Kirk Herbstreit

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Friday, January 4
It's surprising, but Spurrier is ready to move on

By Kirk Herbstreit
Special to

We knew this day would come. I'm just surprised it came today.

I've had an opportunity to get to know Steve Spurrier quite well over the past seven years. Of all the years I've known him, this was the first where I could see the wear and tear of the season on his face every week. He was constantly needled by the media -- they said he was never satisfied, that his propensity for being tough on is quarterbacks had gotten out of hand.

The controversy after the Florida State game -- when Spurrier thought Seminole players were deliberately trying to injure his players -- wasn't Spurrier theatrics. He was truly concerned, and the entire episode really bothered him. A host of concerns, week after week, eventually took their toll on Spurrier.

Like all great coaches, Spurrier has had to think about when it would be the right time for him to move on. He has in no way lost his competitive fire. Rather, he just seems to have lost his desire to do this particular job. He has achieved a tremendous amount in Gainesville, but he's ready to close that chapter of his career and take on the next challenge.

What will likely be the NFL's gain is a big loss for the college game. Love him or hate him -- and everyone did one or the other -- there is no denying Spurrier is a great personality. He's been a great character for college football, and a joy for us in the media to cover. I will miss him a great deal. He may take a year off to sit back and evaluate, but my hunch is that he'll land in the NFL as soon as this year.

As for the Gators, they'll have to do some evaluating of their own. Lito Sheppard and Jabar Gaffney likely would have left Florida for the NFL with or without Spurrier as their head coach -- I don't think his stepping down is going to affect their decisions. Spurrier's departure may have an affect on other players, some of whom may now be more seriously contemplating a jump to the next level, but it's hard to say until UF names a new head coach.

Whomever Florida brings in has not only the really difficult job of filling Spurrier's sizable shoes, they also have added recruiting pressure. The new guy has pick up the torch at the exact place where Spurrier left it and keep the program going. Spurrier created an atmosphere at Florida that many 18 year-old high school seniors wanted to be a part of -- they wanted the swagger and the aggressive attitude Spurrier was so well known for.

The new guy has to understand the dynamics of what Florida football is all about, but then he has to capture and maintain it in his own way. And you can forget Mike Bellotti, Bob Stoops and Rick Neuheisel. Those names always surface because those guys are terrific football coaches, but they've all made it clear they are perfectly happy where they are.

If I was to throw a name out there -- and this is just a throw, it comes with no inside information -- I could see Mike Shanahan fitting in in Gainesville. I don't know what his situation is in Denver -- if he'd even want to leave the Broncos. But he does have a great relationship with Spurrier, and his name recognition would be tremendous for the Gators. They are going to need someone with a big name to absorb some of the shock of losing a legend like Steve Spurrier.

On paper, the Gators look to be one of the most talented teams in the country next year, and the new head coach will have to handle those expectations. If they get the right guy, Spurrier's departure doesn't have to bring a necessary downturn in the program. Larry Coker proved Thursday night that the right guy can maintain and even exceed his predecessor's success.

Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN's College GameDay.

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