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College football: Gators

SEC rivals welcome Spurrier's return

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 29, 2004

GAINESVILLE - Steve Spurrier dominated the SEC like no other coach during the 1990s. He was 82-12 in SEC games and won six SEC championships. In the process, he often ruffled feathers by speaking his mind and humiliated opponents with large margins of victory.

And guess what?

The league coaches would love to have him back.

"It would be great for the league," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I was one of those who said when we lost Steve Spurrier we lost someone who is high profile nationwide. And I hate to see that Ron (Zook) is not going to be here anymore because I think he did a lot for our conference. But I think it would be great for our league if Steve Spurrier came back. I need somebody to play golf against again, and he'd be one of them. He still can't beat me."

South Carolina coach Lou Holtz developed a special relationship with Spurrier when Spurrier helped arrange Holtz's wife's cancer treatment in Gainesville. He won't say if he thinks Florida should hire Spurrier, but he does think it could be good for the Gators, if not for the Gamecocks.

"I looked at my job responsibility and that doesn't include picking the head coach at Florida," he quipped. "I'll tell you this, he's a great football coach, and he loves Florida because he's got homes down there. If Florida alumni want him I just say, "Hey, he'd be a great choice.' He's fun-and-gun and he's had great success. Selfishly, I hope they don't, but that's just from our point of view. But he's a great football coach and his success speaks for itself."

Yes, even former nemesis Phillip Fulmer would welcome the old Evil Genius.

"Coach Spurrier is obviously a great football coach and a really fine man, and I think it would be good for our conference if that's the direction Florida chooses to go," Fulmer said.

SUPPORT POURING IN: A few hours after Florida publicly announced that Zook had been fired, effective at the end of the season, he had received so many messages his cell phone voice mail couldn't take anymore.

Support from colleagues in the NFL and at the collegiate level has been pouring in for Zook and the Florida assistant coaches. Former UF offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens has a unique understanding. When Spurrier resigned, he was left without a job. And having coached with Spurrier, he knows the expectations to succeed him were high.

"It was a tough situation that he (Zook) walked into, no question," said Stephens, now an assistant at Tennessee. "For anybody to go in there and follow coach Spurrier, it was going to be a tough job. ... Coach Zook didn't do all that bad of a job. Look at the record and how many close games. There are so many intangibles involved in the coaching profession."

Zook's undoing came after the Gators lost to Mississippi State last week. MSU coach Sylvester Croom said his heart goes out most to the coaches' families.

"It's never easy," he said. "Coaches can deal with it a lot easier than your family and your kids can deal with it. That's the toughest part. You feel for the coaches' wives and the kids; they take the brunt of it. ... Coaches, we expect to get fired, we know it. If you stay somewhere long enough, you're going to get fired. But our families get the toughest part of it. No coach enjoys seeing another coach get fired."

Holtz was among the calls that were still coming in on Wednesday.

"I didn't want to talk about the situation, I didn't want to waste his time, but I did want him to know the respect I had for him," Holtz said.

Zook said he has been encouraged by the support he has received.

FINAL WORD: Coach Mary Wise will be seeking her 450th career win at Florida when the volleyball team plays at Mississippi tonight. Florida is 10-0 in the SEC for the 14th time in Wise's 14 seasons and is looking for its 17th 20-win season. The Gators are 18-2 and have won 140 consecutive regular season SEC matches (an NCAA record) and have won their past 66 matches on the road in SEC play dating to 1997. ... The men's and women's swimming teams will host their first home meet of the season at 4 p.m. Saturday against Georgia.

* * *

Times staff writer Antonya English covers Florida. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or english@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 28, 2004, 23:49:27]


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