This guy tells Florida fans to move on... RIGHT!?!? By Joey Johnston NBCSports.com contributor Aug. 19, 2004 Steve Spurrier is keeping an especially low profile. He hasn't done many interviews. He has gone through airports wearing a hat and sunglasses, hoping not to be recognized. Long the center of attention, he sure seems like a man who wants to be left alone. But one Spurrier-related subject will not go away. It creeps into radio talk shows. It dominates Internet message boards. It's a theory that makes people stop and go, "Hmmm . . . maybe that could happen.'' Steve Spurrier, who resigned last January from the Washington Redskins, is a free agent. He's an unemployed coach at 59. And at least part of the time, he's in a beach house some 90 minutes away from his old job at the University of Florida. Talk about an imposing shadow. Exactly what Gators coach Ron Zook does not need. Spurrier back to the Gators? Mark my words, it's not going to happen. He can't go home again — twice. Spurrier left, in part, because of what he believed were unrealistic expectations by Gator fans. SEC titles, which had eluded Florida for decades before Spurrier's arrival, weren't good enough. Anything short of a national championship was deemed a failure in some quarters. He was probably right. The fans had gotten spoiled. Spurrier built Florida's program to unprecedented heights. There was nothing left to accomplish. He got the NFL itch. So he bolted, and he's not looking back. But when Florida loses its first game this fall, you'll hear the whispers: "You know, Spurrier is still out there.'' There will be rumblings about big-name Gator boosters pledging big bucks for such a change. If the Gators don't take a step forward — Zook's first two Florida teams each were 8-5 with defeats in the Outback Bowl — the grumbling may get louder. Zook isn't Spurrier. Never has been. Spurrier revived a notoriously underachieving program and guided it to five SEC championships (and another first-place finish while the team was on NCAA probation) during the 1990s. His teams transformed Ben Hill Griffin Stadium into "The Swamp,'' one of America's most intimidating road venues. The Fun 'n' Gun offense became a model for creativity and unpredictability. He returned to his alma mater with an almost corny be-true-to-your-school attitude, giving Gators everywhere renewed pride and excitement. Following Spurrier would have been an impossibility for most any coach. That task fell to Zook, actually the program's third choice when athletic director Jeremy Foley couldn't sway Bob Stoops or Mike Shanahan to Gainesville. Within days of Zook's hiring, a new Web site was created advocating his firing. And it also gave birth to a culture of negativity. "Fans aren't necessarily patient, and I understand that,'' Foley said. Gator fans, especially. Spurrier debuted in 1990 with a four-play touchdown drive. From that moment on, you knew things were different. The Gators went from plodding to high-octane, hanging lopsided losses on every opponent in the SEC. The conference's philosophical makeup underwent a seismic shift, just so opponents could keep up with the Gators. With Spurrier's brash offensive attack, his make-no-apologies style and his statements that prodded other programs, Florida became the SEC's program to hate. Gator fans loved it. Truly, those were the good old days. "Everybody wants to be the best team in their conference, the best team in the country,'' Foley said. "People want to go back to those days because they have such pride in their school. I want to win, Coach Zook wants to win, everybody in our program wants to win. There's no question that Ron Zook is putting the work in to make this the best program it can possibly be.'' Is it enough? Well, it's not Steve Spurrier. And it will never be exactly that way again. "Coach Spurrier is the No. 1 Gator,'' Zook said at SEC Media Days, deflecting the dogged Spurrier questions. "He wants to see the Gators be successful. I know that. "The opportunity to be the coach at the University of Florida is an honor and a privilege. We had a plan when we started and we haven't wavered from that plan. The success Coach Spurrier had when he was here is what makes this job so exciting. We're getting better. We're making progress.'' But that's the most confounding aspect of Zook's tenure at Florida. For every milestone of progress, there has been a devastating setback. In 2003, The Gators were the only team to defeat top-ranked LSU, leading off a sweep of a three-game road gauntlet that included Arkansas and Georgia. But the Gators couldn't hold a 33-10 second-half lead at Miami. They had Florida State beaten, but allowed the Seminoles to rally in the closing minute. Then there was the lifeless Outback Bowl loss to Iowa. In Zook's first season, quarterback Rex Grossman went from Heisman Trophy favorite to rather ordinary. The Gators defeated Auburn and Georgia, but were dominated by Miami and Florida State. In the Outback Bowl against Michigan, with Grossman driving the Gators toward a potentially game-tying touchdown, Zook allowed a disastrous end-around pass attempt that was intercepted by Michigan. Up and down. Good and bad. Wildly inconsistent. Zook's Gators take what the defense gives them. Spurrier's Gators generally took what they wanted. "Our team understands it's time to take the next step,'' Zook said. In the offseason, Zook demoted Ed Zaunbrecher from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach. He elevated Larry Fedora, who has promised a commitment to downfield passing. Not a bad idea, considering the Gators have sophomore quarterback Chris Leak and a fleet of potential breakout wide receivers, such as 2003 blue-chip recruit Andre Caldwell. Spurrier's shadow, of course, will be part of the backdrop, particularly if the Gators begin slowly. But for the most part, he won't be nearby. His primary residence remains in northern Virginia, where his son Scotty, a Division I prospect at receiver, is completing his senior year of high school. Most people believe Spurrier will coach again. The NFL? Probably not. Spurrier quickly tired of salary caps and owners. You can be king in college, not the NFL. So where will he surface? The ACC? Logic suggests it's a possibility. Spurrier once coached at Duke and turned that program around, too. Florida State or Miami? Now that would be outrageous. But it wouldn't fit Spurrier's personality. Although he is often compared to basketball's Rick Pitino, the former Kentucky coach who's now at blood rival Louisville, it's difficult to imagine Spurrier as a Seminole (and Bobby Bowden's successor) or Hurricane. Remember, Pitino didn't attend Kentucky. Spurrier's Gator ties run deep. The Pac-10? It's not a stretch to see Spurrier in a place like Arizona State. Texas? Ah, Texas. Now we're getting somewhere. Spurrier as a Longhorn. That's the marriage that gets everyone excited. Mack Brown keeps producing 10-victory seasons, but he can't beat Oklahoma or win the Big 12. In some ways, Texas seems like the Florida of old -- rich resources, deep political support within the state, but no major payoff. A potential drawback might be Spurrier's reluctance to become a major rival of Stoops, his former defensive coordinator and one of his best friends, at Oklahoma. Florida? Don't count on it. Remember how everyone poked fun at Alabama fans' inability to let go of the Bear Bryant era? In some ways, that thinking still exists. Undoubtedly, Spurrier supporters still abound in Gainesville. But he walked away from the Gators, seeking new challenges and wisely thinking that all good things must end. Spurrier might not mind having his name linked to the Gators in media reports, but he wants the best for his school. He has moved on. Gator fans should do the same. The shadow still lurks, though. Spurrier is on the loose. And that's another potential aggravation that Zook does not need as he tries to escape from what has become a perennial hot seat.