GAINSVILLE, FL- The Florida Gators announced Thursday night they are renaming their stadium after legendary head coach and former Hilltopper Steve Spurrier.
The University of Florida’s Board of Trustees voted Thursday to add Spurrier’s name to Florida Field, where he starred as a player in the 1960s and returned in 1990 to begin a 12-year run as head coach and take the program to startling success. Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be unveiled Sept. 3 when Florida hosts UMass.
“We feel this was an appropriate way to commemorate one the most legendary figures in Gator athletics history,” said Athletics Director Jeremy Foley. “Coach Spurrier did more than win a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and a bunch of games. Coach Spurrier changed the culture of Florida athletics. We were an institution that always had a mantra of wait until next year and wouldn’t it be great to just win one championship.
“Coach changed all of that. The Gators won, won big and won with swagger. As much as he impacted the football program, he changed the vibe in the entire athletic department. He and his wife, Jerri, were big supporters of the entire athletic department – giving advice to different coaches, attending other sporting events and even endowed a scholarship to support women’s athletics.”
Steve Spurrier remains the winningest coach in UF history. (File photo)
Spurrier was aware the University Athletic Association planned to honor him during the 2016 season, but adding his name to the field caught the head ballcoach by surprise.
“I was stunned, really, when Jeremy called,” Spurrier said. “I had no idea that was even being considered.”
Five decades after he first stepped foot on UF’s campus, Spurrier easily recalled his first time on the field.
“My first memory of Florida Field is when we took the freshman team picture in the stadium in 1963,” he said. “I had been in the stadium earlier, watching the spring game before the 1963 season, but my first real memory is sitting in the wooden bleachers getting ready for the team photo.”
As for his first game at Florida Field, well, the 71-year-old Spurrier remembers that, too.
The UF freshman team hosted Georgia and Spurrier completed five of six passes for 221 yards, threw two touchdowns and ran for another in Florida’s 45-12 victory against the Bulldogs on Nov. 16, 1963, just six days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Georgia proved to be Florida’s longtime nemesis prior to his return as head coach, but Spurrier and the “Baby Gators” as the freshman team was known in those days, took care of business in his home debut.
“They were keeping score that day so that counts,” he said.
The Florida icon stepped down as South Carolina’s head coach last season to conclude one of the great college football lives the game has known.
Spurrier was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986 as a player and is on the 2017 ballot as a coach. Spurrier has enjoyed many great moments at ‘The Swamp,’ which he nicknamed Florida’s home stadium in 1992.
The most famous happened Oct. 29, 1966.
The Gators were tied with Auburn 27-27 with just over two minutes remaining. Florida’s unblemished record and first place in the Southeastern Conference were at stake. The Gators faced fourth-and-14 from Auburn’s 24-yard line.
UF kicker Wayne Barfield was spot on at close range, but a 40-yard field goal was slightly out of his range.
Spurrier looked at Coach Ray Graves and said, “I’ll kick it.”
“He just had that look in his eye,” the late Graves told The Tampa Tribune in 1991. And whenever he thought he could do something, nine out of 10 times he got it done.”
Spurrier delivered the game-winner and clinched the Heisman Trophy the same day, a seminal moment in the history of Florida football. A few weeks later in New York at the Heisman Trophy presentation, Spurrier accepted the award at the podium along with late UF President J. Wayne Reitz.
Spurrier handed Reitz the trophy.
“This award is for my teammates, the students and the fans of the University of Florida,” he said.
Fifty years later it’s Spurrier on the receiving end.
“To have him come back as kind of the savior and head coach, the changes he immediately made by ripping up the turf and putting the grass down, and that opening game against Oklahoma State game where they all of a sudden started throwing the ball all around the yard, we knew we were in for something special as Gator fans,” former UF receiver Chris Doering said. “This was a guy who gave his heart and soul for this university.”
Another of Spurrier’s former players, UF linebacker James Bates, considers Spurrier the No. 1 Gator in the history of the program for the way he changed the culture and his overall impact on the university’s stature.
“I really feel like he is the swagger pioneer,” Bates said. “He was just so confident, but cool about it, and knew he was going to win. And so it was just infectious. It was infectious with his other coaches, it was infectious with our football teams. You knew you were probably going to win if you had Coach Steve Spurrier on your sideline.
“I feel like Steve Spurrier is Florida Gator football. He has meant so much to it in so many different ways. No matter what lens you are looking at this program through, it all has so much to do with Steve Spurrier.”
Spurrier was a first-team All-American in 1965 and ’66. Once his playing career ended, Spurrier began his coaching career in 1978 at UF as an assistant under Doug Dickey. He later coached in the USFL and at Duke prior to his return to Florida in 1990.
Spurrier led the Gators to their first national championship in 1996 and posted a 122-27-1 record, including a 63-5 record on the field that now bears his name.
In a statement to FloridaGators.com, Spurrier expressed his gratitude for the honor:
“I am humbled, honored, thankful and very appreciative that my alma mater, the University of Florida, believes that I am worthy and deserving to have my name placed on Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as ‘The Swamp.’ I was blessed and fortunate to be recruited and then to play for the original ‘Bull Gator’ – Coach Ray Graves in the mid-60s. I was fortunate to play with outstanding and talented teammates that allowed our teams to have winning seasons and play in major bowl games and build lasting friendships for a lifetime. A very special thanks to Coach Doug Dickey, who hired me as an assistant coach in 1978, and allowing me to enter the coaching profession. I will always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me. As the head coach in 1990, I inherited a team that was loaded with outstanding players, who were poised and ready to start winning SEC Championships. We have had many truly great All-American, All-SEC and solid wonderful team-oriented players at Florida and I can’t mention them all. I must say that Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel were not only two of the greatest quarterbacks in school history, but they were outstanding, excellent, courageous leaders who guided their teams to six SEC championships and one national championship in 1996. The Swamp is a special place. We coaches and players thoroughly enjoyed playing in front of our fans. We won a bunch of them there and only lost five and they were close ones. I also met my wife, Jerri Starr, at the University of Florida, she has been a tremendous influence on everything I’ve done since. Again, I say thanks to all of those who made this honor possible and I consider this to be the biggest, most special honor I have ever received.”
Courtesy: University of Florida Athletics