FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- 30 Game Report Card: On par with Spurrier, coming up short of Meyer
- WCC: Georgia injury update
- Mullen reprimanded, fined for halftime incident
- Florida Football 3-2-1: Campbell’s return made an impact
- Recruit Reaction: I loved it, especially Coach Mullen
- These Gators won’t back down
As Steve Spurrier’s first quarterback at Florida, Shane Matthews helped launch the golden era of Gators football. In three seasons as the starter, he threw for 9,827 yards (at the time a school record) and 74 touchdowns. He was named First Team All-SEC all three years and finished fifth in the voting for the 1991 Heisman Trophy. Under his leadership, the Gators finished with the best record in the SEC in 1990 (but were ineligible to win the conference title) and won the first official SEC Championship in school history in 1991.
Matthews played a pivotal role in changing UF’s fortunes against Georgia. Prior to Matthews taking control of the starting job, the Gators had lost 15 of the previous 19 matchups in the series. Since 1990, Florida is 20-9. His 28 completions in the 1992 game are the third most by a Gator, and he owns two of the top-5 passing yardage performances by a Gator in the rivalry’s history.
Despite his immense success, he went undrafted but still managed to carve out a 14-year NFL career. Since retiring, he has coached high school football and hosted several radio shows and podcasts in the Gainesville area.
Matthews took some time to discuss his career, what he thinks the keys to victory are for the Gators this week, his thoughts on the state of the program, and more.
Take us back to your recruiting process. How did a kid from Mississippi end up in Gainesville, Florida?
“That’s a great question. Well, I took my visits to Florida, Florida State, LSU, and Texas A&M. I grew up an Ole Miss fan. My dad played at Ole Miss. My mom was a cheerleader there. But I decided I didn’t want to go there and basically narrowed my choices down to Florida and LSU and for some reason chose to be a Gator. Not really sure why.”
How tough was it to have a coaching change after two years? Were you upset, or did you kind of approach it as a fresh start?
“I was here two years under Galen Hall, didn’t play a snap, was wanting to transfer and probably would have if they had the transfer portal back then, but my parents didn’t want me to transfer. Then they hired some guy named Steve Spurrier that I’d never heard of, and things worked out when he became the head coach.”
What was your initial reaction when Spurrier came to Florida, and when did you realize you had a chance to be successful under him?
“He said in the first meeting he didn’t care who you were or what you had done, how many games you had started. Everyone would be given an equal opportunity in the spring, and I was buried fifth, sixth on the depth chart and the first couple weeks of spring practice didn’t really do much but go down to the tight ends and jump throw with John Reaves, who was the tight ends coach. They kind of put me in a couple of scrimmages and played pretty well, and then we had to play the spring game in Jacksonville at that time, and they actually had a real legitimate spring game. John Reaves was the head coach of the Orange team, and Jim Collins was the head coach of the Blue team. They had an actual draft, and John Reaves got first overall pick and chose me. I played well in the spring game and kind of the rest was history.”
What do you remember about your first game as the starter and putting up 50 points on Oklahoma State?
“I remember that leading up to that game, the weeks prior to that game, Coach Spurrier was catching a lot of heat from media people and boosters around the state [for] naming me the starter, a guy who had never taken a snap. I don’t think the game could’ve gone any better. I completed about a 35-yarder the first play of the game to Ernie Mills, and then, four plays later, we scored the first touchdown. It wasn’t like we were playing some patsy. Oklahoma State was a good, solid program. Two years prior to that, [they] had Barry Sanders, the Heisman Trophy winner. We put in on them pretty good, and it kind of laid the foundation for years to come.”
Beating Alabama on the road the following week, how significant was that for the program?
“It was probably the most important win in Florida football history, and Coach Spurrier would tell you the same thing. I agree 100 percent with him. It’s not the national championships or any of that. Florida could never win SEC road games prior to that, and to play a team with all that tradition, all the championships that they had won, and we didn’t play really well, but we found a way to win it. I think that put us on the map and laid the foundation for the future.”
What do you think made Spurrier such a good quarterbacks coach?
“Well, he played the position, first of all. I think it’s very important because he played the position, but he’s just very innovative. He changed the entire way college football was played in the ’90s. His creativity, he’s not scared to call plays. He trusts his players. He trusts his quarterbacks, and it all goes down to just the way he coaches his guys. But the biggest thing is he played the position, so he understood what could be asked of the player and what could not. I thought that was very, very important.”
What was it like playing for a head coach who also served as your quarterback's coach and offensive coordinator?
“It didn’t matter if he was the head coach or just an assistant coach. He was a coach that demanded perfection, understood it wouldn’t happen, but he pushed you, he yelled at you, but he also understood you’re going to make mistakes. I enjoyed it. The yelling, the screaming, the visor throwing, none of that bothered me because I had been coached by my dad in high school. When you’re a player, when you make a mistake, you know when you make a mistake. You’ve just got to take the constructive criticism and move forward.”
How much pride do you take in going 3-0 against Georgia as a starter?
“That’s a good feeling. Coach Spurrier told me the other day, and I didn’t realize this, I’m the only quarterback in the history of the school that’s never lost a home game, which I had no idea of that. Only he would come up with those types of stats. But we had a lot of success against Georgia.”
Of the three wins, is there one that stands out to you the most as a favorite?
“My senior year in ’92. We were not a very good football team. They were ranked fourth in the country, loaded with talent, and we found a way to beat them, and we iced the game on a 12-yard quarterback draw. We had to run out the clock like the last four minutes and completed a couple of passes and then [Spurrier] signaled in the quarterback draw that sealed the victory. He’ll tell you that’s his favorite Georgia game as well.”
How much does the Georgia game mean to Spurrier? Did he do anything throughout the week leading up to the game to let you know this game was different or was it business as usual for him?
“It was business as usual, but it meant a lot to him because he didn’t have success against Georgia as a player, and so, that’s why he wanted to beat them so much. Plus, if you want to win the East, you’ve got to beat Georgia. Back then, it was basically you had to beat Tennessee. He made an emphasis that we had to find a way to beat Georgia.”
How important do you think this week’s game is, and what are your expectations?
“It’s extremely important. This is what you’re suiting up for this year is to win this game to get to Atlanta, and it’s a huge, huge game. Georgia’s got a lot of dudes out, a lot of injuries. I think we are the better team right now. The biggest key to me is can we stop them running the football? We’ve been very light on the defensive line. I think Kyree Campbell coming back made a difference last week, although Missouri wasn’t very good. Georgia’s a different animal. They’re extremely large upfront with a lot of good players. Hopefully, we can move the football on them. We’ve had trouble protecting against this crew, and they have some really good defensive backs. So, our guys are going to need to make some plays, but I like our chances.”
Which team is more special to you: the 1990 team that finished with the best record in the SEC but was ineligible to win the SEC Championship or the 1991 team that won the first official SEC Championship?
“Very equal. I mean, we were the damn SEC champions both years. So, nothing that anybody on our coaching staff or our players had anything to do with the 1990 team. Either one of them stand out, really. Honestly, the ’92 team started the year at 1-2, and somehow making it to the first-ever SEC Championship Game was an unbelievable coaching job by Spurrier and may have been his best coaching job he had in his 12 years at Florida.”
In what ways do you feel like the teams you played on set the foundation for the national championship in 1996?
“I was Danny [Wuerffel’s] recruiting host on his visit, so I helped bring Danny to the University of Florida. If we don’t perform well in ’90, ’91 and ’92 – when we were on TV, we were scoring a lot of points. It was a fun offense for young kids coming out of high school to see on TV. Those three teams had a lot to do with the ’96 national championship team when it was loaded with talent. But, you know, Coach Spurrier and his staff did a tremendous job recruiting, but the style of play and winning is what got those kids to come to school.”
Do you have a favorite game or play that you made?
“I think one of the biggest plays of my career was in the Alabama ’91 game when we couldn’t block them. We had struggled offensively, and Coach signaled in a deep route from our own 1-yard line. I thought he was crazy as hell when he signaled it in, and I hit Ernie Mills on a deep post that would’ve been a 99-yard touchdown but the turf monster got him on about their 30-yard line. Man, that was a huge play. I think it was against Kentucky in ’91 I caught a touchdown pass, threw a couple of touchdowns, and also ran one. So, that was kind of cool.”
Is there any sort of brotherhood among Spurrier's former quarterbacks? Do all of you keep in touch and share stories?
“Yeah. We’re usually at a bunch of golf charity events together, and I’m probably closer to Danny than any of them because he was a true freshman my senior year, and we’ve stayed very close in contact ever since we left. The guys that played for him, yes, we do have a bond because we know how tough it was to play for him, but it was so enjoyable. I think anybody that played for him will tell you that he was the best coach they ever had.”
Do you have a favorite Spurrier story that you’ve heard?
“His famous line, and I used it when I coached, and I think all players use it at some point in their lifetime is ‘It’s not your fault; it’s my fault for putting you in the game.’ And that’s so true. It just goes to show you a trust factor, and he used that a lot. I don’t know any other coach that’s ever said that statement.”
What was the knock-on you back then that kept you from being drafted?
“My sophomore year, starting, I was 6-3, 170 [pounds]. My junior year I was 6-3, 175. My senior year I was 6-3, 180, and I went to the Combine at 180. I couldn’t gain weight. I didn’t have a strong arm. Didn’t get drafted. I was supposed to be the third quarterback drafted, but I lasted 14 years somehow. The most I ever weighed in the NFL was like 194 pounds. Quarterbacks these days are 250. Heck, they were big back when I played. I was a guy that just wasn’t very big.”
Was it frustrating at all to not have the professional career that you probably wanted?
“Oh no. I would’ve loved to have gotten drafted and all that kind of stuff, but the average career of an NFL player is 2 ½ years. I don’t think people realize that, and I played 14. I beat the system. I stayed in the league because of my mind and how I know football and know offenses. I wouldn’t trade a thing.”
Why did you decide to get into coaching?
“I’m a coach’s son. Unfortunately, I wish I wouldn’t have played as long as I did so I could’ve gotten into college coaching, and I was hoping to coach with Coach Spurrier at the collegiate level at some point, but he ended up retiring from the college game. I love Friday nights; I love high school kids. I was fortunate to coach some really good high school quarterback that were all-time leading passers at their school. I love the X’s and O’s part of the game.”
How did you get into the radio and podcasting world?
“I was asked to do a lot of pregame, postgame Gator stuff for the last 10, 12 years, did a little bit of it here and there, and then I do three podcasts a week with Coach Spurrier and then started my own one in January. I have no background in any of it. Just was asked to do it and decided to try it, and it’s worked out so far, so good.”
What’s it been like to have your son, Luke, be a walk-on quarterback at Florida?
“Unfortunately, he didn’t get my height. He was a way better player than I was. He threw for like 6,500 yards, 60-something touchdowns, two-time 6A All-State player, way better than I was, just only 5-10. Had some small offers to go, but when Dan [Mullen] gave him the preferred walk-on, with his GPA, test scores, and all that stuff, it was a no-brainer for him to go to Florida. He loves playing for Brian Johnson and Coach Mullen. Knows he’ll probably never get a snap, but you never know. Maybe one year when he’s a junior or something, he’ll get in a game when it’s a blowout. That was the great thing back when I played. When we blew people out, everybody played, all the walk-ons and it didn’t matter who it was. They got in the game. So hopefully, it’ll get to that point sometime, but he’s in a good situation.”
What are your overall thoughts on the state of the program under Mullen?
“We’re in good hands. He’s done a tremendous job. He’s got the same record Coach Spurrier had in his first 30 games at 24-6. Once we get our football standalone facility built, that will help us in the recruiting aspect, but the program’s in good hands.”
Listen to Pod Up with Matthews each weekday morning from 8-to-9 by clicking HERE