GatorZone.com Senior Writer
TAMPA, Fla. -- His odyssey has been long, winding and remarkable when you truly examine it. The journey has taken him across the Atlantic and back, making stops in seemingly every professional football outpost known to man.
You may not remember the World League of American Football, but Galen Hall does. He was head coach of the Orlando Thunder in 1992. If you don’t know much about the Charlotte Rage of the old Arena Football League, Hall can tell you all about them. He was their head coach and director of football operations in 1994.
Remember NFL Europe? Yup, Hall was there too, spending six seasons as head coach of the Rhein Fire. His coaching career landed stateside once more in 2001, when he was named the Orlando Rage’s head coach in Vince McMahon’s short-lived XFL.
In 2002, Hall finally found his way to the NFL as running backs coach of the Dallas Cowboys, spending one of the most special days of his career watching former Gator running back Emmitt Smith – a player Hall recruited to UF – break Walter Payton’s all-time NFL rushing record on a late October afternoon at Texas Stadium.
They shared a handshake and a hug, far removed from their days together at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the late-80s when Hall was Florida’s head coach and Smith his go-to guy.
After 15 years away, Hall returned to college football in 2004 when Penn State coach Joe Paterno recruited him for the second time. As a Penn State assistant coach, Paterno recruited Hall to play quarterback for the Nittany Lions in 1959.
Paterno didn’t hesitate to add the well-traveled Hall to his staff to help boost a stagnant offense coming off a 3-9 season in 2003, the worst of Paterno’s Hall of Fame career. Hall quickly added a boost, helping the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten is scoring in 2005 on the way to an 11-1 season.
“Galen has a great football mind,’’ Paterno said. “He’s really good at teaching; the kids really like him. He’s great for the staff because he’s had a lot of ups and downs and he’s been through a lot of things.
“He’s been a real asset to our program.’’
Hall will face the Gators on Saturday for the first time since he was forced out as Florida’s head coach early in the 1989 season for providing improper benefits to his assistant coaches and a player in need of child-support help.
His next-to-last game as Florida’s coach – a 21-0 win over Mississippi State on Sept. 30, 1989 -- was played at Tampa Stadium, which stood where a parking lot now resides outside Raymond James Stadium, site of Saturday’s Outback Bowl.
Some view Hall’s career as coming full circle with an opportunity to coach against the Gators. He downplayed those suggestions Wednesday.
Still, Hall remembers his time on the Gators’ sideline from 1984-89 as some of the best days of his career.
“I loved my time with the Gators,’’ Hall said. “Their fans are great and they were good to me. That was a very exciting time for myself, my family and all of Gator Nation – a lot of very fond memories.’’
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley chatted with Hall at Sunday night’s Outback Bowl Welcome Dinner, revisiting old times and old friends. Foley wasn’t UF’s athletic director at the time of Hall’s departure, but he worked in the athletic department and said it was a difficult period for the football program.
Through the ups and downs, Foley never lost respect for Hall or what he did at Florida and considers the end of Hall’s time at UF as an unfortunate ending for “a good person.’’
“I think time always takes care of those situations,’’ Foley said. “I don’t know how Galen feels about that – in terms of the University of Florida – but he did some great things.
“Galen is a good guy. He’s a good person. There were some difficult times there … but he has always been a good guy and I know people at the University of Florida always remember him very, very fondly.’’
Hall, hired by Charley Pell to replace Mike Shanahan as offensive coordinator, replaced Pell three games into the 1984 season and went 15-0-1 in his first 16 games as head coach. Hall was named AP National Coach of the Year in 1984 when the Gators went 8-0 after he took over for Pell.
If not for NCAA sanctions unrelated to Hall’s tenure, the Gators would have won their first official SEC title that season.
Hall said he doesn’t hold any grudges against Florida after being let go with a 40-18-1 career record.
“You are in this profession and there are ups and downs that you have to deal with,’’ Hall said. “What happened there was a long time ago. Things happen either for the good and bad and you have to move on with your life.
“You cannot sit and be a hermit. You’ve got to go out and you’ve got to try and be successful. I have the greatest respect for the Florida program, the fans, and the players there.’’
According to those around him daily, Hall sounds excited about Saturday’s matchup against the Gators.
“He’s been talking a little bit about being down here,’’ Penn State senior receiver Brent Brackett said. “He’s really been talking highly of the program and getting us ready for a big-time football game.”
Hall is 70 and like Paterno, has mellowed some with age. However, his passion for coaching remains the same. He sounds like his mentor when retirement talk pops up in the conversation.
“I really enjoy [coaching],’’ he said. “This is something that you wake up in the morning and you want to go, you want to get better as a person, you want to get your team better.
“As long as Joe will have me, I’ll stay around.’’