GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The way he resigned says everything about Steve Spurrier. He did it by telephone, sitting in his beach house, a few days after the close of a season in which the issue of his departure was well below the radar.
Midway through the conversation with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, the coach stopped, stunned by the silence on the telephone.
"He asked if I was still there," Foley said. "I think he thought I had fainted."
Foley wasn't the only one who was stunned. All across the country, expressions of surprise poured in. Even though students were still on winter vacation Friday, Gainesville was reeling.
"I just came back from the Orange Bowl," said Gators fan Tim Lowe. "It is a total shock to everybody."
Now, Foley faces his most difficult decision. He must fill a position that was held by a larger-than-life coach. Spurrier transformed Florida football from an insignificant, troubled loser, into a moneymaking winner.
"I'm prejudiced, but I think it's as good as any job out there," Foley said. "Is it THE top job? No. But it's certainly one of the top five."
Foley will head a one-man search committee, although he'll be looking for help from the people he trusts — Spurrier included.
The athletic director struck gold when he took a chance on hiring untested Billy Donovan to coach basketball. But there were no expectations there.
The football job is different. The Gators have won six Southeastern Conference titles and one national championship and have grown accustomed to their 10-win seasons.
"Once you set the standards so high, if you don't reach that level, it seems like you're going backward," Spurrier said in a special edition of The Gainesville Sun. "We've hung around near the top."
Among those thought to be on the top of Foley's list — a list he won't comment on — are Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma.
Shanahan didn't want to talk about the job, but neither did he deny interest. Stoops, the former Gators defensive coordinator, wasn't immediately available for comment, but his brother, Mike, told The Daily Oklahoman, "It will be a tough decision for him."
Where will Spurrier go?
By quitting without a job in place, he was essentially putting himself on the open market — the ultimate NFL free agent. San Diego seems like his kind of place: warm weather, lots of golf courses, a general manager already in place, so he could worry about coaching football, not negotiating contracts.
There's also an opening in Minnesota — that seems unlikely, too cold — and nobody will rule out Jacksonville or Tampa Bay, where Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy have both been under fire this year.
If he goes to the NFL, it will be a loss for college football. Spurrier went out of his way to avoid the political correctness that overwhelms so many buttoned-down coaches in this corporate football era.
He's never afraid to speak out when his team is being wronged or about the lack of a playoff system, something he feels is absurdly unfair.
Even Spurrier's biggest rivals sounded like fans once the news broke.
"Although I don't always agree with what he says, I am in agreement with many of his philosophies, especially some related to discipline," said Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley, the former Bulldogs' coach.
Who figured Florida State coach Bobby Bowden would outlast him on the sideline?
"I've studied his offense a lot and picked up a few things from it," Bowden said. "It's not that is so complicated, but he is brilliant with the passing game. It's the timing, execution and rhythm of his offense that is so good."
In the hours after Spurrier's stunner, junior cornerback Lito Sheppard said he was leaving Florida for the NFL. The other underclassmen who were pondering that move — Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell and Mike Pearson — have one less reason to stay.
Quarterback Brock Berlin was set to make his transfer to Miami official Friday, but television station KTBS of Shreveport, La., said he had delayed any announcement.
It would barely have caused a ripple in Gainesville on this day.