Bill Arnsparger Left A Stamp on SEC Football


Bill Arnsparger died Friday at the age of 88. A 44-year coaching veteran, Arnsparger was obviously well-traveled in his career. Depending on the news outlet you’re reading, Arnsparger was noteworthy for coordinating the Miami Dolphins defense, helping the Chargers to the Super Bowl in the same job there in the 1994 season, serving as head coach of the New York Giants or assisting Woody Hayes at Ohio State.

Bill Arnsparger may not be associated with any one football program or organization ahead of another, but perhaps his longest lasting legacy will be as the administrator who brought Steve Spurrier back to the SEC.

After a three-year stint at LSU head coach from 1984 through 1986, in which he 26-8-2, Arnsparger was Florida’s athletic director until joining the Chargers staff in 1992. His tenure had plenty of pockmarks on it, perhaps best described in the Orlando Sentinel recap of the Gators’ 1989 Freedom Bowl loss to Washington:

The Gators’ 34-7 Freedom Bowl loss to Washington concludes a season during which they lost their coach and their starting quarterback but gained a reputation as an outlaw program.

Indeed, Florida athletics, namely football and basketball, were mired in scandal and mediocrity in the late 1980s. Both were put on NCAA probation, forcing Arnsparger to clean house. His steps to restore the football program would reshape not only the Florida Gators, but the entire complexion of the Southeastern Conference for decades to come.

From the same Sentinel story:

Corrective measures are already in place, beginning with the expected naming of Steve Spurrier as coach today. A press conference has been called for 2 p.m. in Gainesville. Duke, where Spurrier coached the past three years, has named Barry Wilson as his replacement.

Yes, Bill Arnsparger brought back to Gainesville, and Florida became a national power in short order. Arnsparger was not necessarily a visionary, nor would he have had to have been a salesman in the vein of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross to pitch Spurrier his alma mater after a solid run at Duke. However, given the mess Florida was in after the 1989 season, taking on such a job was a serious undertaking.

And yet, Spurrier never won fewer than nine games throughout his tenure at Florida. His only season without a bowl appearance was his first, when the NCAA announced a bowl ban during the Gators’ first season with Spurrier at the helm.

Spurrier’s wildly successful tenure at Florida made him an obvious choice for South Carolina when it hired him to build an SEC winner in 2005. Spurrier arrived in Columbia under similar circumstances, with the Gamecocks facing three years of probation from the abortive Lou Holtz era. South Carolina quickly went from perennial SEC punching bag to a viable contender and winner of 11 games for three straight seasons.

Bill Arnsparger also made a savvy hire to restore the Gators basketball program, snatching up Kansas State’s Lon Kruger in 1990. Florida basketball was in severe disarray, stemming largely from Vernon Maxwell’s allegations of rampant violations in 1989.

By 1994, Kruger led Florida to the Final Four. He enters the 2015-’16 basketball season at Oklahoma with a viable national championship contender.

Indeed, one need dig deep to find Bill Arnsparger’s impact lasting into the present. But it is rather remarkable to see all the big names to which he was connected from the past.

As mentioned, Arnsparger was an assistant to Woody Hayes at Ohio State, but Arnsparger also assisted the iconic Buckeye head coach at Miami U. He’s a product of the Cradle of Coaches.

He’s also a product of Don Shula’s coaching tree, spending time with Shula both in Baltimore and Miami (Dolphins, not U.). Other branches from the Shula tree include Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenheimer — whose son, Brian, is now offensive coordinator at Florida and South Carolina rival, Georgia — and Tommy Hudspeth, who also died this summer.