Ross' return an emotional homecoming
Published: Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 4:12 a.m.
It was pure coincidence that Steve Spurrier and Carol Ross both left Florida after 12 years of coaching.
But the two friends once talked about how long a coach should remain in one place. In January 2002, Spurrier delivered his shocking resignation to Florida, saying 12 years was enough. Two months later, Ross stunned Florida by resigning as the Gators' winningest women's basketball coach, saying she had done enough at Florida.
"We did talk about it, actually," Ross said. "We never got together and said, 'Let's bolt.' But we did talk about the nature of athletics and the nature of our personalities and our intensities. If you do your job and you do it right, you really can't do it past 12 years without taking a break. I thought I was done. But it didn't work out that way because I got a call from my alma mater and I came home."
Ross returns to Gainesville today when she leads Ole Miss into the O'Connell Center against Florida at 3 p.m. It is her first time back. After leaving the Gators, Ross took a year off before returning to Ole Miss. She led the Rebels to a surprising NCAA Tournament berth last year and was named the SEC's co-Coach of the Year.
Ross anticipates a heartfelt return.
"There's no easy way to slice it, it's going to be emotional," she said. "It will be different. As much as we want it to be another stop on the road, it won't be."
But Ross' emotions this weekend run much deeper than coaching against the team she took to nine NCAA Tournaments. She and the Rebels flew to Gainesville early Saturday morning so Ross could attend the memorial service for Mary Myers Elliott. Known as "Mrs. E", Elliott was a longtime friend of Ross and a constant presence in Florida's locker room. She was known for inspiring and motivating the team and was named an honorary coach. She died Jan. 9 at the age of 100.
Elliott had requested that Ross deliver her eulogy. Ross did so at a noon service at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville on Saturday.
"It has been a little difficult," Ross said. "There's so many things running through my mind about Mrs. Elliott and it all ties back to Gainesville and Gator basketball."
Ross refered to Mrs. Elliott as her "right hand," and even invited her to go to Oxford last year and speak to the Rebels.
"When I took this job she was kind of frail a little bit and she needed somewhere to go," Ross said. "I told her, 'I've got a team to coach. You've got to come help me.' ''
So Elliott did - spending four days in Mississippi, speaking to the Rebels and visiting Ross. It's been a difficult time for Ross since her friend's death and she's been coaching with a heavy heart.
Still, she was able to lead Ole Miss to a 66-60 upset win over No. 17 Vanderbilt on Thursday in Oxford, which improved the Rebels to 12-5 and 2-2 in the SEC.
Now she's back in Gainesville where she is saying goodbye to her good friend, greeting several other friends, and facing a Florida team rich with players she either coached or recruited. Understandably, Ross' thoughts have been in other places besides developing a game plan for today.
"As far as X's and O's I'm glad I have great assistants," Ross said. "I know I have two jobs to do and I hope I can do them well. One (was) to speak at the memorial and the other is to coach Ole Miss."
There is still plenty of Carol Ross in this year's Gators team. Eight of the 11 players on the roster where either coached or recruited by her.
"My team is wearing an Ole Miss uniform, but I love a lot of the players wearing the Gator uniform," Ross said. "I have strong feelings for them as people. I always have strong feelings for people I recruited and coached. This is not just another game. You can't pretend that it is."
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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