Twenty-five best Gator coaches a who's who list


Published: Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.

It was a little bit of a jolt, like that first sip of coffee in the morning or the shock of shuffling your feet and touching a metal doorknob on a cold day. It can't be true, but shockingly it is.

This is my 50th year of watching University of Florida sporting events.

Sheesh, I feel old.

That little boy who sat (but mostly stood so I could see) in the stands at Florida Field in 1962 and watched Larry Libertore carve up Auburn's defense had no idea what the next 50 years would be like. Or that the true golden era of Gator sports would come long after he would be an adult.

In my golden anniversary year and because it has been an occasional topic of discussion around the office, I have decided to rank the top 25 coaches in UF sports history. You can have your own criteria and certainly won't agree with all of my choices. But it's my list.

1. Billy Donovan: Part of his No. 1 ranking is based on longevity, part of it on what he has meant to our community. But most of it is based on the fact that Donovan did what nobody thought anyone could do — make Florida one of the best basketball programs in the country. It's more than the two national championships. Next year, Donovan will win his 400th game at UF and has 14 straight 20-win seasons. And Brad Beal will be his 13th NBA player.

2. Steve Spurrier: It's close at the top. Spurrier gets the nod over the No. 3 coach because he did it when the tradition of Florida football was of an underachiever. He changed the league and changed the mindset of Gator fans. The SEC championships (six of them) and the national championship were game-changers, but so was his impeccable record against Georgia.

3. Urban Meyer: Don't let his move to Columbus cloud what he accomplished at Florida. Two national titles should be enough reason to celebrate his six years at UF and that run from 2006-09 was the best in UF football history.

4. Andy Brandi: Florida was a good women's tennis program before Brandi arrived. He made it great. He won three national championships and played for five more. And Brandi's teams won 14 SEC titles. Brandi turned Florida into an elite tennis program.

5. mike “Mouse” Holloway: In 2007, Holloway became the first UF coach to handle both the men's and women's track teams and he has been on a roll of late, winning four national titles in the last three years.

6. Roland Thornqvist: He took on the unenviable job of replacing Brandi, but has equaled the former tennis coach with three national titles. Thornqvist is one of many coaches on this list with a chance to move up.

7. Randy Reese: Not only did he introduce unique and challenging training methods that changed the sport of swimming, Reese was a winner. How about a 218-28 dual meet record for his men and women? And four national championships?

8. Mary Wise: While the national title has eluded Wise, her string of consistency is unmatched in SEC volleyball. Wise has won 19 SEC titles and been to seven Final Fours.

9. Buddy Alexander: Alexander has won two national titles and eight SEC crowns while producing a long list of players who have won a ton of money on the PGA Tour.

10. Mimi Ryan: The originator of Florida women's golf retired in 1994 with back-to-back national titles in 1985 and '86 as well as six SEC championships and set a standard at UF that has yet to be matched.

11. Becky Burleigh: Burleigh's national title in 1998 may have been one of the most stunning ever at UF, and she continues to have her teams playing at a high level. The four-time SEC soccer coach of the year is fourth among active NCAA coaches in wins.

12. Gregg Troy: Since Troy took over the men's swimming program, the Gators have finished in the top 10 every year and his women won the national title in 2010.

13. Kevin O'Sullivan: O'Sullivan has done something nobody before him could do — go to three straight College World Series.

14. Rhonda Faehn: Faehn has won three SEC titles and has led Florida gymnastics to six top-five finishes. The national title is coming.

15. Tim Walton: Who would have thought softball would be such a big deal at Florida? Walton made it happen with four straight College World Series appearances and two finals.

16. Buster Bishop: He wasn't a golfer when he took over the Gator golf program, but his men's team won Florida's first-ever NCAA title in 1968 and took another home in 1973.

17. Carol Ross: Florida women's basketball had never been to the NCAA Tournament before her arrival. The Gators went to nine during her time at UF.

18. Andy Lopez: Two College World Series appearances in three years and one of my favorites at UF.

19. Ernestine Weaver: Weaver could be considered the mother of Florida gymnastics.

20. Dave Fuller: All he did was win and win and win SEC baseball titles.

21. Charley Pell: Laid the foundation for what Florida football has become.

22. Lon Kruger: His magical run to the Final Four will always have a place in Gator hearts.

23. Ray Graves: The first coach I ever saw on the sidelines made Florida football relevant in the 1960s.

24. Norm Sloan: Despite his shortcomings, it would be an incomplete list without the guy who won Florida's first SEC title and guided Gator basketball to its first NCAA Tournament.

25. Mandy O'Leary: Watch how fast she rises on this list in the future. Women's lacrosse has become a major player quickly.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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