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January 15, 2002

Gone Gator
By Dan Patrick

Jan. 8
His quarterbacks throw them and on Friday he dropped one: a bomb. At 56, Steve Spurrier's mid-life crisis came a little later than most. Instead of buying a sports car or running off with a 22-year-old coed, Spurrier decided to head back to the NFL.

Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier resigned Friday after 12 seasons with the Gators.

His next job will be Spurrier's first as a coach in the NFL, and he will probably draw little from his playing days. As a player, things didn't pan out. After winning the Heisman trophy at Florida in 1966, Spurrier was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers but was stuck behind John Brodie. He ended up in Tampa Bay and was one of the quarterbacks on the infamous 0-14 team of 1976.

I give Spurrier credit for this decision. At Florida, he could pencil in nine or 10 wins a year. He won a national championship, was earning more than $2 million annually, coached Danny Wuerffel to a Heisman trophy season and stood a great chance of directing QB Rex Grossman to the Heisman next year. Spurrier had established a firm pipeline for nationally prized Florida high school football players. He had established a true "program" in every sense of the word and really had no reason to take on another challenge. He could have spent the next 10 years or so presiding over it and enjoying the fruits of his labor. But he's moving on. He wants to see what is on top of the next mountain. It's a gutsy and admirable move on his part.

As a result, there is no bigger free agent on the market this offseason in the NFL. If Spurrier can turn the Duke football team into a winner, he can make a go of it in the NFL. Whether it's Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay or fill-in-the-blank. Spurrier is a smart and relentless coach who has a fully realized football concept and philosophy.

Spurrier will have to modify some of his ways in the NFL because you can't coach veterans and millionaires the way you coach sophomores and juniors. But he knows that.

The adjectives and nicknames associated with Spurrier are not all complimentary -- arrogant, obnoxious, ruthless, egotistical, "Stevie Superior." But he is smart and confident. Spurrier has a way of making his teams perform. He is that classic sports prototype: You love him on your side and you hate him on the other side.

Spurrier will have to modify some of his ways in the NFL because you can't coach veterans and millionaires the way you coach sophomores and juniors. But he knows that.

In my opinion, this isn't about anything other than the challenge. It's certainly not about money -- Spurrier was the highest paid coach in college. Rick Pitino did this recently, going from Kentucky after a national championship and establishing a program as fine as Spurrier's in Florida. But eventually Pitino admitted that the money played a part. Spurrier's comfortable. I think he wants to see what he can do in the NFL, comfort be damned.

I give Steve Spurrier a lot of credit. This is a big jump and a lot to take on at the age of 56. As hard as a college coach works, NFL coaches work harder and longer. This is no easy task. But he's up to it. And the team that gets him will be immediately better.

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