An interview with Jack Hairston

For forty seven seasons, he has chronicled the Florida Gators through good times and bad. His style has never been flashy, but he's known for his accuracy. Some folks call him "Just the Facts Jack" because they always know first and foremost he would give them all the pertinent facts. Now entering his forty eighth year of writing about the team he has grown to love, Jack Hairston is the ultimate source of information, not just about the Gators but about the entire Southeastern Conference.

The former sports editor of the Gainesville Sun and president of the Football Writers Association of America still writes about the Gators and his Hairston's Gator Pipeline is still a much sought after source of information about the Florida Gators.

I had a chance to sit down with Jack over lunch Wednesday. Here are some of his comments about a host of subjects as the countdown to the 2004 season ticks away.

ON RON ZOOK:

I like Ron. He hasn't proven himself 100% yet as a football coach, but I think that is going to come along for him in the next year or two. He's proven that he's one of the most phenomenal recruiters in all of college football. I really like it that the boys on this team really look up to him and love him the way they do. Coming after Steve Spurrier, 8-5 two years in a row doesn't look so good, but I'm pretty sure that in the next couple of years we're going to see much more than just 8-5. There's a real thin line between being a great football coach and just a good one. I think Ron needs to prove that he's a great coach and not just a good one. I think he's got the talent he needs to do that. I think he's going to be able to do it.

ON THE GATORS CHANCES IN 2004:

I think the Gators are going to have a very good season this year. The schedule is set up such a way that it plays well for such a young team. They don't have to play the really tough teams back to back, so that's a real plus. I think Florida can go 9-2 or better. I think they have a real chance to do that. While this is a very young team, there are a lot of veterans. I think he (Zook) played something like 22 or 23 freshmen last year, so there the young guys have been on the field and they should be ready to step up their games. I don't think this team was that far away from being a 10-plus win team last year. They had that loss to FSU in what was the worst officiated game I've ever seen. I tried to job my memory over 60 years of writing about college football and I can't recall a game that poorly officiated. It was disgraceful. There were a couple of other games that a break here or there and Florida wins, too. They weren't that far away. This year, they should get the breaks just because they have a little more experience. Chris Leak is going to be sensational. I think the two running backs, (Ciatrick) Fason and (DeShawn) Wynn are a pair of future NFL backs. There are about six receivers who can play and any two of them could step it up to be among the leaders in reception yards in the SEC. I think we'll see an improved offensive line even though they lost (Shannon) Snell and (Max) Starks to the NFL.. I really like (Mike) Degory. I like the defense with Ray McDonald and Channing Crowder. I think they are going to be truly exceptional. The front seven has a lot of youngsters, but they're all very talented and very fast. Crowder and Earl Everett should be really good and the tandem of McDonald and Marcus Thomas should be among the best tackle duo in the SEC. At defensive end, I don't know who's going to have the great year, but with (Jeremy) Mincey, (Joe) Cohen, (Tranell) Morant, (Steve) Harris and (Jarvis) Moss, there's so much talent and quickness that I have to think this will be one of the strongest positions on the team. Even though the secondary got wiped out I think it is going to be good. Corey Bailey's been back there starting at nickel back for three years and Dee Webb and Reynoldo Hill have enough speed that they should be able to cover just about anyone. The secondary may not be as good as last year's but they may end up with better stats because the pass rush isn't going to let the other people have much time to throw the ball. I think the improved pass rush will make this defense really good. I like the kicking game. (Matt) Leach is very accurate kicking field goals. (Eric) Wilbur averaged 44 yards a punt as a true freshman and he's got a strong leg. I love watching (Matt) Piotrowicz run down under his kickoffs and so often he's the one making the tackle. I think this team has all the ingredients to be really good.

ON PREVIOUS GATOR COACHES:

BOB WOODRUFF: Some people thought he wasn't a smart person but he actually was smart. I just think his brain reacted to things slower than most. If you gave Woodruff the SAT and let him take it home with him and bring it back, he might score like an Alvin Butler but he wasn't very good making instant decisions. Because he had trouble with quick decisions in crucial times in the game, he made a lot of wrong decisions that cost the Gators. But, give him credit. He organized the team well, improved the facilities, and while the Gators only won about 40% of the time before he came here, he got it over 50% and that was an improvement. He turned out to be the first really great athletic director (at Tennessee, his alma mater) in the Southeastern Conference when he left Florida. As a coach, though, he would be lost in today's game where so many snap decisions have to be made.

RAY GRAVES: He came here from Georgia Tech and had the most success the Gators had ever had before. He was a great salesman. He recruited better players, assembled great staffs of excellent assistant coaches and advanced the Gators to their first nine win seasons. He took them a step closer to the Holy Grail. He was a fine coach even though maybe he wasn't as tough and didn't condition as say Bear Bryant (Alabama) or Shug Jordan (Auburn). Certainly, he had the most success of any Gator coach until Spurrier came along and he had a tremendous record for players who graduated and went on to get advanced degrees.

DOUG DICKEY: He was a great coach at the University of Tennessee and had two SEC championships there, but when he got to Florida, he didn't have that same success. I think Dickey had real troubles meshing whites and blacks on his football team. He was at UT at the beginning of integrated college athletics in the SEC but the most black players he had there was three. Within four years here at Florida, he had fifty or sixty black kids and I think he had problems handling the discipline. I think he was always afraid if he was too tough on the black kids, they would leave and if he wasn't tough enough on the white kids, the black kids would think he was too soft. That caused him to become lax in the way he disciplined the entire team and it got away from him at the end. I think that's why he wasn't successful.

CHARLEY PELL: He was like an evangelist. He could charm anyone. He really got the alum donating money like never before. He made even the average Gator fan feel pride and made everyone feel they were part of something great. After his first year of 0-10-1, I think he was afraid he might get fired so he went out and did some things that didn't mesh with NCAA rules. He got caught, was forced to resign and never got to take the team where he might have.

GALEN HALL: He took over a team that Charley Pell developed, but he took them to new levels of success. He inherited a tough situation and probably did one of the best jobs of coaching that anyone could have ever done. His personality and charisma and charisma were less than what a modern head coach needs to have. I think he got a raw deal to be fired for what he got fired for (paying assistant coaches out of his own pocket to supplement their incomes). You could do it as long as it went through the president's office under NCAA rules, but Galen paid it straight to them. I got asked by Pat Dye why Galen got fired, then I told him the reason. I told him that I heard Bobby Lowder paid part of his salary, and Pat said he did, but it went to the president's office and then to him so it was legal. Bob Bryan was the interim president and Bill Arnsparger was the athletic director at Florida back then. I think they were too gungho to prove to everyone what honest people they were by making an example of Galen when Galen didn't deserve to be made an example of. If they wanted to fire him, they should have found a legitimate reason. What they fired Galen for was ridiculous.

GARY DARNELL: He took over when Galen got fired and I think under the circumstances he inherited, he did a very good job. I'm happy to see he's had success as a head coach up at Western Michigan.

STEVE SPURRIER: He had the nerve and the verve to do what no one at Florida had ever done. He thumbed his nose at traditions and did it his way. He would throw it from his one yard line just as easily as he would at midfield. He had such confidence in his offense. He totally changed the face of college football in the SEC and actually the nation. He made everyone adjust to him. He gave Florida its greatest 12 seasons ever. There had been only four nine win seasons in school history before he got here and over 12 seasons he averaged 10 wins a year. He had six SEC championships that counted and one national champion. He was not the perfect coach. Some of his relationships with his players were not what they should have been. With Doug Johnson, I think Spurrier was wrong. The deal for the $400,000 bonus for Doug to play baseball with Tampa Bay was agreed to as long as Doug would always be there for spring and the first practice in August. I think Doug kept his end of the deal but Spurrier always complained that Doug should stay here at Florida throughout the summer. The relationship got strained and it was bad that we had a 50-something coach and a 20-something kid at odds. I think the player was right. But, when you add all the things Spurrier did and measure the things he didn't do well against it, you can't help but admire the overall job he did. It was the most exciting 12 years of college football I had in my sports writing career.

ON BEAR BRYANT:

What a great football coach. He was a true innovator and pioneer on defense and he had the guts to change offenses several times in his career. He went from throwing it all over the place to power running game back to throwing the ball and then to the wishbone. What's amazing is that he won no matter what offense he put out there.

ON BOBBY BOWDEN:

I know a lot of Gator faithful are not fond of Bobby, but I like him. He's not the perfect person in the world, but none of us are. I think he should be remembered as one of football's greatest coaches because he took FSU from a real second level team that was at the bottom to being one of the top teams in the nation and he sustained the success ofver a long time. Not many coaches could have done that.

ON THE FSU STAFF OF THE LATE 1960s:

Bill Peterson put together a staff that might be as talented as there's ever been anywhere. Don James won national championship at Washington. John Coatta went on to be the head coach at Wisconsin. Ken Meyer went on to be the head coach of the San Francisco Forty Niners. Vince Gibson took three losers, Kansas State, Louisville and Tulane to success. Bill Parcells won two Super Bowls with the Giants. Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with the Redskins. Bobby Bowden won two national championships at FSU. Bill Crutchfield was a great assistant coach and Don Breaux had a great career as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Top to bottom there might not be too many staffs ever that had that kind of talent.

ON THE FACILITIES AT FLORIDA:

When I came to Florida in 1957 (sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal), Florida Field seated 34,000 and they didn't sell out all the games even then. They raised it over 40,000 and then to 48,000 in the early 1960s. They started getting crowds of over 50,000 when Steve Spurrier played and won the Heisman Trophy. They've kept on expanding to where the stadium seats 90,000 now and every game is a sellout. All the facilities for sports on campus are first rate now. People who have been around like I have can really appreciate what they have now because we remember what it was like back when.

ON HIS FAVORITE GATOR EVER:

That would have to be Danny Wuerffel. He was a great quarterback and I think he was a great person, too. He was everything you want in a college football player because he was a great student in the classroom, a great player on the field who won all the top honors and took his team to the national championship and he was a great role model for everyone. I've had a lot of favorite players, but I'd have to say Danny tops my list.


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