TAMPA — Former University of Florida football coach Ray Graves, who recruited Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier and oversaw one of the most successful eras in Gators history, has died, according to family friend Leonard Levy.
Graves, a Tampa resident since his retirement as UF athletic director in 1979, was 96.
Graves coached the Gators to a 70-31-1 record from 1960-69, including victories in four of five bowl appearances. The 1969 Gators — the “Super Sophs” — were his best team at 9-1-1 and held the school’s best single-season record until Spurrier’s first SEC championship team in 1991.
Graves’ most notable victory was a 10-6 road upset of Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide in 1963.
“Coach Graves was like a father to us all,” said former Gators quarterback John Reaves, leader of the 1969 team. “With him that season, it was like our own version of Camelot.”
Graves moved to Tampa in 1979 and began working for New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner until his full retirement in 1989.
Before joining the Gators, Graves was defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, where he was credited with designing the “monster defense,” including the modern alignment of the free safety and strong safety.
Graves, who played collegiately at Tennessee and served three NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles during World War II, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame and the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.
Each year since 1970, Graves’ players from the 1960s, calling themselves the “Silver Sixties,” held a reunion that largely turned into a celebration of Graves.
“He’s a great coach and a great man,” said Spurrier, head coach at South Carolina.
Funeral arrangements are pending.