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Feeling on campus: shock and disbelief

One student says it is weird because when you think of the Gators, you think of Steve Spurrier and the football team.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- Far from the St. Augustine beach house where Steve Spurrier shared his decision with only a few intimates, the moss-draped Gainesville campus where he made his name as a college coach was stunned by the news.

In the afternoon hours that saw his sudden departure go from rumor to fact, local radio shows were swarmed by mourning callers. The Gainesville Sun put out an extra edition that hit the streets near dusk.

"It's a huge shock," said Derek Marlin, 25, one of the few students on campus as classes are not scheduled to resume until Monday. Two hours after the first reports began filtering out in the media, Marlin still had not heard. Like many throughout the large orbit of college football, his jaw dropped at the news.

"You would think with the recruiting class he has and the players coming back that they would compete again for the national title next year," said Marlin, who is seeking a master's degree in sports management and was drawn to Gainesville last year by the "power of athletics" at UF -- much of it generated by Spurrier.

"I think just in the semester I've been here you get a sense of his importance to the program and to the community," he said.

Paul Brown of Tampa, a 21-year-old member of the Gator track team, heard the news in his coach's office.

"I could not believe it; I was really shocked," said Brown, who often had spoken to Spurrier in the Gator weight room and remembers him as a "great guy," talkative, humble and approachable. "It'll be weird not having him here because one of the things you think when you think of UF is the football team. ... The Gators, you think of Steve Spurrier."

Athletic director Jeremy Foley roundly rejected the idea, advanced in e-mails to his office Friday, that losing Spurrier was like a death in the family. He recalled the death of Eraste Autin, the freshman Gator fullback who collapsed and fell into a coma during a hot July workout.

"For anybody to equate this decision, as sad as it is, to that is making a mistake and totally has what we do out of whack, out of perspective," Foley said. Spurrier's departure is "important, it is the passing of an era, it is sad," he said. "(But) this is a great institution and we will move forward and we will be successful."

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