Former Florida Gators football coach and athletic director Ray Graves died Friday in Tampa, Florida, at the age of 96.
In 10 seasons as the Gators’ head coach from 1960-69, Graves won nearly 70 percent of his games, led Florida to its first appearances in the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl, and signed a quarterback named Steve Spurrier, who would become the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966.
“A tremendous influence on my life,” Spurrier said Friday of Graves. “After my mother and dad, Coach Graves had the biggest influence on my life. I am so thankful for him. I had a chance yesterday to tell him I love him and I sincerely thank him for the influence he had on me.”
Graves compiled a 70-31-4 (.686) record, coached the Gators to five bowl games and into the final top 20 rankings four times. He stepped down after the 1969 season to make room for former Florida quarterback Doug Dickey to become head coach while Graves served as athletic director. Graves held the AD position for 19 years before retiring in 1979.
“You can’t put into words what he has meant to the Gator Nation and the countless lives he has touched from his players, coaches, friends and family,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. “Like many others I was fortunate to have a personal relationship with him and will be forever grateful for our time together.”
Graves was a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and attended Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tennessee. After one season, Graves transferred to Tennessee and played two years as a center for coaching legend Robert Neyland. He was team captain in 1941.
Graves is a member of the UF Athletics Hall of Fame and in 1990 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.