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Stoops watch still on at Florida

Posted: Monday, January 07, 2002

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the recruiting season about to resume, Florida moved closer Sunday to an important deadline to hire a new coach, and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma was still the leading candidate.

Citing sources, The Gainesville Sun and Orlando Sentinel reported athletic director Jeremy Foley offered the Oklahoma coach the job and a raise of between $400,000 and $1 million from the $2 million a year he makes with the Sooners.

A source close to the football program, however, told The Associated Press on Sunday that no offer had been made. A day earlier, the same source told AP that Stoops was the top candidate.

Also Sunday, Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, a good friend of Foley's and long considered one of his favorite coaches, said he'd be willing to talk about the opening, although he said he has not been contacted.

''We always teased each other that if the job were open, he'd talk to me,'' Shanahan said. ''Obviously, he's a friend of mine and I would talk to him about it. I'm very happy here. I've got a contract and I intend on keeping that contract, but that doesn't mean I won't sit down and talk with Jeremy.''

Shanahan's contract pays about $4 million a year and he would almost certainly take a pay cut. He has a new house in Denver, and his reputation is still strong, even though the Broncos have had three straight disappointing seasons on the heels of two straight Super Bowl titles.

Asked about the search Sunday, Foley refused comment. He is essentially a one-man search committee in charge of replacing Steve Spurrier, the man who took Florida from decades of mediocrity to one of the top, and most entertaining, programs in the country over his 12 seasons.

There is something of a deadline to meet. The dead period for recruiting ends Saturday. Foley would like to have somebody in place by then.

''To all the recruits out there that are considering the University of Florida, I ask that you have faith in us that we'll find a quality football coach that will take this on and build upon what Coach Spurrier has already built,'' Foley said Friday at his news conference.

Still, in the past, when asked about the coaching search he'd have to conduct someday, Foley always said that he would rather take too long and risk losing a few players than to hire the wrong person.

Clearly, Stoops would be the right guy for this program. He was defensive coordinator here for three seasons and ran Spurrier's defense during the 1996 national-title year. He's also a commanding sideline presence -- something any replacement of Spurrier's has to have if he's going to succeed.

Stoops also has support of a coaching staff that is uncertain of its own future.

''Getting Bobby would be an easy transition,'' said offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens, who would likely keep his job if Stoops came. ''Whoever gets the job has total control over who they hire. We'll have to wait and see. I hope it's Bobby.''

The Florida job is one of the very few that could lure Shanahan away from Denver. He was offensive coordinator there from 1980-83, when Charley Pell coached the Gators. At the time, Foley was working his way up the ladder in the athletic department, and the two became good friends.

''We're very close to a number of people there in the university,'' Shanahan said. ''I've got a lot of respect for Jeremy. That's the only reason that I would really sit down and talk to him. That does not mean I'm headed off to be a Florida Gator.''

Spurrier's wife, Jerri, told The Orlando Sentinel her husband ''had no plans right now. Right now, I'm the only one employed.''

Spurrier, who will seek a job in the NFL, will speak at a news conference Monday, his first public statement since his surprise resignation last Friday.



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