Former Florida Gators athletic director Bill Arnsparger, a figure who made one of the most important decisions in school history, passed away Friday in Athens, Alabama, at the age of 88.
Following a storied coaching career, Arnsparger was named Florida’s athletic director in 1986; he was tasked with cleaning up the Gators athletic program following numerous NCAA sanctions for rules violations.
As such, he hired two new coaches for the school’s primary athletic programs, bringing on former Florida Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier in 1990 to coach the football team and Lon Kurger for basketball in 1991. Spurrier, of course, turned the Gators’ football team into perennial winners and national champions in 1996. Kruger led Florida basketball to its first Final Four (1994).
Arnsparger also set the stage for Jeremy Foley, a staff assistant who worked his way up the athletic program, to take over for him as department director. Foley’s hire has led to the greatest run of athletic success in program history, including the hirings of Urban Meyer (football) and Billy Donovan (basketball), who each won two national titles in their respective sports.
“It’s a sad day for Gator Nation,” Foley said in a statement. “Bill Arnsparger helped right the ship during a very difficult time at the University of Florida. He, along with President Bob Bryan, hired Coach Spurrier and he set us on a very good path. Personally, he was a mentor to me and I was fortunate to work alongside him. Our condolences to his wife B.J., his son David, and his daughter Mary Susan, and for those that shared his life with him.”
An accomplished coach who served as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins during their multiple-championship run under head coach Don Shula, Arnsparger was responsible for the famed “No-Name Defense” that led the team to back-to-back titles in 1971-72, including the only undefeated season in NFL history (1972).
His first head coaching opportunity came with the New York Giants, where he was not overly successful over two-plus seasons from 1974-76. Just days after being fired from the Giants, Arnsparger returned to the Dolphins for seven-and-a-half more seasons and was inducted into its Honor Roll in 2012.
“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Arnsparger, who I thought was one of the greatest defensive coaches in football,” Shula said in a statement released by Miami. “He molded two championship units, the ‘No-Names’ and the ‘Killer B’s,’ and was innovative in the way he used personnel. He pioneered situational substitutions with the ’53’ defense that changed the way the game was played on that side of the ball. If there was a Hall of Fame for assistant coaches, he would be one of the very first inductees.”
Arnsparger’s was hired to be LSU’s head coach in 1984 and led the team to two Sugar Bowls in three seasons and the 1986 SEC title. When his tenure as Florida’s athletic director came to an end, he concluded his coaching career as defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers from 1992-94.
Overall, the Miami (Ohio) graduate spent 40 years as a coach (other stops included Ohio State, Kentucky, Tulane, Baltimore Colts) and seven as a college administrator.
RIP Bill Arnsparger. U and BJ were my fam away from home while at @UF, u taught me about loyalty & pride-u'll will always be in my thoughts.
— Dara Torres (@DaraTorres) July 18, 2015