|Friday, January 4
Updated: January 5, 3:23 PM ET
Spurrier resigns as Gators coach
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Steve Spurrier took his visor, his Fun 'N' Gun and his swagger and left Florida in a stunning resignation Friday.
The 56-year-old man derided by his enemies as "Coach Superior" turned his back on a $2.1 million-a-year contract and a lifetime of job security at his alma mater to pursue a job in the NFL.
"I wanted to go out on top, but that didn't work out," Spurrier told The Gainesville Sun in an exclusive interview. "I think we've left a pretty good team behind for the next coach. It's never easy to leave the guys behind, but it was going to happen sometime, and this seems like the best time to do it."
Athletic director Jeremy Foley will search for Spurrier's replacement. A source familiar with the search told The Associated Press that Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is the top candidate.
Stoops, who was defensive coordinator for the Gators when they won the national title in 1996, did not return messages left at his office, or on his cell phone. Nor did he answer the phone at his vacation house in Crescent Beach, not far away from where Spurrier also has a beach house.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said Friday he would be interested in the Florida job. Mularkey was once a tight end for the Gators.
"I'm not sure what my rights are, but sure, I would have to say I would be," Mularkey told The St. Petersburg Times. "Definitely. Right now, I have no idea what the process is. And I've still got some things here that are critical. We've attained some goals but this team has goals that focus on one thing, and I'm right there with them."
The Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers both have openings, although Spurrier has always been partial to the state he's called home since 1990. Jacksonville likely isn't a candidate, however. Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said Friday night he's working on a contract extension for Tom Coughlin. Tony Dungy of Tampa Bay has been considered a possibly candidate to leave his job this season.
The Washington Post, citing unidentified NFL sources, reported on its Web site Friday night that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder intends to pursue Spurrier.
The newspaper said Snyder failed in a bid to hire Spurrier last year before signing Marty Schottenheimer to a five-year, $10 million contract.
Before Friday, the closest Spurrier ever came to leaving was in 1995, when he almost signed with the Buccaneers, one of two NFL teams he played for after college.
Spurrier's confidante, sports information director Norm Carlson, said the coach had no specific job in mind. But surely suitors will come calling.
They have every year since he arrived in Gainesville 12 seasons ago, a former Heisman Trophy winner determined to make exciting champions out of the not-so-lovable losers they were for so many decades previous.
"I thought he was kidding," Carlson said of his reaction when Spurrier broke the news to him. "He told me to sit down. He probably thought I would faint."
"At one point when he was talking to me he asked me if I was still there because I was gasping," Foley told the Gainesville Sun. "I really thought he was kidding. He's made the decision. It's his time. Certainly, there was surprise. There is sadness. This is a new day. More than being our coach, he was our friend.
"(Former UF athletic director Bill Carr) told me several years ago that, 'Steve will leave when you least expect it.' I thought of Bill Carr this morning when I picked myself off the floor."
"I'm shocked," cornerback Keiwan Ratliff told The Sun. "This came out of nowhere."
The entire Gator Nation -- a fan base built on the cult of personality that Spurrier engendered -- is in shock.
Spurrier went 122-27-1 with Florida, 142-40-2 counting the three seasons he spent at Duke. He led a program that had never won a Southeastern Conference title to six of them. He also led the Gators to their first and only national championship in 1996.
Many experts predicted a second national title this season, but the Gators wound up 10-2, ranked third in a season that ended with a 56-23 thumping of Maryland at the Orange Bowl on Wednesday.
Other candidates thought to be on Foley's wish list of replacements are Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos and Gary Crowton of Brigham Young.
Shanahan laughed when asked about leaving the Broncos for Gainesville. When a reporter joked that Shanahan had reportedly been sighted Friday morning in Gainesville, Fla., the coach laughed and said, "Yeah, right before practice. I just got in in the nick of time. You guys didn't catch me."
Informed he was really mentioned as a top candidate for the Florida job, Shanahan said, "Oh, really? Really? Let's talk about Indianapolis."
Whoever it is will have a hard time living up to Spurrier's aura.
He came to Florida from Duke, where he used the passing game to turn the downtrodden Blue Devils into Atlantic Coast Conference champions in 1989.
Surely nobody could do that in the SEC, right?
This was a conference built on running, defense, Bear Bryant and Herschel Walker. Quarterbacks and receivers were afterthoughts. Except, of course, in 1966, when Spurrier won the Heisman.
Spurrier quickly proved them wrong.
"I'm as surprised as anyone at Coach Spurrier's decision to leave Florida," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, a noted rival. "He has done an outstanding job for them, and the Florida fans certainly have appreciated that. Everyone makes decisions for their own reasons, and I'm sure Steve has his. I personally wish him the best of luck."
With Shane Matthews throwing for a then-school-record 2,952 yards, Spurrier led the Gators to the best record in the SEC in 1990. He still claims an SEC title for that 9-2 season, although the record books say differently: Florida was ineligible because of NCAA sanctions that year.
But there were plenty more titles and no more NCAA troubles. In fact, Spurrier cleaned up the program and turned Florida football into a moneymaking winner that almost every athletic department would love to emulate.
With every success, an ever-widening gulf developed: "You're either with us or against us," Spurrier was fond of saying.
Those who were with the Gators adored every word he said, every pass play he called and every meaningless touchdown he scored in a quest to hang "half-a-hundred."
Those who were against him couldn't stand any of it: the visor tossing, the ranting at the refs, that grating southern Tennessee twang and the ridicule of his opponents.(He joked that "FSU" stands for "Free Shoes University" and you can't spell "Citrus" without "UT.")
"Call me arrogant, cocky, crybaby, whiner or whatever names you like," Spurrier said recently. "At least they're not calling us losers anymore. If people like you too much, it's probably because they're beating you."
His weekly Tuesday news conferences were can't-miss events. In between dissecting opponents and talking about his glory days, there was always some one-liner to make his fans laugh or enrage another foe.
"Mississippi State was No. 1 in pass defense coming in. They won't be going out, though," he said after the Gators threw for 507 yards in a 52-0 stomping of the Bulldogs.
Or he would warm up the VCR, as he did in 1996 to try to prove Florida State players were taking cheap shots at Danny Wuerffel; or last month as part of his ongoing attempt to prove a Florida State player intentionally hurt tailback Earnest Graham.
It was always entertaining theater, and Spurrier saved the best for Saturdays.
Wuerffel, an average-armed quarterback with the temperament to deal with the "head ballcoach," won the Heisman on Spurrier's watch. And while everyone at Florida loved Wuerffel, they knew it had to be the Evil Genius' system.
Wuerffel, Matthews, Terry Dean, Doug Johnson, Rex Grossman. Some Florida quarterbacks loved the coach, others merely tolerated him, but Spurrier never cared.
He was always "coaching 'em up," sometimes practically running onto the field to shout an audible, and often greeting them on the sideline after a bad play, his hands folded under his armpits, an unflattering lecture about to begin.
Why go to the NFL, where he would be just another coach, on his way to getting fired someday?
"That's the challenge," he said a few years ago. "If I ever went to the NFL, I'd do it to try to see if you could do things a little different there."
Most people agree: If anybody can pull it off, Spurrier's the man.