Coach surprises Florida football fans, abruptly resigning to pursue NFL job
|[AP file photo]
Florida head coach Steve Spurrier is carried on the field by Cameron Davis, left, and Jim Watson, right, after the Gators downed Alabama 28-3 in the 1993 SEC Football Championship in Birmingham, Ala.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- During his 12 seasons as football coach at the University of Florida, Steve Spurrier made a habit of taking risks and speaking his mind, often with shocking results.
On Friday, he pulled his most stunning caper of all.
With an early morning phone call to athletic director Jeremy Foley, Spurrier resigned, a move that dazed administrators, players, coaches and even one of his most trusted friends.
In a one-page statement, Spurrier said the time had come to move on.
"I simply believe that 12 years as head coach at a major university in the SEC is long enough," said Spurrier, 56. "I thank all the players, assistant coaches, support staff people and the greatest football fans in the world for the success we have shared the last 12 years."
Spurrier's decision came as a surprise to everyone in the Florida program, including assistant athletic director of communications, Norm Carlson, a friend for 35 years.
"I'm stunned," Carlson said.
Spurrier, at his home in Crescent Beach, invited Carlson and his wife over Thursday night and met his longtime friend with these ominous words: "You better sit down."
Spurrier, told Carlson of his plans, then the two men and their wives went out for dinner.
"It was like it really wasn't happening," Carlson said. "My wife and I woke up at 4 a.m. and she said, "Well we've been asleep long enough to know it wasn't a dream."'
Foley received a call from Spurrier about 9:15 Friday morning. It was a call that came without warning.
"None whatsoever," Foley said. "At one point when he (Spurrier) was talking to me, he asked me if I was still there because I was (quietly) gasping. 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."
The news sent shock waves through the college football world and speculation began immediately that Spurrier is preparing for a new role: NFL coach.
At least five NFL teams -- Tampa Bay, Carolina, Minnesota, San Diego and Indianapolis -- might be interested in Spurrier.
The Chargers and Vikings are the most obvious because they have immediate openings. The 5-11 Chargers fired Mike Riley on Monday. The Vikings' Dennis Green was forced out Friday.
Chargers general manager John Butler and Vikings owner Red McCombs said they would consider big-time college coaches in their search.
If you think Spurrier wouldn't have left the Gators without having at least a tentative deal in place with another team, San Diego and Minnesota would appear to be his mostly likely destinations.
But a Florida team has long been earmarked as the ideal place for Spurrier to one day make his NFL splash because of his fondness for warm weather.
The Bucs owners are not saying anything about extending Tony Dungy's contract. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver tried to put rumors about his team to rest Friday, saying Tom Coughlin will get a contract extension early next week.
"Tom is going to be our coach," Weaver said Friday night. "We have talked. We'll sit down after the season, and an extension is on the agenda."
Most of the speculation Friday pointed to Spurrier going to Carolina, where coach George Seifert is on the hot seat with the Panthers (1-14) on the verge of becoming the first team in league history to lose 15 straight games in a season.
Spurrier's ties to North Carolina include coaching for three seasons at Duke before taking the Gators job.
Spurrier made it clear that he may pursue a job in the NFL.
"I'm not burned out, stressed out or mentally fatigued from coaching," Spurrier said.
"I just feel my career as a college head coach after 15 years is complete, and if the opportunity and challenge of coaching an NFL team happens, it is something I would like to pursue."
Carlson said Spurrier told him he has nothing specific lined up, but wanted to be available to pursue options that might come up.
Foley said he has a list of candidates he has kept for years because he "always contemplated this day would come." Foley said he did not have a specific timetable for finding Spurrier's replacement, but said it needed to be done soon because of recruiting.
The recruiting "dead period" ends next Friday.
Although Foley refused to comment on whom he's considering, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is considered the leading candidate. Stoops, who has a $200,000 buyout clause, earns $2-million per year with the Sooners, second only to Spurrier. Foley said that while money will not be an obstacle, he's looking for a coach with love and passion for Florida athletics. Stoops is the Gators' former defensive coordinator, has a beach home near Spurrier's and has said the Florida job is the only one he would consider leaving Oklahoma for.
"We spent the day dealing with this and planning for the future," Foley said. "I can't comment on every single rumor or on candidates. We realize that we have to hire a new football coach and hire one quickly. We recognize it's a crucial recruiting time.
"To all the recruits out there that are considering the University of Florida, I ask that you have faith in us that we'll find a quality football coach that will take this on."
Foley said the university will honor the remainder of Spurrier's contract, meaning it will forgive several million dollars of loans and incentives. Florida's assistant coaches will also be paid for an additional six months, even if they are not retained by the new coach.
Foley said he has no doubt that he will be able to find a coach who will "build on the traditions that Spurrier has set" at Florida.
"I think that if anybody put together what they considered to be the top five jobs in the country, you would be hard-pressed not to have the University of Florida in it," Foley said.
"It certainly will be strange to see someone else walking the sidelines in the future."
- Times staff writers Darrell Fry and Rick Stroud contributed to this report.
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