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Gators men's golf coach Buddy Alexander led UF to national titles in 1993 and 2001.

Tuesday April 22, 2014Gators Golf Coach Buddy Alexander to Retire at End of Season, Capping 27-Year Run

Gators men's golf coach Buddy Alexander led UF to national titles in 1993 and 2001.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Buddy Alexander turned down the job – multiple times for those counting – before he took it.

The 61-year-old Alexander was a 30-something former college coach preparing for a climb up the executive ladder in late 1987. After five seasons as head men’s golf coach at LSU, Alexander took a job with IMG [International Management Group] and moved to Cleveland.

THE ALEXANDER FILE

Date of Birth: Feb. 20, 1953

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Fla.

Began at Florida: January of 1988 (27th season)

 

PLAYING EXPERIENCE

Two-time All American at Georgia Southern (1974-75)

1977 Eastern Amateur Champion

1986 U.S. Amateur Champion

1986 World Cup Team

1987 United States Walker Cup Team

 

COACHING EXPERIENCE

Head Coach, Georgia Southern (1977-80)

Head Coach, LSU (1983-87)

Head Coach, Florida (January 1988-Present)

 

COACHING HONORS

1979 NCAA District 3 Co-Coach of the Year

1984 NCAA District 3 Coach of the Year

1986 SEC Co-Coach of the Year

1989 NCAA District 3 South Coach of the Year

1991 SEC Coach of the Year

1992 NCAA District 3 South Coach of the Year

1993 Golfweek National Coach of the Year

1993 GCAA Coach of the Year

1993 SEC Coach of the Year

1994 SEC Coach of the Year

1999 SEC Coach of the Year

1999 District 3 South Coach of the Year

2001 GCAA National Coach of the Year

2001 Inducted into the GCAA Coaches’ Hall of Fame

2001 GCAA District 3 South Coach of the Year

2003 SEC Coach of the Year

2003 GCAA Southeast Region Coach of the Year

2004 GCAA National Coach of the Year

2004 GCAA Southeast Region Coach of the Year

2004 SEC Coach of the Year

2005 United States Palmer Cup Coach

2011 SEC Coach of the Year

Former UF athletics director Bill Arnsparger, who got to know Alexander at LSU during his three seasons as the school’s football coach from 1984-86, kept calling Alexander about potential candidates for the Gators’ men’s golf opening.

“We ate lunch together a lot [at LSU] and were pretty close,’’ Alexander said. “He calls me every week and goes, ‘what about this guy, and what about this guy?’ He ends every conversation with, ‘what about you?’ I go, ‘no, I’m good.”

And then one day, after a trip to sunny Baton Rouge to visit his family over the holidays – they had to sell their home before relocating completely to Cleveland – Alexander sat in his office and looked out the window as a blizzard blew in off Lake Erie.

The phone rang. It was Arnsparger.

“He goes, ‘alright, I’ve got it down to two guys, what about so-and-so?’ ’’ Alexander said. “And I go, ‘hey, what about me?’ ’’

Twenty-seven seasons later, Alexander has decided this will be his final one. He announced his retirement Tuesday morning during a team meeting.

Alexander will coach the Gators at this week’s SEC Tournament and plans to finish the season. After that, he said he plans to enjoy golf from a different vantage point and spend more time with his family, including son Tyson, who is playing professionally.

“I just thought it was a good time to do it,’’ Alexander said. “The competitor in me isn’t crazy about the fact this isn’t one of our better teams and you would like to fix the problem, but for me, it’s just time to go. I still have a heck of a lot of energy, but I probably don’t have the patience and the passion that I might have once had. It just felt like before the tournament was the right time.”

Alexander is Florida’s longest-tenured coach and is second all-time behind former UF baseball coach Dave Fuller, who led the Gators for 28 seasons from 1948-75.

An eight-time SEC Coach of the Year, Alexander led the Gators to two national titles (1993, 2001) and 11 top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships.

“He’s one of the all-time greats,’’ Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley said. “He’s had a heck of a run. There’s no better Gator than Buddy Alexander.”

Alexander grew up in St. Petersburg and played collegiately at Georgia Southern, where he was a two-time All-American and later claimed the U.S. Amateur title in 1986. He began his head coaching career at his alma mater in 1977 and spent four seasons at GSU, where he coached future PGA Tour player Jodie Mudd.

Alexander took over LSU’s program in 1983 and led the Tigers to back-to-back SEC titles in 1986 and ’87. He never regretted taking the Florida job after his short stint at IMG.

“I came to Florida because I thought it gave me a great chance to compete,’’ Alexander said. “You get into coaching initially because you love golf, you love kids and you love to compete. What I was thinking when I came here was that it was an elite college golf program that has been down since [former coach] Buster [Bishop] was around, and I thought it was an opportunity to turn it back around in the other direction.”

Alexander did that and more, building a program that has produced numerous PGA Tour players over the years, including current pros Chris DiMarco, Dudley Hart, Brian Gay, Billy Horschel, Matt Every and Camilo Villegas.

Alexander began to contemplate retirement after last season in discussions with Foley. He met with Florida senior associate athletic director Mike Spiegler, who oversees UF’s golf program, about a month ago to further discuss retirement scenarios.

Alexander’s retirement officially goes into effect June 30.

“This has been a tough year, but in reality, the last three years have not been up to our/my expected standards,’’ Alexander said in a letter he prepared for Gator golf boosters. “Coaching is a young man’s game and it is simply time for me to turn the reins over to someone else and allow this great university, athletic department and golf program to be everything it should be.

“Life and golf are so similar. There are many ups and downs and highs and lows. Today is one of those days that stir all kinds of emotion, it’s sad that my time has come, but I’m happy everything worked out so well. I am in a good place, as will our golf program in the future.”

Foley said the school will begin a national search for the next coach and that Alexander is willing to help any way he can in the transition.

One of Foley’s most memorable moments as UF’s athletics director came in 1993, his first full year on the job.

The Gators were tied with North Carolina and a Georgia Tech team led by future PGA Tour star David Duval entering the final hole.

“Chris Couch ran in about a five- or six-foot putt downhill for a par to win the hole and we win the national championship,’’ Foley said. “I’ll never forget it. It was unbelievable drama. Obviously, the results have been spectacular for the University of Florida. Buddy has done a great job for us and the way he represented us.”

The 2001 national title holds a special place in Alexander’s memory.

The NCAA Tournament was at Duke, where Alexander’s father, Skip, was an All-American and is buried about a mile from the Duke University Golf Club.

The Gators had missed the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and trailed by 17 shots after the first round of the 2001 tournament.

“We had a little pow-wow, and shot the low round of the day the last three days,’’ Alexander said. “We ended up winning by 18.”

The team featured Nick Gilliam and Villegas, both named first-team All-Americans.

“It’s a little more intense at the top. Maybe we worked a little harder,’’ Alexander said of the program’s success. “I think the biggest thing I will take away from this is the kids, the players, and the development of players that have gone on to have successful careers, and selfishly, the championships – that’s one of the reasons you do it.”

*****

For more from Alexander, here is a Q&A:

Q: You nearly won your first national title in your third season and came close in some SEC Tournaments. What was that like?

A: Those SEC losses were brutal. We lost in a playoff in ’90 to Tennessee, and Dudley Hart, arguably my best player – a first-team All-American – didn’t play because he had a broken rib. We went on to lose the NCAA Tournament that year by 2. Dudley actually played in that, but [Phil] Mickelson [of Arizona State] shot a 66 in the last round at Innisbrook. That was one of the best teams that I’ve had. In 2004, the other really great team I had, we lost by a shot in the SEC. And then in 2006, those guys lost by a shot at the SEC and then by three shots at the NCAA. Those were the ones that kind of gnaw at you a little bit in a bittersweet way because you remember them as much as the championships.

Q: Do you have a moment that tops the rest?

A: The NCAA Championships are the ultimate highlights. Eight conference championships are sweet. Your first is always your baby, but in my case, the 2001 one was special with my dad being from there.

Q: Why does now feel the right time to retire?

A: I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I’m proud of what I did at Georgia Southern, I’m proud of what I did at LSU, and I’m proud of what I’ve done here at Florida. In a roundabout and shallow sort of way, you can say coaching was my life. And, I’m proud of all the accomplishments, I’m human. But, that’s not why you get into it. You get into it because you love golf, you love kids and you love to compete.

Q: What are you going to miss?

A: I can still go play golf and maybe I can compete a little bit, but it won’t have the same feel as when you are going into NCAAs or an SEC Championship and you’ve got a legitimate chance to win.

Q: What do have planned first after your final day as coach?

A: I’m going to try and assist Jeremy and Mike in any way I can. I’m just trying to get everything in order for the new guy to hit the ground running. I just finished up the field for the Gator [Invitational] next year, so he doesn’t have to mess with that. We’ll just try and make the transition as smooth as possible. I’ve got a trip planned to go to Ireland and play golf with seven buddies the first week of August. I’m looking forward to having a little more time for my family.

 

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