Friday, November 5, 2004

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If Steve Spurrier decides to coach again, it won’t be at his alma mater.

Spurrier withdrew his name from consideration yesterday to replace Ron Zook, saying his time at Florida has passed.

The announcement relieves any reservations boosters and school officials had regarding Spurrier’s potential return. It also opens up a coaching search that was widely considered Spurrier’s to lose.

“He said he’s done his thing here and he just thinks it’s better for us to go find a coach who will be here for the next 10 or 15 years,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

The Gators won six Southeastern Conference championships and the 1996 national title under Spurrier. He posted 122 victories over 12 seasons, tormented opponents with his offensive flair and witty one-liners and left town with the best winning percentage in league history.

Zook, hired in 2002 after Spurrier left to coach the Washington Redskins, was fired last week after the latest in a series of embarrassing losses — a 38-31 defeat by lowly Mississippi State.

Spurrier quit the Redskins after two losing seasons and indicated last week he would consider a return to Gainesville.

Foley and Spurrier exchanged several phone messages, trying to set up an interview with school president Bernie Machen after the season.

“They were obviously making an effort to meet with me,” Spurrier said in a statement.

But Spurrier’s latest message ended all speculation about his return.

“When I departed three years ago, there were several reasons why I believed it was time to move on,” Spurrier said. “Other than simply wanting to coach in the NFL someday, I also believed that 12 years at Florida was probably long enough. Many people in football believe that around 10-12 years in the same job is about the maximum time a coach should stay.”

There had been concerns among some of the school’s top boosters that Spurrier’s return would be a step back and eventually would leave the program in another tough situation — trying to replace a legend.

They felt Spurrier would never be able to regain the glory of the 1990s, and they openly questioned his desire to recruit and his motivation for returning.

Some also were still upset over the way Spurrier left Florida: calling Foley from his beach house and dropping the news in the middle of the recruiting season.

Nonetheless, they knew there was a chance Spurrier’s return would restore credibility and championships to the program. Now that task will fall to someone else.

Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Utah’s Urban Meyer and Cal’s Jeff Tedford are considered other possible candidates.

Stoops, who spent three seasons as Spurrier’s defensive coordinator at Florida, repeatedly has denied any interest in the Gators job. He did so again yesterday.

“I maintain close contact with Spurrier and am aware of his feelings regarding the job at Florida. My position and feelings on the matter remain unchanged, and I stand by the statement I made earlier,” Stoops said. “I remain focused on my job here at Oklahoma and will not spend any more of my time dealing with this speculation.”

Machen hired Meyer at Utah in December 2002, and Meyer’s diverse offense would be welcomed in Gainesville after Zook failed with his NFL-style approach. But Meyer has no ties to Florida, which would make recruiting tough.

Tedford has spent his entire career on the West Coast, but he could be the perfect blend between Spurrier and Zook. His quarterback-tailored system has turned Cal into one of the top offenses in the nation, and his recruiting efforts match anyone else’s in the country.

Florida wants to have a coach in place by mid-December — after a full-blown search-and-interview process — and the only thing that seems certain is it won’t be Spurrier.

Some close to the 59-year-old coach say he doesn’t want his career to end on a losing note, and predict he will give the NFL another shot. It could come soon. With yesterday’s announcement there was almost immediate talk that Spurrier would end up in Miami with the Dolphins although Dave Wannstedt has not been fired.

“I have not been offered any coaching job by any team, and I’m not searching for one,” Spurrier said.

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