When college football fans think about Florida Gators football in the 1990s, three names in particular come to mind: head coach Steve Spurrier and quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. A three-time first-team All-SEC selection (1990-92) who finished fifth in the 1991 Heisman Trophy voting as a junior, Matthews set Florida’s career passing yards record, led the SEC in passing for three consecutive years and led the Gators to their first official SEC Championship.
Finishing his college career 9,287 yards and 74 touchdowns, Matthews moved on to the NFL where he played for 14 seasons as mostly a back-up with Chicago, Carolina, Washington, Cincinnati, Buffalo and finally Miami.
Enshrined in the University of Florida’s Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great in 2002, he spoke to us on Tuesday as a precursor to his involvement in the 90’s Gators Celebration benefiting Desire Street Ministries during this all-important weekend in Gainesville, FL (more information below).
Matthews gave us almost 30 minutes of his time; unfortunately, OGGOA experienced some technical difficulties during the interview. Even though 50 percent of the conversation was missed, we were able to recover a portion of it for publication, which you can read below along with some summary answers to our other questions.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You spent 14 years in the NFL, first seeing extensive playing time during your sixth season in 1999 (167-of-275 for 1,645 yards and 10 touchdowns). What did it feel when you were actually given the opportunity to show your stuff?
SHANE MATTHEWS: “The reason I lasted as long as I did in the NFL was because of my mind. I could learn plays in a second, an entire playbook in a day and never have to look at it again. I was only 6’3” 190 lbs. at the most. Didn’t have the arm strength or the size to take a pounding, but when I did get my chance, I had some good games and some good moments, but I also had some bad ones. That just comes with the position. You’re going to play well at times, you’re going to play poorly at times. I enjoyed my 14 years in the NFL. In 14 years, I think I only played in 35 games, so I knew my role on teams – didn’t rock the boat – tried help the other quarterbacks and the coaching staff knew they could count on me.”
AS: With Saturday’s game featuring two of Florida’s greatest coaches, how do you compare and contrast Spurrier and current head coach Urban Meyer?
SM: “Urban and coach Spurrier are a lot alike – extremely strong competitors. However, they run their programs differently. Urban’s a great motivator, kind of runs a tight ship and keeps everybody in line, where coach Spurrier is kind of that laid back southern personality. His practices are more laid back and relaxed by comparison. The biggest thing is, coach Spurrier is an offensive-minded head coach where Urban is a defensive-minded head coach. Both of them have done a tremendous job for the University of Florida.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Shane Matthews…after the break!
AS: We interviewed Danny before the season, and he discussed helping develop John Brantley along with yourself and Kerwin Bell. You’ve seen him plenty both in practices and in games now. What is your opinion of Brantley from a quarterbacking standpoint?
SM: “It’s a tough situation for Johnny because obviously he doesn’t fit into their schemes. It’s a little disappointing having the staff know that he was going to be the guy after Timmy [Tebow] left, that they [didn’t] tweak the system to fit his ability. He is more of a drop-back passer and, as many know, is not ideal for the spread offense that Florida is currently running – not to say anything wrong with it at all. He is as good of a drop back passer as I’ve ever seen. [Brantley is] fundamentally sound, accurate, can anticipate, can read coverages. He’s just in a bad system [for his talents] – and I hate saying that – but it’s the truth. He needs to be in a system with down-the-field combination routes where he can make decisions, anticipate and throw into the area. I commend the kid, he always wanted to be a Gator. He’s not doing anything to rock the boat. He’s got a great attitude doing whatever he has to do to be a team player and win football games.”
AS: A few minutes ago you mentioned that you have already heard plenty of positive things about Brantley’s eventual future in the NFL. What exactly have you heard? Do you think he will be successful at the next level?
SM: “Absolutely. Especially when Tim was here, I knew a lot of scouts that would go out to practice – friends of mine that I know – and they would always rave about Brantley. He’ll be fine. He’ll go to the combines and look great when he’s ready to go to the NFL. I really think he’ll be in the NFL for a long time.”
The following answers are summations of what Matthews told us to our questions. Due to a technical difficulty, we lost these portions of our interview:
AS: Coming out of Mississippi, what made you decide to attend the University of Florida? Was that an easy choice for you?
SM: Matthews said that he was between Florida, Florida State and LSU when his recruiting came to a close. Ultimately he chose to play for the Gators because he wanted to start for a big-time program in the SEC. He is very happy with the decision he made, even if it was not an easy one from the beginning.
AS: We could go over your accomplishments with the Gators for an hour; suffice to say you did a ton for the program both individually and on a team basis. Breaking it all down, what moment on the field really stood out to you the most?
SM: Matthews said his first two seasons with Florida were obviously his winningest, but he was most proud of what the team accomplished his final year (1992). He said he thinks coach Spurrier would say he did the best coaching job of his career that year, brining a less talented team to the SEC Championship (where they fell to Alabama) after they started the season 1-2.
AS: We talked to Danny before the season started about his time at Washington with coach Spurrier. How did he approach you about going there to play for him again and what was that experience like?
SM: Matthews said he was still on Chicago when Spurrier took the Washington job but was allowed out of his contract to reunite with the Ol’ Ball Coach. He thought the reunion was great – seeing some of his former teammates and coaches – and had a good time overall but noted that he certainly butted heads with Spurrier from time-to-time because their personalities are so similar. Matthews added that Spurrier realized quickly that he was meant to coach in college – not the NFL – and he agreed with that assessment in the long run.
AS: Obviously, as you said, a lot of people realize the system at Florida right now is not ideal for someone of Brantley’s ability, but don’t you think – if the offensive line protected better and he had more talented veteran receivers to throw to – that he could succeed even in this system?
SM: Matthews agreed and disagreed with that reasoning. He said that Brantley certainly could benefit from better protection and more talented/experienced pass catchers but that, in the long run, the system is still not best suited for his talents. However, he did concede that he would look much better and possibly retain even more of his starting role if those two things did occur.
AS: We were a little surprised how passionate Danny was about his distaste for Florida State. Who did you consider your biggest rival – FSU, Georgia or Tennessee?
SM: Growing up in Mississippi, Matthews said he never really understood the Florida-Georgia rivalry. Additionally, the Gators beat them all three years he started (blowing them out twice), so it wasn’t as big to him as playing Florida State. “I would lean towards Florida State as the team that I hated the most and wanted to beat,” he told us.
The following questions deal with some of what Matthews is doing now:
AS: In addition to the big game Saturday, you will be in Gainesville this weekend for a 90’s Gators Celebration benefitting Desire Street Ministries. Can you tell us a bit about that and how people can participate?
SM: “Sure. There has not really been anything honoring the Florida teams in the 1990s – and that to me is Florida football. This weekend I’ll be with other Gator greats like Danny, [wide receiver] Chris Doering, [running back] Errict Rhett, and a bunch of other guys to celebrate the era and raise money for Danny’s organization. Fans can attend the event on Friday, join the private tailgate party before the game on Saturday or even purchase sponsorships and receive a ton of great memorabilia.”
AS: Now I know you said you are smart when it comes to plays and playbooks, but what exactly is this website you are working with in regard to Gators trivia?
SM: “SmartestGator.com – It’s a website that you can go on there, and it takes about 30 seconds a day, you answer five questions and compete against former Gator greats and you can win a lot of prizes. You gain some knowledge on the University of Florida. There’s a lot of questions I miss, and you actually learn a lot about the Gators and stuff. It’s a lot of fun. I got a lot of friends that have been playing and it just gives them something to do. You can go on there and play against me, Danny, Doering, Errict Rhett, and we’ll continually add guys each week.”
» OGGOA Interviews: QB Danny Wuerffel | ESPN’s Erin Andrews | DE Alex Brown | QB Tim Tebow | WR Percy Harvin | F/C Al Horford | TE Cornelius Ingram | DE Jermaine Cunningham | S Major Wright | LB Earl Everett | F/C Chris Richard