More Gators honored on SI All-Decade lists

By Adam Silverstein
December 22, 2009

Sports Illustrated completed its All-Decade lists Tuesday covering everything from the top male athletes of the 2000s to the decade’s biggest flops. Florida Gators teams, players and alumni earned their way toward eight more notable distinctions.

Because the honors are many, you must view them all after the jump!

The Gators are ranked No. 15 on SI’s list of the Top 25 Franchises but are behind three other college football programs: USC Trojans (No. 7), Texas Longhorns (No. 9) and Oklahoma Sooners (No. 12). “Credentials: With two titles in a three-season span (2006 and ’08), Florida re-established itself as one of the nation’s premiere college football programs under Urban Meyer,” writes Ryan Hunt. “The Gators won three SEC championships and have finished in the top 10 four times. A Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati would make it five. Drawbacks: The Ron Zook era. Florida went 23-15 during Zook’s disastrous three-season stint in Gainesville. The Gators went 76-15 in the other seven seasons of the decade. A blowout loss to Alabama in the 2009 SEC title game ended Florida’s hopes of becoming the first program to win three BCS titles in a four-season span.”

An equally impressive (if not more so) distinction was awarded to Florida swimmer and 12-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres, who came in No. 19 on the list of the decade’s Top 20 Female Athletes. “This 42-year-old Floridian’s anti-aging secret may lie in the pool, where she continues to defy her age,” Andrew Lawrence writes. “In 2000, she came back from retirement at age 33 and reached the podium five times at the Sydney Games (including twice for gold). Then she retired and came back again — at age 40 and 15 months removed from childbirth — to win gold in the 100-meter freestyle at U.S. Nationals on the way to three silver medals in Beijing.”

Named SI’s best college football coach of the decade last week, head coach Urban Meyer also made his way onto the Top 10 Coaches/Managers of the 2000s list at the No. 9 spot. “His swagger is annoying, especially the TV commercial where he is showing off his championship rings, but that’s the thing: His results are undeniable,” Damon Hack writes. “Despite the mixed-up math of the BCS, Meyer has somehow navigated the craziness to two national titles with identical 13-1 seasons. If that isn’t enough, Meyer was 17-6 over two seasons at Bowling Green from 2001-02 and 22-2 over two seasons at Utah in 2003-04. His ’04 Utah team went 12-0, blowing out teams with Meyer’s spread offense, the same system he installed at Florida. Call it gimmicky, call it whatever you want, the system nets victories.”

Credited for hiring Meyer and head basketball coach Billy Donovan and responsible for a number of other Gators success stories, athletic director Jeremy Foley was pegged as the No. 8 of Top 10 GMs/Executives of the decade. “In 2004, Foley, the Gators’ athletic director since 1992, snatched the nation’s hottest football coach, Urban Meyer, from under the nose of no less than Notre Dame,” writes Dick Friedman. “Two years later, Meyer’s team became the national champion — replicating the achievement the previous March of the Gators’ men’s basketball team run by Billy Donovan (whom Foley had hired back in 1996). It was the first time any school had held both titles simultaneously. For good measure, Donovan’s team repeated in ’07, and Meyer’s squad again was BCS king of the hill when it beat Oklahoma 24-14 in last January’s title game.”

Back-to-back at Nos. 7 and 8 of the decade’s Top 10 Flops are former Gators coaches Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook. “The guy who opened the door to the Ron Zook era at Florida didn’t fare better himself with the Washington Redskins,” Jacob Luft contends. “Spurrier coached two seasons, 2002-03, posting a 12-20 record before quitting in the middle of his record five-year, $25 million contract. For some perspective, consider that during his 12 seasons as head coach of the Gators, Spurrier lost a total of 27 games. In Washington, he gave NFL hopes to many a former Gators legend, including quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, but couldn’t get the college success of his Fun’N’Gun offense to translate to the NFL.”

Though Spurrier was a during his time away from Florida, Zook flopped right in Gainesville. “Succeeding a legend is never easy. Just ask the guy who followed Vince Lombardi at Green Bay (Phil Bengtson) or Bear Bryant at Alabama (Ray Perkins),” Luft continued. “When Spurrier shocked Gator Nation by leaving for the NFL after 2001, Florida hired his former assistant Zook. The Zooker had one great thing going for him: He could recruit. Once the ball is kicked off, however, Zook has problems. Sometimes the wealth of talent he has assembled on the field overcomes the tactical disadvantage of having Zook on the sideline. Sometimes, it doesn’t. At Florida and then Illinois, Zook’s record as a head coach is 44-53 (21-39 with the Illini).”

Rounding out SI’s All-Decade lists, running back Emmitt Smith breaking the NFL’s all-time rushing record landed him one of the 2000s biggest milestones. “‘[Walter Payton] once said that if anybody breaks his record, he hopes it is Emmitt because he would do it with the class and the dignity that the record represents,’ said Eddie Payton, Walter’s brother, at the time that Smith eclipsed Sweetness’ mark of 16,726 yards. Only 5-foot-9, Smith did it with equal parts grit and talent, and on Dallas teams heavy with players who ran afoul of the law, he was a relative choirboy, which Payton would have really appreciated.” — George Dohrmann

Florida basketball’s back-to-back National Championships also earned them a distinction on the same list as Smith’s rushing record. “UCLA won seven men’s championships in a row from 1967 to 1973 and Duke won back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992, but those were different eras. To claim consecutive titles now requires an amazing confluence of factors, which for Gators coach Billy Donovan included a starting five filled with future NBA players (like Al Horford and Joakim Noah) who opted to stay in school and embraced a team-first approach.” — George Dohrmann

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