Spurrier spurns Fla. for the NFL

Coach stuns Gators with resignation

`I've got the itch'

Redskins among suitors?

Offensive innovator won 1 title at Florida, but also had critics

Spurrier set to wing it in the NFL

January 05, 2002|By Joe Schad | Joe Schad,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Steve Spurrier shocked the college football world yesterday when he resigned as coach at the University of Florida. He intends to call his next play in the NFL.

"I'm not burned out, stressed out or mentally fatigued from coaching," Spurrier said in a statment. "I just feel my career as a college head coach after 15 years is complete, and if the opportunity and challenge of coaching a NFL team happens, it is something I would like to pursue."

Spurrier said he has no NFL job lined up, but speculation has him in line for jobs with the Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings. Only the Vikings and Chargers currently have openings.

The Jacksonville Jaguars also were seen as a possible destination, but Jags owner Wayne Weaver said last night that he plans to give current coach Tom Coughlin a contract extension at the end of the season.

The Washington Post reported today that the Redskins intend to pursue Spurrier as a possible successor to Marty Schottenheimer.

Schottenheimer is completing the first season of a four-year, $10 million contract as Washington's coach and director of football operations. But he has not said whether he would want to remain as coach if Redskins owner Daniel Snyder hires a general manager in the off-season. Snyder tried but failed to hire Spurrier during the last off-season, and sources told the newspaper that the Redskins likely would fire Schottenheimer if they are able to land Spurrier this time.

Spurrier, 56, led his alma mater to its first national title in 1996, and to six Southeastern Conference crowns. He had a 122-27-1 record in 12 seasons. He was the highest-paid coach in college football, earning $2.1 million last season.

"It's certainly a sad day for our program," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "It's a passing of an era. It's been a lot of fun for a lot of people. He brought us a program that we could only dream about."

Spurrier called Foley from his home between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Thursday."At one point, he asked me if I was still there because I was gasping," Foley said. "We had some discussions, but he had made the decision; it was his time. There was surprise and there was sadness."

Though Spurrier annually was the subject of rumors about NFL coaching jobs, he repeatedly had spurned overtures, saying he was happy in Gainesville.

The closest Spurrier came to accepting an NFL job came after the 1996 season, when he almost accepted an offer from the Buccaneers, for whom he once played.

Possible replacements for Spurrier at Florida include Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who was defensive coordinator at Florida from 1996-1998; Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, a Florida assistant from 1980-1983; Washington coach Rick Neuheisel; Oregon coach Mike Bellotti; and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, a tight end for the Gators from 1980-1982.

"We have to hire another coach fairly quickly, as this is a [high school] recruiting period," Foley said. "I have no idea how long it will take. We want to find a coach who can continue the tradition that Coach Spurrier built here."

Spurrier brought excitement and championships to a program that historically had struggled. He installed a high-powered offense nicknamed the "Fun `n' Gun" that changed offenses in the SEC, which long had been dominated by run-oriented programs at Auburn, Georgia and Alabama.

Florida began this season ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, but the Gators lost twice and finished third in the final polls. His last game as coach was Florida's 56-23 rout of Maryland in Wednesday night's Orange Bowl.

While Spurrier was revered by Gators fans, he was reviled by fans at rival schools and by some members of the media. Spurrier, nicknamed "Steve Superior" by critics, was criticized for everything from his facial expressions and perceived swagger to his visor-tossing and acerbic comments.

Every news conference with Spurrier was an event. Every jab at Florida's rivals was welcomed by the "Gator Nation" and criticized by his detractors. Some said he ran up the score; Spurrier said you play every down until it's over. Some said his comments were over-the-edge; Spurrier said he simply spoke the truth.

"Some people may not have understood him," Foley said. "Life was always interesting with Steve, and certainly the way that we won was fun. His coaches had fun and he made life fun, and we had fun winning with him."

Joe Schad is a reporter for The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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