bowl-winning team.

Spurrier’s youngest son, Scott, a former assistant at South Carolina and USF, is the tight ends coach while David Reaves, who also worked with Spurrier at South Carolina, will coach the running backs. Reaves is the son of the late great Gators QB John Reaves, who was the quarterback of the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits when Spurrier got his very first head-coaching gig nearly 40 years ago.

“This coaching staff — the old coaches and the new coaches, too — feels like a family,” Spurrier’s wife, Jerri, says. “There is connection and a bond that feels very special.”

Especially among those coaches who were with Spurrier during his coaching heyday with the Gators. Collins, Sanders and Stephens have seen the Head Ball Coach at his very best and he trusts them as if they were his brothers. They know Spurrier’s every nuance and foible, and he knows theirs.

The obvious question, of course, is why? Why would these coaching comrades who were either retired or close to it want to jump back into coaching with a start-up spring football league? The answer, of course, is indisputable:

Because they are coaches. And, no matter what, coaches need to coach.

When Collins got the call from Spurrier with a job offer from the Apollos, he was actually still on the staff at Duke under head coach David Cutcliffe. However, he was mainly evaluating video and making suggestions to the defensive coordinator. He was more of a consultant than a coach. Oh, how he longed to feel the grass under his feet again and the whistle around his neck. He missed the teaching, the mentoring, the camaraderie of the locker room.

“At Duke, I was still involved and had a role, but I didn’t have a position anymore,” Collins says. “I missed not having my own room and my own group of players I could help impact and influence. I missed the strategy part of it being in that meeting room with the other coaches and breaking down formations and coming up with a plan to beat the other guy. I missed turning on the video with a bunch of players in the room and seeing them play exactly the way I helped coached them to play. That’s what coaching is all about: To see if your players can take what you’ve taught them and execute it perfectly in the game. I missed having that impact on players.”

Stephens has a different story. He was coaching at Walton High School in the Florida Panhandle when he got the call from Spurrier. It didn’t take him long to decide that going back to the future would be the perfect way to end his coaching career.

“The opportunity to get back with the Head Ball Coach and the other coaches we were with in the ’90s was alluring to me,” Stephens says. “That was a special time and a helluva run and I think we can repeat that type of success at this level.”

Sanders feels the same way. After a long stint as a college and NFL assistant, he had been out of coaching since 2017 when his last boss, Bruce Arians, stepped down as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Sanders, too, couldn’t wait to go back to work for Spurrier, whom he spent 11 wonderful years with at UF.

“I’m so thankful Coach Spurrier gave me a chance to scratch that coaching itch one more time,” Sanders says. “It’s been a lot of fun coming together as a staff again with some of my best friends. Sometimes, I’ll find myself telling an old story in a coaching meeting and I’ll say, ‘You guys don’t want to hear that story again.’ And they’ll say, ‘Nah, Coach, we love that story. Tell it again!’ ”

Sanders has a huge smile splashed across his face as he looks back.

But then turns serious as he looks ahead.

“We have made some great memories together,” Sanders says of his coaching compadres, “but it’s a new day and a new league and time to make some new memories.”

But can the band — now that it’s back together — still play like it once did?

“I don’t know if we can play like we once did,” Stephens says and laughs, “but we can still coach like we once did!”

It sort of reminds you of another iconic Eagles song.

Come on, boys, let’s take it to the limit one more time.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.

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