Although he had made a choice to get on with life and
leave the past behind, Dean's well documented feud
with Coach Steve Spurrier was at the heart of the
problem. The wounds may have healed but the scars were
there and there was just no sense in rehashing things
that couldn't be changed.
When Ron Zook succeeded Spurrier as Florida's coach
three years ago, the door might have opened up for
Dean's return. Zook's problems with Spurrier during
his days as a Florida assistant --- the same time that
Dean was having his own difficulties with the Old Ball
Coach --- were of similar magnitude. The coach and the
quarterback shared a common antagonist and that drew
them close to each other.
But not close enough that Dean would be welcomed back
into the Florida fold. Zook was fighting for his
coaching life from the day he took the Gator job and
there was just no time to bring back old players. So
an opportunity was missed.
Enter Urban Meyer.
Exit pariah status for Terry Dean.
"I think my story is a little bit different than most
of the guys who played at Florida, because I felt like
the black sheep of Florida football for a long time,"
said Dean Monday night at the Southwest Florida Gator
Gathering at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. "I've not been
involved in Florida football for ten plus years but
Coach Meyer came here and things changed. I met him a
couple of months ago and he has done so much to
recruit the former players to bring them back."
Meyer's invitation to former Gators to return home to
their Florida football roots is well documented. At
every one of the nine stops along this first Meyer
tour of Gator clubs, one by one, former players have
talked emotionally about how they have been made to
feel part of the family for the first time in a long,
For Dean, it started like it did for all the old
Gators. He got the letter from Meyer inviting him to
return to Gainesville to be an active part of Gator
Nation once again. He thought about it and then
decided to take Meyer up on the invitation to return.
"The first time I met him (Meyer) they were watching
film and he stopped what he was doing to spend more
than 15 minutes with me," Dean recalled. "He acted
like he would spend all the time in the world with
From that first meeting with Meyer, Terry Dean has
felt the orange and blue blood flowing in his veins
once again. He's sent a letter to Athletic Director
Jeremy Foley to inquire about getting involved with
the board of Gator Boosters. He's been to the Orange
and Blue game.
He's also done plenty of research about Florida's New
Ball Coach. He's become an avid reader of all the
stories and reports coming out of Gainesville. He's
feeling like a Gator once again.
"For me it's been a cathartic experience to get back
involved and I'm excited about it," said Dean. "I'm
excited about him (Meyer) and I'm excited about the
Gators. It's a shame what happened in the past. I
spent a lot of sweat and tears into my experience at
Florida but all that's past and now I am excited about
the Gators again."
For years there has been a lot of speculation that
Dean was harboring bitterness toward Spurrier. In
Dean's senior year in 1994, he went from Heisman
Trophy candidate one week to sitting the bench the
entire second half of the Auburn game at The Swamp the
next. After that benching, he never played another
significant down for the Gators, his place in the
lineup taken permanently by Danny Wuerffel, who would
win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Gators to the 1996
While Wuerffel's star ascended, Dean graduated from UF
and tried his hand at the Canadian Football League,
the World League (now NFL-Europe) and Arena Football
League. He never again recaptured the magic that he
showed that game against New Mexico State in 1994 when
he threw seven touchdown passes, still a Florida
single game record.
"It (pro football career) got to a point that my wife
and I looked at each other and said, that's enough,"
said Dean, now a partner in a wealth management
company in Naples. "If I have regrets then it's that I
waited so long to get into what I'm doing now. It's
hard to imagine a better job than I have now."
Dean was the Most Valuable Player in the 1993 SEC
championship game against Alabama and also in the
Sugar Bowl victory over West Virginia that same
season. In 1994, he had that game against New Mexico
State that always stands out as a highlight as well as
a masterful performance in a 31-0 thrashing of
Tennessee in Knoxville.
Those are all good memories, but they pale in
comparison to the Alabama game in 1993.
"My biggest highlight because I grew up in the state
of Alabama was beating Alabama in the SEC championship
game in 1993," he said. "Frankly, everything kind of
pales from there."
The 1994 season was supposed to be his. The
expectations of Gator Nation were on his shoulders and
for the first few games he didn't disappoint, but he
struggled against LSU, throwing four interceptions in
a Florida win, and he came out flat against Auburn, a
game the Gators would lose in the final seconds. When
he was benched he became Florida's forgotten man.
"My overall relationship with Steve deteriorated to
the point that it just was no longer enjoyable," he
said. "When I look back on my playing days I look back
on the good times and I don't even think anymore about
the bad times.
"My career certainly did not end the way I would have
liked it to but looking back, I have zero regrets. I
got a great education, I met my wife there, and I'm
doing what I want to do for a living so it turned out
very good. It's hard to complain when so much has
turned out so well."
Dean and his wife have four children, boys age 5 and 7
and girls age 2.5 and 1.
As long as Spurrier was the coach at Florida, there
was little chance for reconciliation. While a superb
coach who brought the Gators to their greatest 12-year
run of success in school history, Spurrier has been
known to struggle with some personal relationships
among his players. There was no such problem with Ron
Zook, whom Dean liked during his Gator playing days
and still likes, both as a coach and a friend.
However, Zook's situation was not conducive to
reconciliations of former players who might have been
jilted during their Gator experience.
"Ron was there when I was there and he had his
troubles with Steve, too, so we kind of developed a
bond that no one else but guys who went through it
like us would understand," he said. "I like Ron. I
like him a lot. He was thrown into an incredibly
difficult situation and I think he handled it
incredibly well considering the circumstances.
"He was following up Spurrier which almost made it a
no win situation. He had a lot of things to overcome
from day one. He did some things very well, but then
there were the bowl games. If I'm disappointed in one
thing, it is the bowl games when we had a month to get
ready and still we came out unprepared. That's a
reflection on the coaching. I wanted Ron to succeed
and I think he will at Illinois even though it's going
to be a real challenge for him but the time was right
to make the change. I think it had to be done and I
think Urban Meyer is the right guy."
Meeting Meyer the first time, he instantly sensed a
presence with the New Ball Coach. He immediately felt
that Meyer was a man capable of handling any situation
and the kind of leader that players would follow.
"He just has a presence about him," said Dean. "You
know just standing there and talking to him that
you're with a very strong leader. He realizes that
there are very high expectations at Florida but if
there's one guy out there who can handle the
expectations, I think it's him."
During the Zook era, he felt the Former Ball Coach
didn't establish enough of an authority presence with
his players. That's a problem he doesn't see with the
New Ball Coach. Dean said, "One of my favorite stories
that I've heard about Coach Meyer so far is during one
of his first meetings with the team, he told them,
'I'm the head coach, you're the players. I'm not your
buddy but I've got your back.' That's the way it has
to be. The head coach can't be your buddy but he has
to have your back. Just hearing that, that's the kind
of guy that you want to get behind."
And so Terry Dean becomes the latest ex-Gator who has
felt the healing touch of a welcome home letter. Now
he is learning to be a part of Gator Nation once
again, this time as Terry Dean, ex-player, not the guy
who had the big rift with the Old Ball Coach. The bad
memories, which he has pretty much kept stuffed in the
corner for years, have been fully released. He's been
made a whole Gator once again and he's fully behind
the New Ball Coach.
"There are too many positive things to think about to
dwell on what went wrong," he said. "I'm happy about
the future for the Gators. I think we've got the right
guy with Coach Meyer."