** FILE ** Florida coach Ray Graves confers with his All-American quarterback Steve Spurrier at the Orange Bowl during their game against Georgia Tech in Miami, in this Jan. 2, 1967 file photo. (AP Photo)
AP Photo
April 10, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Former Florida coach and athletic director Ray Graves, who helped the Gators reach national prominence in the 1960s, died Friday at 96.

The school said Graves died in the Tampa area. Former Florida coach and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who won the 1966 Heisman Trophy when Graves coached the team, called him a ''tremendous influence.''

''After my mother and dad, Coach Graves had the biggest influence on my life,'' Spurrier said. `I am so thankful for him.''

Spurrier spoke to Graves on Thursday and ''had a chance to tell him I love him, and I sincerely thank him for the influence he had on me.''

Florida went 70-31-4 in 10 seasons under Graves, including a 9-1-1 mark in 1969.

Graves spent the next 20 years as the school's athletic director, helping usher in the Title IX era and creating plans to build the O'Connell Center.

''You can't put into words what he has meant to the Gator Nation and the countless lives he has touched from his players, coaches, friends and family,'' Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. ''Like many others, I was fortunate to have a personal relationship with him and will be forever grateful for our time together.''

Graves played football at Tennessee, where he was team captain in 1941. After a brief stint with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, Graves embarked on a coaching career in 1944 at his alma mater.

He later spent 13 seasons at Georgia Tech, working under coach Bobby Dodd before Florida hired him as 14th football coach in school history in January 1960.

Graves instantly made an impact, leading the Gators to a 9-2 record in his first season and a Gator Bowl victory over Baylor. In one of the most memorable wins of his career, Graves defeated Dodd and Georgia Tech 18-17 in only his third game as Florida's coach.

Graves was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

After stepping down as Florida's athletic director in January 1979, Graves served as a consultant for Steinbrenner Enterprises in Tampa and for the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League.

He retired in 1989 and lived in the Tampa Bay area.

Graves is survived by his wife Opal Richardson and three daughters.

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