Close associates of former Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier say that if he coaches next season, it probably will be in the state of Florida. There is a strong possibility that Spurrier will return to the University of Florida, the school where he won 122 games in 12 seasons before his failed two-year stint with the Redskins. But that is not a lock, and Spurrier associates say he remains intrigued by the long-shot possibility that he could give the NFL another shot with the Miami Dolphins.

Those who know Spurrier the best have long assumed that he would return to coaching -- likely in college -- next season after taking this season off. He seems re-energized, they say, by the time he has spent playing golf, watching football games on television and putting the misery of his Redskins tenure behind him. He has traveled to watch his son Steve Jr. coaching at the University of Arizona, and he has been in the stands to watch his younger son Scott play his senior season at Loudoun County High School.

He and his wife, Jerri, have kept their house in Northern Virginia so that Scott didn't have to change high schools. But that house likely will be sold by next summer, and the Spurriers never gave up the two homes they have in Florida. Friends say there is strong sentiment within Spurrier's family for him to return to Gainesville to coach the Gators, and the job apparently is his if he wants it.

School officials spent the week denying that they'd had any direct contact with Spurrier and indicated there would be a careful, fairly lengthy interviewing and deliberation process lasting at least through early December. They said they hadn't given Spurrier any deadlines and the closest any school official came to talking to Spurrier directly was when Athletic Director Jeremy Foley left a message for Spurrier outlining what the hiring process would be, and Spurrier sent back word that he was comfortable with that.

But Spurrier associates say there was an active back-and-forth dialogue between school officials and Spurrier through intermediaries beginning about a day after the university fired Spurrier's successor, Ron Zook, on Monday. Zook is to coach through the end of the season.

Spurrier's associates, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Spurrier is not making any substantial public comments on the matter and presumably doesn't want anyone around him to do so either, say the school indeed wanted to know this week if Spurrier was seriously interested in the job, and deliberations will intensify in about two weeks if Spurrier makes a final decision that he is intent on returning to Gainesville. School officials say that Foley and university president Bernie Machen will look at other candidates. That list likely includes Urban Meyer, who was hired by Machen at Utah. But Foley and Machen would be under intense pressure to hire Spurrier if Spurrier wants the job, and Florida seemingly lost its top alternative this week when Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops, formerly Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida, re-stated his allegiance to the Sooners. If Stoops leaves Oklahoma, it probably would be for the NFL, and Gators boosters have little faith in Foley's ability to conduct a coaching search after he came up with Zook.

It is not an automatic that Spurrier would accept the job, however. He was bothered by a letter that Foley sent him in 2001 telling him to stop making public comments about an incident in which Spurrier accused Florida State defensive lineman Darnell Dockett of intentionally twisting the leg of Florida running back Earnest Graham at the bottom of a pileup during a game, injuring Graham's knee. And after Spurrier left Florida for the Redskins, he talked about how he would become weary of Gators followers expressing disappointment with any season in which he did not win a Southeastern Conference title or contend seriously for a national championship. It's hard to return to a place where you're a legend, as Joe Gibbs is finding out with the Redskins now.

The Gators might not be Spurrier's only coaching option in the state, with the Dolphins' 1-6 record putting Coach Dave Wannstedt in jeopardy. Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga considered dismissing Wannstedt after last season, and there were reports that he was interested in Spurrier then. But Huizenga merely stripped Wannstedt of his control over personnel matters and extended the coach's contract.

This season's nosedive to the NFL's worst record seemingly makes it inevitable that Wannstedt will be fired, though, and it could be part of a complete housecleaning that also would involve General Manager Rick Spielman. Team president Eddie Jones might retire, and could be replaced by longtime NFL executive Jim Steeg. Spielman got the GM job only after the Dolphins were rebuffed by other candidates, and Huizenga planned to bring in Dan Marino as the club's senior vice president of football operations last offseason before Marino had a last-minute change of heart and quit the job after accepting it but before starting work. Perhaps the only thing that could save Wannstedt's job again is if Huizenga blames this season's woes on the abrupt retirement of tailback Ricky Williams just before training camp.

Spurrier and the Dolphins denied a recent South Florida radio report that Huizenga was about to meet with Spurrier about a potential coaching or consulting position. But people familiar with the situation say that each side has some degree of interest in the other. The problem is that it's unclear who will be advising Huizenga about future football matters. Most NFL executives probably would advise Huizenga to steer clear of Spurrier after his 12-20 record with the Redskins. But Ron Wolf, the former general manager of the Green Bay Packers who was on the Dolphins' list of GM candidates the last time around, is one of Spurrier's strongest supporters.

It seemed farfetched when Spurrier walked away from the final three seasons -- and approximately $15 million -- remaining on his contract with the Redskins that he would ever give the NFL another shot, or that the NFL ever would give him another shot. He looked overmatched at times by the NFL game.

But in truth, he was not as far from succeeding as it often seemed. If he'd been willing to overhaul his coaching staff and make the necessary adjustments to his style of play, he might have won. He took a group of assistant coaches with him to the Redskins who knew as little about the NFL as he did. In the end, he simply couldn't bring himself to fire them. When he had a strong defensive coordinator alongside him for one season -- Marvin Lewis in 2002 -- he went 7-9 as an NFL coaching novice. But Lewis left to become the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, and Spurrier and the Redskins regressed rather than progressed in 2003.

In retrospect, Spurrier's stay with the Redskins was about him trying to win his way, rather than about him trying to win any way. He was not willing to run the ball often enough or to devote enough blockers to protect his quarterback to win in the NFL. That wasn't the style of football that he wanted to play. But some people who know the game well say that many of Spurrier's offensive concepts were brilliant and innovative, and could have worked with modifications. Spurrier's Redskins, they say, had receivers open down the field regularly. Spurrier's quarterbacks simply never had the chance to deliver the ball to them. If Spurrier were to return to the NFL intent on winning at all costs instead of simply intent on winning his way, those people say, he could thrive in his second go-around. He would need to learn from his mistakes in how he dealt with his players in Washington, they say, and he would need to work with a strong general manager, defensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Spurrier will have many other college job possibilities thrown at him. His name has come up at North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Washington and other places. Fred Smith, the chairman of Federal Express, is a minority owner of the Redskins and remained in touch with Spurrier after he quit, and he has a son who plays football for North Carolina. But Spurrier has told friends that he would not take the Tar Heels job out of loyalty to Duke, where he once coached. Spurrier's associates say that if Lou Holtz leaves South Carolina and Hootie Johnson, the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club and a former South Carolina football player, were to offer Spurrier a membership at Augusta, Spurrier could be enticed.

But what he really wants, they say, is to be back in Florida. He spent the week wavering about the University of Florida job, they say, and it's possible that he could take another year off coaching if things don't work out with the Gators or the Dolphins. Spurrier's friends also warn that he is as unpredictable as they come, so any attempt to read his intentions at this point could end up being wrong.

NFL Offered Williams Deal

A source familiar with the Williams case said that when the tailback last spring was challenging the second of his three positive drug tests for marijuana use, the NFL offered him a chance to pay his prescribed fine and then be able to get out of the league's substance-abuse program in eight months rather than after the nearly two years he was supposed to have remaining in the program. Williams rejected the deal, the source said, believing that he should win his appeal and overturn that positive test from last December because only one of the two samples taken from him was above the threshold for a positive test, and that one was barely above it. Even so, Williams's appeal eventually was rejected.

Williams's representatives now might use that offer by the league to attempt to bolster their claim that Williams should be reinstated this season, arguing that the case against Williams was weak enough then that even the league discussed leniency.

The problem the Williams camp has is that, after that April appeal of the December test, Williams reportedly tested positive for marijuana a third time, making him subject to a league-imposed four-game suspension without pay at the outset of this season. He has avoided that suspension so far because of his departure from the Dolphins before training camp. But, under the provisions of the NFL's substance-abuse program, if a player who is already in the drug program (by virtue of at least one positive test) retires and then attempts to return in less than a year, that counts as an additional violation of the program -- which, in Williams's case, would be a fourth violation that would bring a one-year suspension.

The NFL apparently did not budge from its stance that Williams is ineligible to play this season after two lawyers for the league met last week in the Los Angeles area with Williams's attorney, David Cornwell, who promised to deliver a formal proposal to the NFL as soon as possible. NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw told reporters Thursday at the owners' meetings in Detroit that he supports Williams's bid to be reinstated this season but he does not believe the league will rule Williams eligible to play this season.

It continues to appear that Williams's only viable option as far as the league is concerned is to end his retirement in July after a year away, making him eligible to play in his team's fifth game of next season after he serves his four-game suspension. The one thing that could tilt the leverage in his favor, though, is if his representatives have him file for bankruptcy in Florida, as they have been contemplating, based on an arbitrator's ruling that he owes the Dolphins about $8.6 million for breach of contract. A bankruptcy court might void Williams's contract with the Dolphins and make him a free agent, bankruptcy attorneys have said.

Parcells's Improvement Streak Ends

The Dallas Cowboys' 2-4 record already ensures that a streak has ended for Coach Bill Parcells. Each of his previous teams improved by at least three victories in his second season with the club. Parcells's streak was done in, in part, by his immediate success with the Cowboys. He went 10-6 last year in his first season with the team . . . .

NFL sources say that Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner's previously unwavering faith in Coach Butch Davis has diminished. There is a growing chance Lerner will cut into Davis's now-complete authority by hiring a strong front-office executive in the offseason to head the Browns' football operations, the sources said . . . .

Kansas City's Priest Holmes and the New York Jets' Curtis Martin are vying for the possible distinction of becoming only the second runner in league history to lead the NFL in rushing after entering a season at least 30 years old. The Browns' Marion Motley led the NFL in rushing in 1950 at age 30. Holmes and Martin now are the league's top two rushers, and either would be the oldest rushing champion in NFL history . . . .

Indianapolis Colts wideout Marvin Harrison needs seven catches Sunday against the Chiefs to reach 800 career receptions in his 130th game. That would be 24 games faster than the current NFL record-holder for reaching 800 catches the fastest, Jerry Rice . . . .

Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre is 10 completions behind John Elway for second place on the NFL's career list behind Marino . . . .

Quarterbacks are completing 60.8 percent of their passes this season league-wide, which would be a single-season NFL record if it holds up.