Waiting for Urban's debut has made for one long summer

Published: Sunday, August 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 29, 2005 at 1:33 p.m.

Remember when you were young and summer always seemed to end too quickly? The days would breeze by in a rush of baseball, swimming holes and cookouts. All of a sudden, it would be time for school again.

Summer never lasted long enough back then but something strange happened. You became a football fan and the summer seemed to drag on forever. How many days until the first game?

Yeah, yeah, vacation. It's great but not as great as Friday night before a game or tailgating in the parking lot. And you couldn't wait for your kids to get out of the house and back to school.

But then you got older and your job wasn't as interesting. And maybe you discovered golf and the lure of a football season lost some of its luster because your team's future didn't look so promising. And the summer couldn't last long enough.

If summer is cyclical, we know what this summer has been for Florida football fans.

It has been like reaching for a wrapped birthday present or sitting through the coming attractions at a movie. As this season approaches, it's a highlight reel in the making and you wish you had a fast forward button.

You're excited and eager and stimulated and electrified.

But more than anything, you're curious.

Even if you think you know, you don't know. Even if you can handle the truth, you want it revealed.

Everyone who follows Florida football, whether they be fans, media, administrators or even the opposition, wants to know how Urban Meyer will do at Florida. His arrival has created a buzz so loud you can hear it all over the country.

Everything has been positive so far after so much negativity. But even the most fanatic Gator, even the fans who are 100 percent convinced that Jeremy Foley made the perfect hire, have inquiring minds.

What will the offense look like? Can Chris Leak run it? Is the speed of the SEC going to neutralize the option? How will Meyer handle the fourth quarter of a tight game in Baton Rouge? Is there enough depth?

You wish you had the answers now but that's why a season is played.

All we know for sure is that the summer is gone. Thankfully, the season is here. The wait has been excruciating.

Because coaching changes - while often necessary and inevitable - aren't only tough on players and athletic directors, they are difficult for the fans as well. If your coach is gone, it almost always means one of two things:

1. He failed.

2. He was so successful, he left.

Either way, there is depression in the ranks. If your coach didn't get the job done, you've probably been through a rough time. If your coach left for another job, it stings.

At Florida, there have been six coaching changes since I started following the Gators, and each brought with it a new set of variables.

Ray Graves was bumped out after the 1969 season and Doug Dickey came in. It was a strange time for the Gator Nation because Graves had his best year in '69. The offense he left behind wasn't what Dickey wanted, and it took a long time for the transition to take root. When it did in the mid-1970s, there were excellent teams that didn't quite achieve.

Dickey gave way to Charley Pell and Florida fans were fired up. Then came 0-10-1, probation and Galen Hall. Everyone loved Galen because he coached loose and won a bunch of games but it all happened so fast you were robbed of the anticipation. Hall was dismissed because his probation-hampered teams didn't win enough, not because NCAA charges were trumped up against him. Gary Darnell finished the season as an interim.

That opened the door for Steve Spurrier and a buzz that had never been seen around here before. He lived up to it, flirted with the NFL a half-dozen times and finally left. Enter Ron Zook, who was faced with a divided fan base and a job on the line from the time he walked in the door.

Now it is Meyer and the Spurrier-buzz is back. Everyone wearing orange and blue is on the same page and it contains the words to the fight song. All of the preseason rhetoric has been gobbled up and sucked in even though it doesn't mean a whole lot.

Meyer kept his team out of trouble. Great. Meyer is instilling discipline. Beautiful. Meyer is starting new traditions. Lovely.

Now how many games is he going to win?

That's really all you want to know and that's the toughest question to answer, even if it is the one I am asked the most during the summer, no matter who the coach is.

Footballs take odd bounces.

Officials make strange calls.

Players make bizarre decisions.

But after analyzing everything - talent, coaching, schedule, tea leaves - I'm putting the probable record at 9-2. There are a lot of losable games - Tennessee, LSU, Alabama, Georgia, FSU - but I'm in the camp that believes Florida has the next great coach in college football.

This is going to be a long ride. It will last many summers. Some will seem short, others long.

Just grab something and hold on.

You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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