GAINESVILLE - Galen Hall turned 70 this year. It's been more than 20 years since he last walked the sidelines at the University of Florida, where the program endured a rollercoaster ride even wilder than much of the journey provided by departing Urban Meyer (who quit last year, then returned only to resign again this December.)
Meyer will coach his last game as UF's coach on Saturday when the Gators face Penn State, where Hall now serves as an offensive assistant, in the 1 p.m. Outback Bowl.
There was Charley Pell's firing in 1984, and his being replaced by Hall, UF's offensive coordinator at the time. The former Penn State quarterback went on to lead the Gators to an unofficial SEC title taken away because of NCAA violations during the Pell years. Hall put UF's program back together despite NCAA sanctions. Then in 1989, he was asked to leave the program amid another NCAA investigation.
Those allegations were primarily related to Hall paying several of his assistants out of his own pocket, in addition to claims he paid legal expenses related to the child support obligations of one of his players. The new findings resulted in UF going on probation again in 1990, Steve Spurrier's first season as head coach.
Fast forward to Wednesday morning. Hall stood in an interview session in Tampa and declared: "I love the Gators. They were good to me. They have great fans."
Hall has no idea what tomorrow will bring. He's currently in charge of the Penn State offense and has been a member of Joe Paterno's staff since 2004. Along the way, virtually an untouchable for a college job for many years, he had stints with the Orlando Thunder in the World League of American Football (1992), the Arena Football League (1994), the Rhine Fire in NFL Europe (1995-2000), the XFL's Orlando Rage (2001) and the Dallas Cowboys (2002).
In Dallas he was reunited with Emmitt Smith as the running backs coach. Finally Paterno brought him back to Penn State, coming full circle. Paterno, a Penn State assistant at the time, recruited Hall out of high school in the late '50s.
"He was in a little town called Williamsburg, Pa.," Paterno said. "The West Virginia Paper and Coal company was there and the guy who was in charge of it, his father, was head of mineral industries at Penn State and lived two doors away from (then-Nittany Lions head coach) Rip Engle and Rip drove me nuts. He said, 'You've got to go down and see that Hall. Got to see that Hall.'
"Galen shrunk. In the paper he was 6-2, 215. So I went down to see him play. He got hurt the third play so I didn't get to see much of him. I went into the locker room and if he was six-foot, I had grown to seven feet."
Hall started at quarterback for Penn State in 1960 and 1961 before going on to a brief pro football career then into coaching. Paterno was thrilled to be the guy who brought Hall back to the college game in 2004.
"He has a really great football mind, a really good teacher," Paterno said. "Kids really like him. He's really good for the staff because he's had a bunch of ups and downs, he's been through a lot of things. He's been a real asset to our program, he really has. I've been very fond of him. He's a great friend."
Hall led UF to some of its greatest moments, including the unofficial SEC title in 1984.
"(That) was a very exciting time for myself and my family and all the Gator Nation," he said. "I have a lot of fond memories of Florida."
But as high as he was in '84, the lows of '89 branded him forever in Gainesville. Being the guy who was head coach when UF went back on probation was a tough and controversial blow. Some still feel he was a fall guy in a tough situation.
"You're in this profession and there are ups and downs you have to deal with," Hall said. "What happened there was a long time ago and hopefully I've moved on and I'm at Penn State now and very happy. ... Things happen and you have to move on with your life. You cannot sit and be a hermit. You've got to go out and you've got to try to be successful and this is the profession I'm in and you've got to try to make the very best of everything that comes along."
Hall finished 40-18-1 as the Gators' head coach. He was the offensive coordinator for two national titles and Heisman winner Billy Sims at Oklahoma. He was let go by the Sooners after a disappointing 1983 season and joined the Florida staff as the replacement for Mike Shanahan, who had taken an NFL job.
But Pell was fired between the third and fourth games in 1984 and Hall was named interim head coach. The Gators won eight games in a row to finish with the SEC title that would be vacated. Hall was still named the Associated Press Coach of the Year and given the permanent position as UF's head coach.
Hall's 1985 Gators agained finish with the best record (9-1-1) in the SEC, but couldn't win the league title because of probation. He recruited Emmitt Smith but the Gators struggled because of scholarship limitations.
His teams never won more than seven games after that. Then the NCAA visited again in '89 and he was suddenly gone.
"There are a lot of great memories," Hall said. "A lot of sad memories too. But that's the way it goes."
On Saturday, Hall will look across the field and see the program that he brought to great heights, then watched fall to embarrassing depths.
"I really enjoy it," says Hall of being at Penn State. "I think it's something you wake up in the morning and you want to go and you want to get better as a person yourself. You want to get your team better. You want to have them ready to go out and compete against a very good football team. As long as Joe will have me, I will stay around."
Those days in Gainesville will forever leave a brand on Hall's career. But the good things have also been remembered.
"I saw him the other night and we spoke," said Jeremy Foley, who took over as UF athletic director soon after Hall departed and Steve Spurrier was hired. "We revisited old times, we talked about old friends and I think time always takes care of those situations. I don't know how Galen feels about, in terms of the University of Florida, but he did some great things for the University of Florida as well.
"And I think everybody is very, very glad he's at Penn State. It's where he went to school, he's had great success. Galen is a good guy, he's a good person. Obviously there were some difficult times there at the University of Florida. Those things happen. But he's always been a good guy and I know people at the University of Florida all remember him very, very fondly."