GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Steve Spurrier took his visor, his Fun 'N' Gun and his swagger and left Florida in a stunning resignation Friday.
The 56-year-old man derided by his enemies as "Coach Superior" turned his back on a $2.1 million-a-year contract and a lifetime of job security at his alma mater to pursue a job in the NFL.
"I'm not burned out, stressed out or mentally fatigued from coaching," Spurrier said in a statement. "I just feel my career as a college head coach, after 15 years, is complete, and if the opportunity and challenge of coaching an NFL team happens, it is something I would like to pursue."
The Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers both have openings, although Spurrier has always been partial to the state he's called home since 1990. Jacksonville isn't a candidate, however. Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said Friday night he's working on a contract extension for Tom Coughlin. Tony Dungy of Tampa Bay has been considered a possibly candidate to leave his job this season.
Before Friday, the closest Spurrier ever came to leaving was in 1995, when he almost signed with the Buccaneers, one of two NFL teams he played for after college.
Spurrier's confidante, sports information director Norm Carlson, said the coach had no specific job in mind. But surely suitors will come calling.
They have every year since he arrived in Gainesville 12 seasons ago, a former Heisman Trophy winner determined to make exciting champions out of the not-so-lovable losers they were for so many decades previous.
"I thought he was kidding," Carlson said of his reaction when Spurrier broke the news to him. "He told me to sit down. He probably thought I would faint."
Instead, it's the entire Gator Nation - a fan base built on the cult of personality that Spurrier engendered - that's in shock.
Spurrier went 122-27-1 with Florida, 142-40-2 counting the three seasons he spent at Duke. He led a program that had never won a Southeastern Conference title to six of them. He also led the Gators to their first and only national championship in 1996.
Many experts predicted a second national title this season, but the Gators wound up 10-2, ranked third in a season that ended with a 56-23 thumping of Maryland at the Orange Bowl on Wednesday.
Thought to be on athletic director Jeremy Foley's wish list of replacements are Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos, Gary Crowton of Brigham Young, and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma. Stoops was defensive coordinator when the Gators won the national title in 1996.
Whoever it is will have a hard time living up to Spurrier's aura.
"It's certainly a sad day for our program," 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 came to Florida from Duke, where he used the passing game to turn the downtrodden Blue Devils into Atlantic Coast Conference champions in 1989.
Surely nobody could do that in the SEC, right?
This was a conference built on running, defense, Bear Bryant and Herschel Walker. Quarterbacks and receivers were afterthoughts. Except, of course, in 1966, when Spurrier won the Heisman.
Spurrier quickly proved them wrong.
With Shane Matthews throwing for a then-school-record 2,952 yards, Spurrier led the Gators to the best record in the SEC in 1990. He still claims an SEC title for that 9-2 season, although the record books say differently: Florida was ineligible because of NCAA sanctions that year.
But there were six titles that nobody can dispute and no more NCAA troubles. In fact, Spurrier cleaned up the program and turned Florida football into a moneymaking winner that almost every athletic department would love to emulate.
With every success, an ever-widening gulf developed: "You're either with us or against us," Spurrier was fond of saying.
Those who were with the Gators adored every word he said, every pass play he called and every meaningless touchdown he scored in a quest to hang "half-a-hundred."
Those who were against him couldn't stand any of it: the visor tossing, the ranting at the refs, that grating Tennessee twang and the constant ridiculing of his opponents. (Among his favorites were that "FSU" stands for "Free Shoes University," and you can't spell "Citrus" without "UT.")
"Call me arrogant, cocky, crybaby, whiner or whatever names you like," Spurrier said recently. "At least they're not calling us losers anymore. If people like you too much, it's probably because they're beating you."
In what turned out to be his next-to-last dramatic move, he demoted Heisman Trophy runner-up Rex Grossman for missing curfew a few nights before the Orange Bowl. It turned the days leading up to the game into a soap opera - Spurrier always found a way to put his Gators in the spotlight.
His weekly Tuesday news conferences were can't-miss events. In between dissecting opponents and talking about his glory days, there was always some one-liner to make his fans laugh or enrage another foe.
"Mississippi State was No. 1 in pass defense coming in. They won't be going out, though," he said after the Gators threw for 507 yards in a 52-0 stomping of the Bulldogs.
Or he would warm up the VCR, as he did in 1996 to try to prove Florida State players were taking cheap shots at Danny Wuerffel; or last month as part of his ongoing attempt to prove a Florida State player intentionally hurt tailback Earnest Graham.
It was always entertaining theater, and Spurrier saved the best for Saturdays.
Wuerffel, an average-armed quarterback with the temperament to deal with the "head ballcoach," won the Heisman on Spurrier's watch. And while everyone at Florida loved Wuerffel, they knew it had to be the Evil Genius' system.
Wuerffel, Matthews, Grossman, Terry Dean, Doug Johnson. Some Florida quarterbacks loved the coach, others merely tolerated him, but Spurrier never cared.
He was always "coaching 'em up," sometimes practically running onto the field to shout an audible, or greeting them on the sideline after a bad play, his hands folded under his armpits, a lecture about to begin.
He was king in Gainesville, the theory went. So why would he go to the NFL, where he would be just another coach, on his way to getting fired someday?
"That's the challenge," he said a few years ago. "If I ever went to the NFL, I'd do it to try to see if you could do things a little different there."
Love him or hate him, it's hard not to agree: If anybody can pull it off, Spurrier's the man.
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