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Former Gators’ AD and All-American Bill Carr dies at age 78

GAINESVILLE — Florida Hall of Famer Bill Carr, a football All-American, Gators assistant coach and athletic director at the school, has died at age 78.

Carr, who passed away late on Feb. 3, was born in Gainesville the son a Baptist minister but raised in Pensacola. He returned to attend UF, where he would become quarterback Steve Spurrier’s center and a star in his own right, earning All-SEC and All-America honors during Spurrier’s 1966 Heisman season.

“Wonderful guy, wonderful friend, a super Gator,” Spurrier told the Orlando Sentinel.

Spurrier said he visited with Carr during the past month after he’d returned home from rehabilitation for a fall that had previously hospitalized him for several weeks.

“When I visited him, he was somewhat upbeat,” Spurrier recalled. “He always called me Orr; that’s my middle name. And I always called him Willie C.; William Curtis Carr was his name. It seems like we all had a nickname back then.

“But he said if it’s my time to go to heaven, I’m ready. I am prepared. He almost could see it in the future, seemed like.”

A fourth-round pick in 1967 by the New Orleans Saints, Carr served two years in the U.S. Army and enjoyed a three-year coaching stint under Doug Dickey at UF (1972-74) before he segued to administration as assistant to Gators AD Ray Graves.

In 1979, Carr replaced his former coach at age 33 to become the nation’s youngest AD in Division I and served in the position until 1986. At the same time, Jeremy Foley worked in Carr’s department and eventually became AD in 1992 to 2016.

“Bill’s fingerprints are all over the foundation of this program,” Foley said in a statement. “I have a front-row seat to witness his impact and vision. He was one of my first mentors. I was so blessed to be on his staff.”

From 1993-97, Carr held the same position at the University of Houston before he became a consultant on more than 200 projects on more than 100 colleges campuses.

Carr’s son Scott is the AD at FIU, but his father became increasingly disillusioned by the current enterprise of college athletics. During the summer of 2021, Bill Carr spoke with the Orlando Sentinel about the uncertain impact and likely unintended consequences of Name, Image and Likeness legislation.

“The intercollegiate athletic experience is not an enterprise that it is intended to be a financial endeavor,” he said. “That’s not the point of it. It’s antithetical and I disagree with it entirely.”

But Carr also acknowledged he and fellow administrators lacked vision decades ago when media rights began to generate millions of dollars that did not trickle down to athletes. Carr suggested a program providing lifetime health insurance, akin to what military-service people receive, would have been a worthy use of resources and a sign of good faith.

“The NCAA should have studied that,” he said.

Carr was incredulous about the increasing size of football staffs and budgets.

Coach Billy Napier’s 2022 Gators, his first UF team, featured 116 players and 140 staff members in the team photo although many, Napier said, were UF undergraduate volunteers.

“When you talk about increasing the number of people in your staff to over 55 people and you’re spending $5 million more on your support system, it is no longer a battle of skill and effort,” Car told the Sentinel. “It’s a battle of investment. It’s ridiculous to have so many people doing so many things in that football program.”

Carr freely shared his opinions and insights but always supported the Gators.

In 2015 at age 69, he served as the oldest “Honorary Mr. Two Bits” during UF’s season opener under former coach Jim McElwain. Carr told UF he saw George Edmondson performed his “Mr. Two Bits” routine prior to a game as a freshman, sitting alongside Spurrier.

One former player from the 1970s recalled Carr’s impact on Black athletes while serving as Dickey’s academic supervisor, along with coaching and scouting duties.

Speaking to the Sentinel about the football team’s integration under Dickey, former All-SEC safety Wayne Fields recalled that Carr had designed the Equal Education Opportunity Program. The effort helped minority freshmen and sophomores adjust to the rigors of academics in college, given many of the players came from high schools transitioning academically during integration efforts.

Carr played for one of Florida’s first great teams and shared a unique bond with the program’s most recognizable figure in Spurrier.

“I can’t remember if we ever had a bad exchange, quarterback/center, and of course we were underneath the while time,” Spurrier recalled. “I can’t remember us ever dropping one.”

Carr also oversaw the program’s most tumultuous period. He the Gators’ AD in August 1984 when the NCAA placed Charley Pell’s football program on two years’ probation for admitting to 107 infractions, many involving recruiting inducements from boosters.

The violations by Pell and his staff likely would not have represented transgressions under NIL because the few rules in place prohibit coaches from facilitating payments to players. Carr moved on two years later to the private sector before going to Houston.

Years later, he saw some irony at a time when players are allowed to be compensated.

“What happened with Charley Pell while I was there was illegal,” Carr said. “Now it’s legal. That’s what NIL stands for — now it’s legal.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com