GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Steve Spurrier remembers when he was a first-year coach at Florida, and not every member of the Gator Nation was sold on what he was bringing to town.
That might be one reason he was on the phone with Ron Zook this week, congratulating him for No. 23 Florida's victory over Georgia.
"I told him I was extremely proud of the way they played the other night," Spurrier said. "It was an exciting game for all Gators. There are lots of happy Gators out there."
Since he was hired to replace Spurrier in January, Zook has been through the wringer of public opinion.
Spurrier, who returns to Florida when his Washington Redskins play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, never went through quite what Zook has.
But there was a time, believe it or not, when there were questions about the ex-quarterback's stewardship of the program.
In October 1990, the Gators were coming off a 45-3 loss at Tennessee. One of the big issues facing the team was whether Florida could win an appeal and have NCAA sanctions lifted so it could participate in the postseason.
"We got clobbered and all the writers said we might as well forget about winning the SEC, forget about protesting," Spurrier said. "Everyone writes you off. But it's an 11-12 game season."
As it turned out, the Gators won the rest of their conference games and finished with the best record in the SEC. Although they weren't recognized as champions because of the sanctions, Spurrier still considers that a title team.
This year's Gators (6-3, 4-2) still have a chance at being a fully recognized title team. Victories over Vanderbilt on Saturday and South Carolina next week, combined with a Georgia loss to either Ole Miss or Auburn, would put Florida in the SEC title game.
"We've just got to focus on what we can control, and nothing else," Zook said Tuesday, repeating a theme he has hammered home numerous times since the victory over Georgia.
The SEC title game was a destination that seemed impossible earlier this year, when the Gators lost to Ole Miss and LSU. Now it looks like a realistic goal.
"Our hopes were bleak," offensive lineman Max Starks said. "But we've come out strong the past two games and we have to just finish out these last two games really strong and then just wait until something happens."
Spurrier has remained largely quiet this year on what he thinks about his successor. He said Tuesday that it's still too early to draw conclusions.
"He's lost some games," Spurrier said. "Obviously, they played poorly against Ole Miss and LSU. Miami is a very good team. But who knows? They might just win the championship."
One thing Spurrier knows for sure is that Zook is 3-0 against Florida's traditional rivals, and those games - especially against Georgia - were always the ones Spurrier valued the most.
"He's beaten Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia," Spurrier said, "and that's pretty good."
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