Former Florida Gators head coach Ray Graves passed away Thursday evening at the age of 96, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Graves, Florida’s first prominent head football coach who earned the nickname “Bull Gator,” led the Gators from 1960-69, going 70-31-4 (38-19-3 SEC) with a 4-1 record in bowl games and four top-20 national finishes.
A Knoxville, Tennessee, native who played for the Tennessee Volunteers under head coach Robert Neyland, Graves attempted to join the U.S. Navy during World War II but was not accepted into service due to being deaf in one ear.
As such, he played in 28 NFL games over three seasons including being a member of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Steagles in 1943 when the Eagles and Steelers were combined for one season due to the war.
Between his NFL stints, Graves coached the offensive line at Tennessee (1944-45), returning to the coaching ranks after his NFL career was over to serve as the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech (1951-59).
At Florida, his first and only head coaching job, Graves led Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier and a future NFL Defensive Player of the Year in defensive end Jack Youngblood. Graves was also the Gators’ coach during the invention of Gatorade in 1965.
“Other than my mom and dad, Coach Graves probably had more influence in my life than anyone,” Spurrier told The Gainesville Sun on Friday. “He was special. We’re all going to miss him.”
Graves would resign as head coach in order for former Florida QB Doug Dickey to take over the team. He remained the Gators’ athletic director until 1979, serving in the role for 19 years. Graves was inducted to the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 1981 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
— Florida Gators (@GatorZoneNews) April 10, 2015