Gene McDowell, who won more games than any other UCF head football coach as the longest-tenured individual in that role and also served as the Knights’ athletic director, died Tuesday morning in Quincy, Florida. He was 80.
McDowell produced an 86-61 mark (.585) with the Knights from 1985 through 1997.
When he took over at UCF the Knights were playing as an NCAA Division II program. Five years later in 1990 UCF began competing as a Division I-AA independent and in 1996 moved into Division I.
McDowell led UCF to the NCAA Division II playoffs in 1987 and the Division I-AA playoffs in both 1990 (the first program to make the playoffs in its first season of eligibility) and 1993. Under his direction, the Knights finished 10-4 in 1990, 9-4 in 1987 and 9-3 in 1993.
He also served as athletic director at UCF from 1985 through 1992. Under his watch UCF won a Division II playoff game in 1987 with a 12-10 victory over Indiana (Pennsylvania) and led the Knights to an FCS playoff win in 1990 in a 52-38 win against William & Mary.
McDowell won the Eddie Robinson Award in 1990 as the top head coach in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
A linebacker and offensive guard for the Seminoles from 1960-62, McDowell earned third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press as a senior. That same year he served as the Seminoles’ captain and was named MVP.
He was an assistant coach at Kansas State from 1970-73 and then coached Florida State defensive ends in 1974-75 and Seminole linebackers from 1976-84 under head coach Bobby Bowden.
A native of Waycross, Georgia, he recruited former all-star quarterback Daunte Culpepper to UCF. Culpepper set 15 school records as a junior in 1997 in McDowell’s final season as UCF head coach.
Under McDowell’s watch the Knights had their first player selected in the NFL Draft—wide receiver Ted Wilson in 1987.
McDowell led UCF to a No. 2 national ranking in the Division II poll thanks to five straight wins to start the 1988 campaign.
In 2015 McDowell was honored with an endowed scholarship in his name—with the UCF McDowell Endowment Fund given annually to an incoming football player.
Arrangements are pending.